[sixties-l] The Last Revolutionary [Yuri Kochiyama] (fwd)

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    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: The Last Revolutionary [Yuri Kochiyama]

    The Last Revolutionary


    Yuri Kochiyama possesses one of the boldest voices raised against the war
    on terrorism. As a former internment-camp prisoner and peer of Malcolm X,
    she brings history and vitality to what little remains of "The Movement."

    Yuri's internment at a camp in Jerome, Arkansas began her radicalization.
    Yuri is one of the Movement's most emphatic voices, even at age 80.
    Yuri cradled Malcolm X as he lay dying, as depicted in the pages of Life in
    Yuri and Bill moved to Harlem in 1960. Their children, including the
    eldest, Billy, became activists too.
    Yuri still believes in the Movement.

    March 13, 2002

    Of all the afflictions that plague Yuri Kochiyama in her old age, only one
    bothers her enough to warrant a mention. "I can remember something from
    fifty years ago," she said, "but not what I did yesterday."
    In typical Yuri fashion, this is not so much a complaint as an observation.
    She said this while searching for a stack of leaflets, anxiously sifting
    through the copious sheaves of paper, newspaper articles, and letters that
    crowd her tiny studio apartment. Piles of paper have settled permanently
    everywhere: on bookshelves and a desk, a pair of stools, and the floor,
    even the twin-sized bed.
    Yuri doesn't remove them when she sleeps; she just curls up next to them.
    The leaflets advertise a "speak out" taking place at the West Oakland
    library, and sponsored in part by the People's Resistance Against US
    Terrorism, a group that Yuri belongs to. Up for discussion are racial
    profiling, the curtailing of civil liberties, and the impact of the war
    upon those already in jail.
    Finally, the flyers surface in an unlabeled file folder among a stack of
    labeled file folders.
    The speak out is in five days, so Yuri must mail the leaflets today, she
    noted. With a cloud of white hair shaking about her face, Yuri asks a
    visitor to stuff and seal envelopes as she meticulously logs each piece of
    mail in a notebook, noting the date and what was mailed to whom and where.
    Because she can no longer rely on her memory, she writes everything down.
    ("What day is it?" she asks, several times a day.) There is a planner, a
    bound notebook for logging mail, a spiral notebook for guests to sign, and
    another one for jotting down the little details of daily life. In a tribute
    to the notion that to be color-blind is to be naive, her address book is
    color-coded by race:
    green ink for black people, black ink for white people, blue ink for brown
    people, brown ink for yellow people, and red ink for red people.
    In the back of one notebook are stubs from money orders sent in ten- and
    twenty-dollar denominations. These denote gifts to people she considers
    political prisoners, anti-imperialists, anticapitalists, former Black
    Panthers people who are dear friends, people from the movement.
    When Yuri talks about the movement, she says the word with a capital "M."
    The civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the Asian-American
    movement, all these fall under Yuri's definition of Movement. And in
    Movement circles, Yuri is something of a celebrity.
    In a 1965 Life magazine photograph taken moments after the assassination of
    Malcolm X, Yuri is the woman in thick black glasses cradling his head in
    her hands as his bullet-riddled body lies splayed on the floor. As a
    longtime resident of Harlem, Yuri, a petite Japanese-American woman and
    mother of six, fought for black nationalism. In 1977 she was one of thirty
    people who stormed the Statue of Liberty and held it for nine hours to
    bring attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. In the
    1980s, she and her husband, whom she met at a World War II internment camp,
    obbied for reparations to Japanese Americans who were imprisoned by the
    government during that war.
    Today, as a resident of Oakland, this constant critic of the United States
    government is as vocal as ever, pointing out the similarities between her
    internment and the detainment and harassment of thousands of Middle
    Easterners since September 11. In one recent week she had five speaking
    To mainstream America, the Movement may be dead, little more than textbook
    photographs of protesters marching arm in arm. But to Yuri Kochiyama, the
    Movement is alive and well and living in the Bay Area. And one of its most
    emphatic voices comes not from an idealistic Berkeley student, but from an
    eighty-year-old who gets around with a walker.
