Hyphen APA Heritage Month Profiles: Yuri Kochiyama, the Original Radical

May 27, 2011

Yuri Kochiyama has come a long way since being imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp at age 20.

Once a devout Sunday school teacher from a predominately white West Coast town, she transformed herself over many years into a hell-raising political firebrand who agitated for black and Puerto Rican rights in West Harlem and advocated for armed revolution abroad. During the civil rights movement, she volleyed with Malcolm X and gained national notoriety when, in 1965, he died in her arms after being shot at a rally.

She has worked to free political prisoners, fought for reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans, protested America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and spoken out against anti-Muslim sentiment following 9/11.

These days, the 90-year-old revolutionary spends most of her time at her home in Oakland, CA, reading, remembering and corresponding with family and political prisoners alike, but she is still routinely sought out for speaking engagements and interviews. From humble roots, Kochiyama became a political and cultural icon within the Asian American community, her work across color lines embodying the spirit of solidarity.

An Rong Xu is a documentary photographer based in New York City. New York City native Judy Lei is a student at Smith College.

Check out all of the profiles in our APA Heritage Month series.




I had the honor of meeting Yuri Kochiyama years ago at an ecumenical conference in NYC. As we took a tour of Chinatown, Yuri gave me a history lesson on the massacre of Nanking. It was striking to meet a Nisei who was so politically conscious. I have the utmost respect for her.