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San Pedro Born Activist Yuri Kochiyama Dies

by johnk Monday, Jun. 02, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Yuri Kochiyama, activist in the Black Liberation, Puerto Rican, and Japanese American Redress and Reparations movements, has passed on.

From her granddaughter's biographical article about Yuri:

Yuri Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara on May 21, 1921 to Tsuya and Seiichi Nakahara in a small seaport village, San Pedro, California. She had a twin brother, Pete, and an older brother, Art.

Looking back on her childhood, Yuri told me, “San Pedro was a really nice place to grow up because there were so many different nationalities.” As a teenager, Yuri was an “all-American” girl. She taught Sunday school at her local church, volunteered her time to Girl Scouts and teaching children arts and crafts, photography, first aid, and tennis, and was her high school’s sports journalist.

She said that when growing up, she thought that San Pedro was “ideal,” but looking back on it, “I think there was racism, but no one’s gonna tell that we’re sorry, but it’s better you Japanese stayed among yourselves.” It was more apparent in the way that it was just the norm that Japanese would only go on dates with only Japanese and whites with only whites and she said that, “we knew from the time we were little, we were taught that no Japanese was born in the hospital and we knew that no Japanese was allowed in the hospital.”

Also, when she tried to enter the working world, she found that her choices were very limited. There were four Five and Dimes stores and at the time, in which many of her friends held jobs there. But when Yuri tried to apply, three out of the four stores wouldn’t even let her fill out an application because she was Asian. Finally, at the last store, Woolworth, she saw that a Mexican American girl was working there. She told her that she was the first Mexican American they had hired, so she encouraged Yuri to apply. Yuri got the job, but could not get a regular schedule, only working on Saturdays and holidays.

In her memoir, when recalling her childhood, Yuri said, “I was sheltered, lived comfortably and safely, religious, provincial, and apolitical in thought” (Kochiyama 2004, 9).


Along with other west coast JAs, her familiy was interned in a concentration camp. They were sent to Jerome AK during WW2. There, she met Bill Kochiyama, who would become her husband. He fought in the 442nd, and she organized the USO and was a Sunday school teacher.

After leaving the camps, they settled in NYC. They got an opportunity to live in a housing project in Harlem, and jumped at the chance. Even at this point, Kochiyama was a well known networker, with hundreds of GIs and Nisei visiting her home.

Yuri Kochiyama was Malcolm X speak, and was inspired. They became friends. She joined the struggle for Black Liberation, then later, Puerto Rican Liberation in the 1960s. She was someone trusted by many, with relationships with thousands of activists. She was in correspondence with political prisoners.

Throughout her life she spoke up against oppression, bringing people together across poles.

Perhaps it's notable that Kochiyama wasn't known for her pamphlets, speeches, or for upholding an ideology. There's is almost no language to describe what she did - but she was an organizer of organizers. When activists were arrested, they would call her, and she'd get them the help they needed. When activists visited NYC, or escaped prision, or whatever, they could find a place to go at Kochiyama's, and sometimes, they'd meet other likeminded revolutionaries there.


More info about San Pedro and Terminal Island and the prewar history:
(It wasn't only a Japanese area. There were immigrants from many communities, and they all worked in the canneries.)

Internment Camp History


More background info about the struggle for Black liberation in NYC.

Marcus Garvey

WEB DuBois

Elijah Muhammad

Malcolm X

The Black Liberation Army in the 1970s:

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