    The Federal building in downtown San Francisco sits higher than street
    level. To get to its plaza, one must ascend a ramp surrounded by a wall of
    concrete that gradually disappears. On this ramp a few weeks ago, Yuri
    slowly made her way, pushing her walker, which sported no less than four
    "Free Mumia" stickers.
    "Where's the march?" Yuri asked when she reached the top.
    "Yuri, this is a press conference," a woman said.
    "What?" she said with disappointment. "No march?"
    "What is the point of marching?" a skeptic asked. "It doesn't actually
    accomplish anything."
    "I think it's very important," Yuri enthused. "If they did not have all
    those years of marching and demonstrations, they never would have gotten
    the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ... I like it because it's a people's thing.
    It's not an individual thing. It's all the things that people do together
    that gives you strength." That not only applies to marching, but serves as
    Yuri's most basic credo.
    Among Movement people, rumor is that this plaza was designed with
    constricted points of access precisely to discourage people from
    gathering. But on this Wednesday afternoon, some forty people mill about
    in front of the building to show solidarity with Arabs, Muslims, and south
    Asian immigrants, and to protest the government's detention of some 1,200
    people since the towers fell, often on minor immigration infractions. The
    protesters wore blue triangles, each bearing the name of a detainee. Yuri
    tied a large triangle-shaped placard on the front of her walker. "Haddy
    Omar Jr.," it read.
    Two protesters held a display featuring enlarged photocopies. On the first
    panel was a picture of Mohammad Rafiq Butt, who died in a New Jersey jail,
    never charged with a crime. Another photo showed two people on the ground,
    guns pointed to their heads. The caption said they had been removed from a
    bus after the driver reported them as "suspicious" passengers who spoke
    little English. The next two panels displayed pictures of Japanese-American
    internment camps and Jews lining up in Nazi Germany. Across the display,
    two questions: "What will you do now? What would you have done then?"
    In front of the photos, representatives of the National Lawyers Guild,
    Grassroots Organizers for the Muslim and Arab Community, the ACLU, the
    Asian Law Caucus, and other groups took turns speaking. Then it was Yuri's
    turn. She pulled out the seat in her walker and sat through her speech as
    someone held the microphone to her mouth.
    As in all her speeches, Yuri offered historical facts and statistics, but
    little about herself or the four years she spent in an internment camp. For
    all her public appearances, Yuri has never found it easy to talk about
    She was struck, she said in her talk, by the similarities between today and
    sixty years ago, when Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and
    suddenly treated like national enemies. Men were arrested, their families
    given no explanation. Asian Americans were publicly harassed, spat upon,
    beaten, even killed. The same thing is happening now, she said. One third
    of the latest violent incidents were logged in the Bay Area. She urged the
    crowd not just to express sympathy, but to act swiftly.
    "An injury or injustice to one is an injury and injustice to all," she said
    to applause.

    When she finished, Yuri scooted back into the crowd. Reporters and
    photographers approached her continuously, asking her to spell her name.
    She answered patiently, as if she had been doing this her whole life.
    Of course, she hadn't. As teenagers, Yuri and her two brothers lived a
    red-white-and-blue, oh-so-apple-pie existence. Yuri taught Sunday school,
    volunteered for the YWCA and Girl Scouts, attended every football game in a
    town where high-school sports mattered above all else, and even joined the
    Women's Ambulance and Defense Corps of America, which preceded the Women's
    Army Corps.
    Religious and baseball-obsessed, Yuri grew up as Mary Yuriko Nakahara in
    San Pedro, a port town just south of Los Angeles. Her father had come to
    America by himself, later returning to Japan to find a wife. He found her
    teaching at the school where his father was principal. In San Pedro, Seichi
    Nakahara owned a fish market. He often did business with Japanese
    steamships and sometimes brought ship officers home for dinner.
