RIP, Yuri Kochiyama

The Japanese-American civil rights activist and phenomenal model of intersectionality has died of natural causes, peacefully in her sleep, at the age of 93. From NPR:

Born in 1921 as Mary Yuriko Nakahara, Kochiyama spent the early years of her life in San Pedro, Calif., a small town south of Los Angeles. Months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she and her family were forced to relocate to internment camps along with tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans. She met her late husband Bill Kochiyama, who served with other Japanese-American soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas, where she spent two years.

The couple married after World War II and moved to start their family in New York City. Living in housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her interest in the civil rights movement. […] Her brief but formative friendship with Malcolm X, whom she first met in 1963, helped radicalize her activism. Kochiyama began focusing her work on black nationalism and was with Malcolm X during his final moments. Minutes after gunmen fired at Malcolm X in 1965 during his last speech in New York City, she rushed towards him and cradled his head on her lap. A black-and-white photo in Life magazine shows Kochiyama peering worriedly through horn-rimmed glasses at Malcolm X’s bullet-riddled body.

Kochiyama’s work on reparations for Japanese-Americans has been coming to mind for me a lot lately. Here’s a good video of Sandra Oh reading Kochiyama: “Historically Americans have always been putting people behind walls. First there were the American Indians who were put on reservations, Africans in slavery on plantations, Chicanos doing migratory work in the kind of camps they lived in and even too the Chinese when they worked on railroad camps… and I feel that these are things we should fight against, so they won’t happen again.”