View Full Version : Yuri Kochiyama On Meeting Malcolm (x)

lord patch
05-30-2006, 02:06 PM


Yuri says of Malcolm: “Before I met Malcolm, I had no understanding of the two trends in the black movement. I was involved only with the civil rights movement, represented by Martin Luther King and his vision of harmonious integration of people to make a greater America through nonviolence. But after listening to Malcolm, I strongly felt that his position of total liberation from the jurisdiction of the United States was the only way that black people in this country would be able to empower themselves, to determine their own destiny....

>>POV: on meeting malcolm


Malcolm X was, perhaps, the single most influential person on Yuri Kochiyama’s political life and ideas. She was a great admirer of his work before they met, and an associate and a friend of his after. Today she still loves speaking about him to interviewers or groups of children, and talks of his viewpoints about the integration vs separation movement of the 1960s.

Yuri says of Malcolm: “Before I met Malcolm, I had no understanding of the two trends in the black movement. I was involved only with the civil rights movement, represented by Martin Luther King and his vision of harmonious integration of people to make a greater America through nonviolence. But after listening to Malcolm, I strongly felt that his position of total liberation from the jurisdiction of the United States was the only way that black people in this country would be able to empower themselves, to determine their own destiny. His position of self-determination, self-reliance, self-defense, and a sovereign nation was integral to realizing one's own potentials, humanity, and dignity. It is impossible to attain justice in a racist country. Malcolm helped me to see, more clearly, the true essence of the United States in all its negative reality."

A story Ms. Kochiyama is often asked to retell is how she first met Malcolm X in Harlem. Ms. Kochiyama had been an admirer of Malcolm X for sometime when she happened to see him walk into a courthouse in Brooklyn, where he was instantly surrounded by people shaking his hand. Ms. Kochiyama was shy at first of approaching him amongst all his African followers, but when he met her eyes she found herself asking if she could shake his hand.

“What for?” Malcolm had asked, almost suspiciously.

When Ms. Kochiyama finally answered, “You’re giving direction [to your people]”, Malcolm strode out of the crowd with a smile, and shook Ms. Kochiyama’s hand.

The first time Malcolm and Yuri were able to talk at length however, was not until half a year later in 1964, when Yuri’s family hosted several reporters from the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study. The reporters had invited Malcolm X to come speak with them, but had received no answer. In the middle of the actual conference, a knock on the Kochiyama’s door opened to reveal Malcolm and a bodyguard, come to speak with the small convention. He thanked the Japanese for coming to Harlem, and brought them to Harlem’s “The World’s Worst Fair”, a tour of neighborhoods and living conditions in Harlem in direct contrast to the ongoing “World Fair” in Flushmeadow, and later spoke of some of his beliefs and ideas.

Very soon afterwards Yuri became active in Malcolm’s Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and also joined his Liberation School to gain background information on Black history and politics. She says in --- “…we didn't know anything about black history, black thinking, or black culture, and in order to understand the black community and and its people, we thought we'd better sign up. So we enrolled, along with our three eldest children, Billy, Audee, and Aichi. The education we received was priceless."

Integration vs. Separation:
"As long as we don't know our history and other's history, there will be no positive interactions or understanding"
- Yuri Kochiyama

There were two trends in the Civil Rights Movement, one following the other in influence and popularity during the mid 1900's. At first, groups such as the NAACP, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) spearheaded the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, fighting mainly against the issue of segregation in America through the courtroom, marches and protests, and civil disobedience. Several key victories won by the Civil Rights Movement during this time included the court case Brown vs. Board of education (see here) which made segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voter registration requirements and public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, and theaters, and withdrew government funding from programs which were discriminatory.

In spite of these victories, progress was slow, and many people lost faith in working for equality within the system. The movement for nationalism, of which Malcolm X was an influential leader, arose in the mid-1960s, and was based around the idea that the one solution for racism in America was for blacks to form their own nation and government, and be completely separate from whites.
As his political philosophy matured, Malcolm toned down his separatist beliefs, realizing that it alienated people of other colors who might be fighting for the same dream. Although he still had a distant dream of blacks organizing their own government, he focused on improving conditions for blacks in America now, and went on to say "We will work with anyone, with any group, no matter what their color is, as long as they are genuinely interested in [ending black injustice]."