    Most of the residents of Terminal Island, located just across the bay, were
    Japanese immigrants, but in the town where the Nakaharas lived the
    population was mostly white, working-class Italian and Yugoslavian
    immigrants. "We Japanese kids never felt embarrassed that our parents
    couldn't speak perfect English, because no one's parents spoke perfect
    English," Yuri said.
    But all that changed on December 7, 1941.
    Yuri had just returned home from Sunday school when a knock came at the door.
    Three FBI agents wanted to see her father. He was sleeping, having
    returned just the day before from the hospital where he underwent an ulcer
    operation. Within minutes, though, the agents rushed him into his bathrobe
    and slippers and whisked him away. The Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor.
    The next day, agents returned and rifled through everything in the house.
    For days the family didn't know where their father was. Finally, a lawyer
    located him in a federal prison across the bay on Terminal Island. Yuri's
    mother pleaded with authorities to take him to the hospital and send him
    back to jail when he was better. Meanwhile, Yuri's twin brother Peter, then
    a student at UC Berkeley, hitchhiked home, since no one would sell him a
    train ticket. By December 10, both her brothers tried to sign up for
    military service. Peter was accepted even though his father was accused of
    When Seichi Nakahara was finally returned to a hospital, his bed was the
    only one in the ward bearing the sign "Prisoner of War." The children were
    allowed to visit only once. Peter came in his uniform, and his father
    quivered when he saw him. Unable to recognize his son, he thought that
    someone had come to interrogate him. A week later, on the evening of the
    20th, the hospital sent Seichi home in an ambulance. Overjoyed at first,
    the Nakaharas soon realized he was dying.
    "Because he couldn't talk, we didn't know if he could hear," Yuri said. "We
    waved our fingers in front of his eyes, but he didn't move."
    By next morning he was dead at age sixty. The FBI called to warn that
    anyone attending the funeral would be under surveillance. Friends defied
    the five-mile travel ban placed on Japanese Americans to show up at his
    service. FBI agents stood at the doors.
    On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive
    Order No. 9066, authorizing the military to remove people of Japanese
    ancestry from their homes to prison camps. Yuri considers her family lucky
    because they had more than a month to prepare, while some only had
    forty-eight hours. After being forced to live for six months in a horse
    stall at the Santa Anita racetrack, Yuri, her mother, and oldest brother
    were tagged, numbered, and loaded onto cattle trains. No one knew where
    they were going. The Nakaharas ended up in a concentration camp in Jerome,
    They lived in barracks, twelve to a block. The camps ran
    self-sufficiently. Everyone had a job. First-generation Issei women
    ordered cloth from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue to make curtains for the
    toilet stalls. Yuri continued to teach Sunday school. Many of the
    second-generation Nisei GIs were stationed in the south and would visit by
    the busloads on the weekends. The young women formed their own USO in the
    camp for them.
    One weekend, the all-Japanese-American 442nd regimental combat team
    visited. (It would go on to become one of the most decorated battalions in
    US history.) It was Yuri's job to register each soldier and find him a
    bed. After discovering that most of the men hailed from Hawaii, she asked
    each for his name, rank, and home island. When one particularly dashing
    young man reached the front of the line, he answered, "Manhattan Island."
    Impressed by his smart mouth and good looks, Yuri fell hard for Bill
    Kochiyama. "He was very good-looking and he had a different kind of
    personality because he was brought up in New York and he never knew the
    kind of racism West-Coast Asians did," Yuri said. "He was so confident and
    outgoing. I was crazy in love."
    Bill told Yuri he had sixty sisters and sixty brothers. It turned out that
    he was raised in an orphanage. His father worked as a servant for a family
    on Park Avenue and would visit once a week. He once told Bill that his
    mother had passed away and to never mention her. Bill never did.
    When the 442nd left for Europe, Yuri wrote Bill every day, three times a
    day, for twenty-two months. Returning from the front lines, he would find
    stacks of letters waiting for him. Burdened by the weight of Yuri's love
    letters, Bill buried many of them in the trenches. Embarrassed to receive
    so much mail when some had none, Bill asked Yuri to write to other men. She
    organized a cadre of pen pals so that no one in Bill's team would go
    without mail. After the war, Yuri and Bill reunited in New York. They
    married on a February afternoon, having met in person just three times.
