“Don’t become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You’ll learn something from everyone. Follow what you feel in your heart.”-Yuri Kochiyama
My heart is heavy as I give peace to a powerful freedom fighter, Yuri Kochiyama, who is now resting in power. I feel like many folks know her as the woman who cradled Malcolm X when he was assassinated, and though she was a good friend of his, she was so much more. Yuri Kochiyama and other women like Dolores Huerta, Angela Davis, and Betty Friedan, are leaders in the social justice and civil rights movements. However, most of American history doesn’t accredit the stories of these powerful women. We only hear about the men. So many women in America, led the progress of positive change, and built the foundation for us.
Yuri’s political work included school integration in Harlem, working for Puerto Rican Independence, working towards ending nuclear weapons, working to get reparations for Japanese Americans, and working to free and get rights for political prisoners. Yuri and her family experienced the injustice of racial profiling and were political prisoners along with tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She was one of the most visible Asian Americans to stand in solidarity with the Black community in the 1960s, to fight for equality. She spoke out against anit-Muslim discrimination, racial profiling, and Islamophobic attacks after 9/11. She is a true ally, standing up for others and working towards a common goal of human rights and justice.
I had the deep honor of spending time with her in her home in Oakland and in the community as she was accessible and active. The day I met her, I took her out to lunch and had a lot of emotions. I remember having to really focus on driving when she was in my car because it felt like a dream. We continued our talk in her home, surrounded by photos and messages of love, family, friends, and activism. She was so open about her journey and interested in learning about mine. I felt our hearts and spirits connect. She made me feel like she was just as inspired, motivated, and thankful by my commitment to social justice as I was to hers.
Throughout her life, she embodied what radical change-making looks like. Because of how she walked through this world, I am able to have pride in who I am as a Japanese, Mexican, queer, revolutionary, woman of color. I am able to speak my truths. I am able to push forward in this revolution and challenge myself to move beyond what we may even think is possible, even when it is exhausting. What I hold especially deep in me, is her allyship and commitment to building relationships and bridges with other communities, learning from our differences, and recognizing our commonalities as well. That this work is not just about one community, it is about learning from each other’s experiences, and uplifting ourselves as well as one another.
As we reflect on the life of Yuri Kochiyama and other women leaders who have passed on, may we honor them by learning more about them, the movement they made, and the foundation they built. Here is the trailer for the film, Mountains That Take Wing-Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama: A Conversation on Life, Struggles & Liberation, that tells stories that need to be heard:
May we recognize how we can be a part of creating the kind of communities and world that we believe in, because what we do now, impacts us today, and will be what we pass on to the next generations.
Thank you, Yuri. Thank you for being you and doing what you do. Thank you for the waves you and your generation made.
Rest in power, love, and peace, fierce one.~