Video: Yuri Kochiyama talks about Malcolm X:
from Yuri Kochiyama: A Passion For Justice

Version 1

Version 2


Oakland: Inspired by Malcolm X, Asian American activist makes her own history
Annie Nakao, Chronicle Staff Writer

She's 84 and once in a while, she has trouble remembering a detail or two. But for Oakland resident Yuri Kochiyama, one memory remains unclouded: the day she met Malcolm X.

"...Malcolm looked up and seemed to be looking right at me. He was probably wondering, 'Who is this old lady, and Asian at that.' I stepped forward and called out, 'Can I shake your hand?' He looked at me and demanded, 'What for?' I stammered back, 'I want to congratulate you.' And he asked, 'For what?' I was trying to think of what to say and said, 'For what you're doing for your people.' 'What's that?' he queried. 'For giving them direction.' He abruptly burst forth with that fantastic Malcolm smile and extended his hand. I grabbed it."

Kochiyama's first encounter with the man who was to inspire her lifetime of activism is described in "Yuri Kochiyama, Heartbeat of Struggle," (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95) written by Diane C. Fujino, an associate professor of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. It is the first American biography of one of the most prominent Asian American activists in the country, whose work on behalf of radical political and social causes took root in Harlem more than 40 years and continues today.

"Most people make life; some people make history," Fujino said from Santa Barbara. "Yuri organized her life around making history. I think of her as a very ordinary person, who's done extraordinary things."

Fujino and Kochiyama will be at UC Berkeley's Heller Lounge on Saturday at an event hosted by the Asian American Studies department and Asian Pacific Student Development, and Eastwind Books of Berkeley.

While Kochiyama's name may not spark instant recognition, four decades ago she became part of a dramatic moment in history as she knelt on the stage of Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, cradling Malcolm X in her arms as he died of assassins' bullets.

"He was only 39 years old," recalls Kochiyama, who was in the audience that day.

Despite a debilitating 1997 stroke that has slowed, but not stopped her work, Kochiyama remains a committed revolutionary. Barely 5 feet tall, she hardly takes up much of her tiny studio apartment at the San Pablo, a downtown senior residence. A halo of wiry gray hair framing her slender face, Kochiyama clutches a pen and pad on her lap as she talks, so as not to miss anything important.
All around her are file cabinets, bookshelves, stacks of rubber-banded letters from prison inmates all over the country, cardboard boxes of papers, a computer, fax and copier -- accoutrements in her continuing efforts to keep "the Movement" alive.

"I can't walk any more," she says. "So the only prisoner I'm visiting is close by -- Marilyn Buck."
Buck, who is serving an 80-year sentence in a federal prison in Dublin for her involvement with the Black Liberation Movement, is only one of many prisoners to whom Kochiyama writes.

"Do you know there are 2 million people in prison in America?" she asks in slow, deliberate speech. "That's almost a country. The treatment of prisoners is so bad that Abu Ghraib has nothing on places like Corcoran and San Quentin."

Kochiyama moved to Oakland from New York in 1999 for health reasons and to be closer to two of her children, who live in the East Bay. But she didn't leave her politics behind.

On her walls are plastered her credentials of decades of radical liberation politics: portraits of Death Row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal, assassinated African nationalist and former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and South African anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko, bumper stickers that proclaim, "Free Palestine" and "Impeach Bush," and "Police Brutality Didn't Die on 9-11," a Che Guevara clock, a poster of "Women of Color Against War," and, of course, pictures of Malcolm X.

"I dare not think about what would have happened if I hadn't met Malcolm," Kochiyama says. "I was totally apolitical when I was younger. I didn't even like to read."

Kochiyama's unconventional life -- a mother of six who took to revolutionary causes, brought her children to protests and was arrested for occupying the Statue of Liberty -- would make plenty of fodder for a book. But as one of the few Asian Americans who, early on, forged deep bonds with blacks in some of their most important struggles for equality, she is also admired and revered as a mentor to young activists.

"To Yuri, one of the major problems in society is polarization; the other is racism," Fujino writes "Opposing polarization takes on greater significance when one believes, as does Yuri, that social change comes through collective action."