    Sixty years later, Yuri still busies herself with organizing. To visit Yuri
    is a feat of simultaneous ease and difficulty. Ease, because Yuri will meet
    with almost anyone; "no" is not in her vocabulary. And difficulty because
    everyone wants to meet her. The best way to get time with her is to offer
    to drive her to the dizzying array of demonstrations, speech engagements,
    and lunches that dominate her schedule. If she is attending a march, she¹ll
    pack her wheelchair. Otherwise, she doesn¹t use it.
    She goes to physical therapy three times a week on the first floor of the
    senior home where she lives. She attends Saturday morning meetings for
    People's Resistance Against US Terrorism. She receives a bimonthly visit
    from a woman named Chinosole who gives her a one-on-one black studies
    class. And every month she visits the women's federal penitentiary in
    Dublin to see Marilyn Buck, an "anti-imperialist activist" convicted of
    conspiracy to bomb the US Capitol. Her presence also is requested at
    banquets, conferences, and schools, so she often stays up till two in the
    morning, researching and writing speeches. Plus she also can't turn down a
    good documentary or poetry reading.
    "We don't know where she is half the time," said daughter-in-law Pam Wu,
    who is married to Yuri's son Eddie and runs the Asian American Theater
    Company in San Francisco. "We're always wondering 'Where's Yuri?' "
    When Yuri meets new people, she always asks for their names and then
    peppers them with questions. She knows everyone has a story and she wants
    to hear it. "Gee!" she'll say. A great deal of the sentences that leave her
    mouth start with "Gee" and end with an exclamation point.
    Yuri possesses both the energy and social life of a twenty-year-old.

    It should come as no surprise, then, that she is often surrounded by young
    people. Young people make up most of the membership of the David Wong
    Support Committee, a group Yuri founded over a decade ago to aid a Chinese
    immigrant who she believes was falsely convicted in the murder of an inmate
    at the prison where Wong was serving time for armed robbery. Before Yuri
    took up his cause, Wong, who was smuggled into the country as a teen, had
    no one working on his behalf.
    It is unjust imprisonment, whether of Movement revolutionaries, Iranians
    during the Iran-Contra affair, or Middle Eastern immigrants today, that
    riles up Yuri most. She follows the cases of hundreds of Americans she
    considers political prisoners, writing regularly to many of them, sending
    out her own newsletter. "For Christmas, all she wants is stamps," said
    granddaughter Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha. "She gets mad if you get her
    anything else."
    Asked to name a few of the people she writes to, Yuri can't stop, hoping to
    get all their names in the paper: Mutulu Shakur, Yu Kikumura, George Baba
    Eng, Bashir Hameed, Abdul Majid, Oscar Lopez Rivera. She tirelessly
    supports causes célèbres such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, but also unknown souls
    such as David Wong.
    How could she forget those leaders and comrades in the Movement who were
    railroaded and framed, she asks. She never mentions her father, the source
    of her fire. "That's too personal," Wu explained. "It takes away from the
    The issues, there are so many of them. Her Movement credentials reveal her
    as unusual even among activists. While many pay lip service to the notion
    of diversity, few, if any, have worked for so many causes and embraced so
    many distinct ethnic groups. "I don't think there are too many people you
    can really say were involved simultaneously in cross-cultures in a real
    day-to-day basis," said family friend Nyisha Shakur, who used to make
    prison visits with Yuri on the East Coast. "I don't think I know of any
    Even as an elderly woman, Yuri remains a hell-raising activist, said Alex
    Nguyen, an Oakland city employee who knocked on the Kochiyamas' door ten
    years ago as a college student, and then became a friend. Once, he
    recalled, he and Yuri attended a court hearing and the judge ordered the
    room cleared. The audience was corralled down the stairs, but Yuri turned
    around and tried to fight her way back up. "I couldn't believe it," he
    said. "Here she is this seventy-five-year-old going against everyone. I
    was afraid she would get hurt. I nearly had to pick her up."
