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Yuri Kochiyama

American Civil Rights Activist

Who is Yuri Kochiyama? 

Yuri Kochiyama was born and raised in San Pedro, California. However, Yuri learned very young that she would be treated differently because of things she cannot control. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her father — who had just got out of surgery — was arrested and detained in the hospital. You might ask why.  Well, the United States was bombed by the Empire of Japan. “He was the only Japanese in that hospital,” Kochiyama recalls, “so they hung a sheet around him that said, ‘Prisoner of War.’” He died shortly thereafter.

In 1943, under President Roosevelt’s orders, Kochiyama and the rest of her family were sent to a concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas, for two years. This, combined with her father’s death, forced Kochiyama to grow up very quickly. It also made her very aware that sometimes the people in power do not always make the right decision. After being released from the camp, she moved to New York and married Bill Kochiyama, a veteran. 

Her community service and activism took root in that camp. However, it started to bloom in the early 1960s in a place called Harlem. Here, Yuri would go on to participate in Asian American, Black, and Third World movements for human rights. She would help teach ethnic studies and even go against the war in Vietnam. She was crucial to supporting many organizations, including the Young Lords. As the founder of Asian Americans for Action, she strived to build a safer place for Asian Americans. “Racism has placed all ethnic peoples in similar positions of oppression, poverty, and marginalization.”

“She was not your typical Japanese-American person,” said Tim Toyama, Kochiyama’s second cousin. “She was definitely ahead of her time, and we caught up with her.”

3 Things We Love About Yuri Kochiyama:

  • Her continued dedication to social causes inspired younger generations of activists, especially within the Asian-American community.
  • She and her husband pushed the government for an apology regarding the internment camps. 
  • Her efforts led to the Civil Liberties Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988. 

Work Cited

May 19, 1921: Yuri Kochiyama Born – Zinn Education Project
Yuri Kochiyama, Activist And Former World War II Internee, Dies At 93 : Code Switch : NPR

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