Fujino's book, together with Kochiyama's recent memoir, "Passing It On," published by UCLA's Asian American Studies Center Press, shine a rare light on Kochiyama, who still remains relatively unknown.
Fujino's exhaustive account traces Kochiyama's transformation from a California nisei, or second-generation Japanese American who experiences the Japanese American internment of World War II, to a busy mother in Harlem who begins to awaken to social injustice and racism, and to mature womanhood, when she is inspired by Malcolm X's vision for black self-determination.

It was an unlikely path for Kochiyama, who grew up in San Pedro, a small coastal town south of Los Angeles. Her parents were well-educated immigrants. Her father owned a successful fish store, and she and two brothers were raised in a custom-built house in the white section of town.

Mary Yuriko Nakahara, as she was then known, was popular -- she and twin brother Peter were school class officers. Full of energy, she loved teaching Sunday school, organized drives for the poor and even started writing about sports for the San Pedro News-Pilot.

This life was shattered after Pearl Harbor, when her father, a well-known community leader, was arrested and imprisoned briefly. The elder Nakahara, who had just undergone ulcer surgery before his arrest, died shortly after being released. The family, along with 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of them American citizens like the Kochiyama children, were then forced into internment camps during the war.

The trauma of internment and her father's death would be themes in Kochiyama's later activism. But back then, Fujino observes, Kochiyama appeared optimistic, even "Pollyanna-ish" as the family did their best to adjust to camp life.

"Today, Yuri Kochiyama is regarded as one of the most prominent Asian American activists to emerge from the 1960s," Fujino writes. "But at the time of her father's death, she was apolitical, provincial, naive and ultrapatriotic."

At camp, Kochiyama met and fell in love with a handsome nisei from New York, Bill Kochiyama, who served with the legendary, all nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Continuing her community service, the energetic Kochiyama began a letter-writing campaign so nisei soldiers, including her fiance, could get notes from home. She later ran a USO in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for nisei GIs from Hawaii and the mainland.

After marrying and settling in New York City, the Kochiyamas began raising a family. But soon, their little apartment became "Grand Central Station" for visiting former nisei GIs and San Pedro friends. The family's "Christmas Cheer" newsletter went to about 3,000 people.

When a larger apartment opened up at the Manhattanville housing projects in Harlem, they jumped at the chance. The move would put them squarely in the cultural brew of the 1960s, with its fight for better schools and jobs, and a nascent black nationalist movement that Kochiyama soon became immersed in.

As an Asian among blacks, she was always sensitive of her place, working more as a facilitator and supporter. Her genius was networking, and as many leaders began being arrested in FBI crackdowns, she became the point person for those arrested, as well as those released from prison.

"... our first call went to WA6-7412," recalls activist Mutulu Shakur in the book, rattling off Kochiyama's phone number from memory 30 years later. "Anybody getting arrested, no matter black, Puerto Rican, or whatever, our first call was to her number. Her network was like no other."

The "K-kids," as Kochiyama's children called themselves, had an unusual family life. The older ones protested, often alongside their mom. Kochiyama lost two children in tragically early deaths, one by suicide, and the other in a car accident. Husband and helpmate, Bill, who found his own activist voice in the Asian American Movement, died in 1993.

Neither he nor his children ever knew who would be at their house, as members of SNCC, CORE, the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Action Movement, along with anybody else who needed help, would show up.

One evening, Malcolm X arrived to meet some Japanese journalists, atomic bomb survivors who wanted to meet him more than "anyone else in America."

Kochiyama's relationship with the black leader, who met her only 16 months before he died, is often mythologized by admirers, Fujino says. What isn't exaggerated is his pivotal influence on her life as an activist.

Kochiyama's relationship with the iconic black leader, Fujino notes, also reflects the potential of bonds that cross racial lines.

"Malcolm X used to admonish: Study history," Kochiyama says in the book. "Learn about yourselves and others. There's more commonality in all of our lives than we think."

E-mail Annie Nakao at anakao@sfchronicle.com.

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle


Aqueous Moon
05-30-2006, 02:13 PM
Peace for giving propz to this Queen!

I posted about her too.....a while back, tho.

More people should do the knowledge on her.

She reprented a unity between the yellow and black people in Amerikkka and she understood Malcolm's message.

lord patch
05-31-2006, 10:20 PM

and musch respects

khoda hafez