    "Yuriand I say this lovingly, she has a very stubborn streak," said Wayne
    Lum, a New York friend and member of the David Wong group.
    Lum recounted how recently in New York, one group refused to take part in
    an event when it learned that another group it disliked was one of the
    "If Yuri was here, she would have brought all these groups together; I'm
    sure of it," he said. "Yuri's like a center of communication. That's the
    key to Yuri. She brings all these things together. She's a uniter."
    Yuri loved New York from the moment she arrived, and she fit right in. She
    followed the events of the civil rights movement closely in the newspaper
    and wanted to join, to begin her transformation from Bible-reading
    soldier¹s wife to radical activist and supporter of armed revolution. But
    first she wanted six kids. Billy, Audee, Aichi, Eddie, Jimmy, and Tommy
    came into the world.
    For twelve years after the war, the Kochiyamas lived in a New York housing
    project that stretched from 62nd to 65th Street. Then in 1960, when Tommy
    was just a year old, the family moved to the newly built Manhattanville
    Housing Projects in Harlem. They carted their belongings on the subway
    during a blizzard, going back and forth between the 66th and 125th Street
    "So then I told my husband, 'I hope you don't mind, I want to get involved
    in the Movement. Don't worry, I'll take the kids with me.' "
    And so the Kochiyamas joined the Harlem Parents' Committee. When one too
    many kids were hit by cars in the street, the committee leaders organized a
    sit-in. Along with other parents, Yuri put her kids in an intersection to
    demand more street lights. The city added some. Also, the committee got the
    sanitation department to pick up garbage more frequently and the
    Metropolitan Transit Authority to slow down, and quiet down, its subway
    trains as they approached stations in Harlem.
    The Kochiyamas encouraged the arts as well as activism in their children,
    and the four oldest became active themselves. One year Audee, fifteen, then
    Billy, eighteen, went down to Mississippi by themselves to participate in
    the Freedom Rides. Growing up, Eddie didn't think it was so strange that
    his mother took him to demonstrations. "It was just something we had to do," he
    said. Eddie didn't realize how different his parents were until one day, in
    junior high school, he helped organize an antiwar rally at school, and was
    suspended. "I was scared to tell my parents, but there was no way around
    it, so I just told them. Then my mom busted out and said, 'Son, I'm so
    proud of you.' "
    Every weekend, the Kochiyamas held an open house at their home. What
    started as a gathering for artists and musicians over the years became
    increasingly political. "If you were a musician, poet, whatever talent you
    might have, it'd be a big mistake to tell her that," said granddaughter
    Akemi, who recently bought a house in Harlem. "She would make you perform.
    ... She would put you on the spot. In fact, when my grandfather told her
    that he's from New York and he could do the lindy hop, she was teaching
    Sunday school. ... So I think for their first date, she invited him to come
    to Sunday school. ... And he came and sat down and she said, ^A'Class, this
    is Bill Kochiyama. And he's going to teach you how to do the lindy hop.'
    And he was like, ^A'What?!' So she made him teach the lindy hop to the whole
    class. And I think he was madly in love with her after that."
    Many a civil rights or revolutionary leader passed through apartment
    3B. "Whatever was happening in the outside world felt like it was
    happening in our house," daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman said. The children
    grew used to people crashing on the couches or even living with them for
    months at a time. For holidays, the Kochiyamas invited so many friends that
    people ate standing in the hallway or in the bedrooms.
    As a middle-aged Asian woman, Yuri earned her respect slowly in black
    groups. She eventually dropped her first name in favor of her middle one.
