We have published before on Yuri Kochiyama, last time a few weeks ago. With the sad news of her death, we revisit these writings as well as repost one of our videos with the song “Yuri Kochiyama” by the Blue Scholars. She remains the deepest example of the revolutionary wing of the Asian-American movement in the United States – someone who confronted imperialism whenever it reared its ugly head, even when it took the form of Japanese imperialism, but also recognize the necessity for a deep internationalism in the context of the United States. As the song goes, when we grow up – regardless of our age – we want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama. Rest in power!
From M19: Celebrating the Lives of Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, and Yuri Kochiyama!
Yuri Kochiyama is a figure less well known then the last two [Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh], and she is still alive today at the age of 91. We recommend for those unfamiliar with her life to read the interview conducted by the Revolutionary Worker , the former paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party-USA. Mrs. Kochiyama spent a good portion of her young adult life in a concentration camp of Japanese people in the US, 70% were citizens.
Yuri moved with her husband to Harlem in 1960 and was already active in human rights work. She met Malcolm X and began working with him around human rights projects, was a member of his Organization for Afro-American Unity, and was present when Malcolm was murdered. Yuri was also a participant in taking over the statue of liberty with Puerto Rican independence activists. She was pivotal in the movements to free Mumia and end nuclear proliferation. She has been a consistent friend of the people. She has prominently defended the revolutions in both the Philippines, Peru, and elsewhere and is keeping it strong approaching her 90s.
Despite the very small active base of Japanese-Americans involved in struggle for liberation, Yuri is an important figure and worker for liberation precisely because while jettisoned by the persecution and internment of her own family and community, she actively took up the struggle of the world’s majority.
Where today much of AAPI work and discourse is based in quite petty-bourgeois identerianism – issues of microagressions, visibility, etc. – she stands as a figure that breaks from the superficial and aims towards the core of imperialism. Particularly her relationship to other national liberation organizations fighting for self-determination, as a working active figure within this milieu, set her apart from many others.
While these three figures are mere individuals, remarkable figures they’re in history, precisely because of their dedication of their life in fighting colonialism and imperialism concretely. But this means one needs to prepare for struggle and emulate characters by virtue of revolutionary practice, not mere idolization. How many young people we know today who laud these figures but yet actively do nothing with their relative freedom to conduct work for liberation?
This idol culture must be changed and it can only be done so by looking reality in the face with them about our position today. These figures had no special caliber above anyone else and are made of flesh and bone.
Yuri Kochiyama has spent all her decades fighting alongside the people, driven by her solidarity with those who face the harsh repression of the state. It is hard to brave such things and harder to stay committed towards transformation which means liberation for the world’s oppressed and exploited majority. There are of course many questions that need be answered; however it is certain that we won’t win anything if we keep to an impoverished line that refuses to ultimately commit to the prospects of losing one’s life in this struggle.