    "In the '60s everyone was changing their names," she said. "I was in a
    couple of black groups and my daughter said, 'Mom, you can't go in there as
    Mary.' "
    The year 1963 marked a busy one for the family. The Harlem Parents'
    Committee boycotted the public schools, starting the Harlem Freedom School
    to teach black history. Yuri, Bill, and their three oldest children
    attended. That summer, Yuri and the kids also joined hundreds of
    demonstrators who showed up daily at the Downstate Medical Center in
    Brooklyn to demand jobs for blacks and Puerto Ricans. As trucks full of
    construction materials approached the site, protesters linked arms and
    refused to budge, eventually carried off by police. There, Yuri and Billy
    were arrested for the first time.
    But it wasn't until October 1963, when Yuri and the other six hundred
    arrested protesters were arraigned, that she met Malcolm X, the Nation of
    Islam's No. 2 man, inside a Brooklyn courthouse. He was surrounded by a
    circle of young blacks. Yuri didn't know if she should approach him because
    she wasn't black, but she kept inching closer and closer.

    When she reached the outside of the cluster, Malcolm looked up and saw her.
    "He must have thought what the heck is this Asian woman doing here?" she
    Yuri shouted, "Can I shake your hand?"
    "What for?" he asked.
    "For what you're doing for your people."
    "What am I doing for my people?"
    "You're giving direction."
    Malcolm smiled and reached through the crowd. Yuri grabbed his hand and
    said, "I admire what you're doing, but I disagree with some of your thoughts."
    "And what don't you agree with?"
    "Your harsh stand on integration."
    Telling the story today, Yuri added: "I said some very stupid things back
    Malcolm said he couldn't lay out the pros and cons of integration in two
    minutes and invited her to his office, but Yuri never met him there. Soon
    after their meeting, Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam,
    silenced Malcolm for saying that the chickens had come home to roost in
    reference to John F. Kennedy's assassination. To keep a low profile,
    Malcolm stopped coming to his office on 125th Street.

    Breaking with Muhammad in 1964, Malcolm started his own group, the
    Organization for Afro-American Unity. Yuri joined. That year, she invited
    him to her apartment to meet some hibakusha, atom-bomb victims who were
    traveling on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki World Peace Mission. They wanted to
    meet Malcolm X more than anyone else in America. She doubted that he would
    come, but as the program began, a knock came at the door. There stood
    Malcolm, with one of his bodyguards.
    Yuri remembers his words from that evening well. He told the hibakusha he
    could see their scars, and that Harlem bore scars too, the result of
    racism. He talked of the European colonization of Asia, a miserable history
    it shared with black nations. "And I remember he said the struggle of the
    people of Vietnam is the struggle of the Third World, a struggle against
    imperialism," Yuri recalled in her room the other day, still impressed.
    Malcolm opened Yuri's eyes to the depth of American racism, her daughter
    Audee said. "At a certain point, she believed not just in civil rights, but
    felt it was a lot deeper than civil rights and that we had to look at US
    policy in this country and across the world," Audee said. His refusal to
    sell out, as well as his willingness to change, earned her respect. "He
    symbolized an uncompromised challenge to policy and the social structure,"
    explained Greg Morozumi, a Kochiyama family friend who helps run the
    Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland. "He was going for self-determination of
    black people and refused to sell out at any point."
    When Malcolm traveled to Africa, he sent the Kochiyamas eleven postcards
    from nine different countries. "Still trying to travel and broaden my
    scope, since I've learned what a mess can be made by narrow-minded people,"
    he wrote in one. "Bro. Malcolm X."
    Several months after he returned from abroad, Yuri and Billy were listening
    to Malcolm speak at the Audubon Ballroom when three gunmen started shooting
    at the stage. Smoke bombs diffused; people ran screaming, crashing into
    chairs. "A young brother ran to the stage," Yuri remembered, "And I
    followed. I just put his head in my lap, hoping he was alive. But he didn't
    utter a word."
    When Yuri still lived in New York,
    she would make a pilgrimage to Malcolm's grave site every May 19, his
    birthday. It was the least she could do for a man who had so changed her
    life. She always failed to mention that it was her birthday too.
    When one has hung out with Malcolm X, there is bound to be a thick folder
    with one's name on it in a government filing cabinet somewhere. Some years
    ago, Yuri filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI and CIA.
    The government withheld hundreds of pages. Of the hundreds of
    pages it handed over, half of the text was blacked out. Still, the
    Kochiyamas had a good laugh. The files claimed that Yuri had run guns, and
    that one of the civil rights groups she and Bill belonged to, Asian
    Americans for Action, had been a terrorist threat.

    She wasn't surprised. That the FBI came for her father while Pearl Harbor
    was still being bombed proved to her that they were already keeping tabs on
    him. And although the US Postal Service may have released a Malcolm X stamp
    a few years ago, during his lifetime the man was vilified by American
    leaders and the media.
    "The US government has demonized all such people like Malcolm," Yuri said.
    Somewhat later, she added: "White people like Bush, they want to do away
    with everyone but themselves."

    It follows then that Yuri does not believe Osama bin Laden is really the
    evil of all evils he is portrayed as, a sentiment she leaves out of public
    speeches, but willingly discusses privately. "I'd ask people, 'Why do you
    think Osama bin Laden has some grudge against the US?' " she said in one
    such discussion.

    It speaks to Yuri's character that she appears to have no enemies within
    the Movement, at least none with a face and a name. Once, Yuri received a
    death threat over the telephone, her friend Lum recalled. From whom, Lum
    won't say. "You think about it," he said. "Who do we fight against? Who do
    we protest against?" Lum noted that while he and Yuri's other friends
    worried for her and contemplated how to protect her, "she didn't bat an
    The call came soon after Bill passed away in 1993. In her husband, she lost
    a dearly devoted, utterly romantic, gently protective partner, a man who
    would quietly listen in on Yuri's meetings in the living room while he
    cooked and cleaned in the kitchen. "You know how that saying goes, 'Behind
    every strong man is a strong woman?' " Alex Nguyen said. "This is just the
    Bill could not have been pleased with his wife's numerous arrests. The two
    youngest children, Jimmy and Tommy, moved to Los Angeles when they reached
    their teens, a little resentful that Mom was so busy, Audee said. Yuri even
    converted to Islam for a few years, wanting to experience the change she
    saw in so many around herbut tried to hide it from the family.
    "In my family, we joke that he married this crazy, radical woman who made
    him live in the projects in Harlem when he could have married a normal
    Japanese girl and had a quiet life," Akemi said. "He would have never had
    this life if it weren't for her. And it was the most amazing life."
    But it was a life with its share of tragedies. They lost two of their
    children, first Billy in 1975, then Aichi in 1989. Both were hit by
    taxicabs. Five months after Aichi passed away, her husband died of sickle
    cell anemia.
    In 1997, Yuri had a stroke, which weakened her legs significantly. She had
    trouble walking, and had to grab furniture to drag her body along, little
    though it may be. She also grew depressed. Although she never thought she
    would move back to California, her children had all found their way here,
    and in 1999 they moved her to the Bay Area.
    "I was in a bad way," Yuri said. "It was just agonizing to me. My daughter
    was thinking I might do something crazy and had the lady next door check on
    me. They found me on the floor and took me to the psychiatric hospital."
    She stayed in three different hospitals in a row. At one, they zipped her
    into bed every night. As awful an experience as it was, she was glad to
    have it. "Any experience is a learning experience and you understand what
    people go through," Yuri said now, busily back to her old self. "It really
    made me much more sensitive and understanding."
    Meanwhile, her family and friends made repeated trips to New York to box up
    forty years of photographs, love letters, file cabinets, and political
    posters. UCLA archived some of her files. But most of her belongings sit
    in a storage unit, including her teddy bear collection, which numbers in
    the hundreds.
    "That place was like a historical site," Eddie said. "It was a real bitch
    to move."Yuri's sense of history brings her all sorts of visitors and
    callers, seeking her memories and thoughts. This year on February 21, the
    anniversary of Malcolm X's death, Yuri got up by 7 a.m. so that WBAI, a New
    York radio station, could interview her about what happened that day 37
    years ago. It is a story, though painful to recall, she has told a hundred
    In the afternoon, someone stopped by to teach her how to send an e-mail
    attachment. (When it was suggested to her that she could e-mail information
    much faster than if she used a real envelope, Yuri cried in disbelief, "But
    you can't send a leaflet in an e-mail!") At five, Alex came by to take her
    to the Sebastiao Salgado photo exhibit at UC Berkeley which documented the
    migration of refugees. Yuri pushed her walker close to the wall to peer at
    the captions beneath the black and white photos of glassy-eyed children,
    hardened faces, and corpses. Impressed, she said that every teacher should
    bring their students to the exhibit.
    A few days later, Alex sat with Yuri's family at the Kabuki Theater in San
    Francisco's Japantown to hear her give the keynote address at the Day of
    Remembrance, commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of Executive Order No.
    9066. Yuri stood wobbly on a step, grasping the podium. She said the Day of
    Remembrance was especially important this year in the wake of September 11,
    calling once again for solidarity with Muslims and Arabs.
    Yuri didn't always mention the negative side of her camp experience. Audee
    recalled that when she was young, she didn't fully understand these camps
    her parents spoke of. "It seemed like she had good memories. It was the
    first time she was with so many Japanese Americans and in some ways it
    didn't seem like such a bad experience." When she got older, though, her
    parents talked more openly about their incarceration. Yuri noted that many
    Japanese Americans were ashamed to talk about those times. "I don't have to
    be ashamed," she concluded. "Gee, America should be ashamed!" The couple
    joined a movement for redress.
    Bill Kochiyama testified at a Washington, DC commission formed to
    investigate the internments, and in 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed an
    act that provided an apology and $20,000 to each surviving internee. Nearly
    half of the internees had already died by then, and the act did not address
    the American imprisonment of Latin Americans of Japanese ancestry who had
    been removed not only from their homes, but their countries.
    When a Day of Remembrance organizer presented Yuri with an honorarium, she
    grew flustered. "Oh no," she said. "I want it to go to the David Wong
    Support Committee." After the program, Alex said he wanted to take Yuri to
    a movie. But Herb Holman, Audee's husband, said Yuri needed to rest. The
    day before, Yuri had marched all day to protest the war, spoken at a school
    dinner, then stayed up all night preparing her Day of Remembrance speech.
    Yuri said she'd take a break, yet she filled her planner with events. She
    has seen other stroke victims grow silent, and sometimes she finds it hard
    to move her jaws. "I think soon I will have difficulty talking," she said.
    "I won't be able to talk so I might as well do it while I can." She already
    can't remember some words and she has forgotten dates and events she once
    As Yuri's memory wanes, so does the Movement's reach. Movement stalwarts
    would say that not since the Vietnam War has the need for opposition been
    so great. But dissent has reached its lowest ebb in generations as George
    W. Bush's approval ratings soar. Although Yuri represents the feisty
    courage of opposition in all its principled glory, she simultaneously
    symbolizes its declining impact. The protesters may be out there, but
    they're marching in circles.
    While Yuri says that Bay Area activism rivals that of New York, she also
    admits the Movement isn't what it was back in the '60s and '70s, when she
    was a fixture on the New York scene with her cat-eye glasses and her
    kerchief, pushing her children and grandchildren to protests in a stroller.
    She was an early partisan in the ethnic-studies movement; a supporter of
    the Young Lords, who wanted Puerto Rican independence; and a card-carrying
    member of the Republic of New Africa, whose goal was to purchase five
    southern states and secede from the Union. On ethnic studies, the Movement
    won. On the latter two, and countless other causes, it did not.
    To be a Movement person is to live a life of losses, yet still retain hope.
    And Yuri never lets go of hope. She may forget things now, but she learns
    them again. When, in rare moments, she has time to herself, she takes
    Malcolm's edict to "know history" at heart, and devours history books. Her
    eyes dart behind big glasses as she sits in her tiny room, its shelves
    stuffed with files, its walls plastered with family photos and Movement
    leaflets, its light burning long into the night.

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