Yuri Kochiyama’s Biography

Table of Contents


Experience of Internment Camp

Malcolm X and Marriage

Minority group members have been subjected to a lot of discrimination in America. They’ve also suffered from racism, oppression and other social injustices. Asian women and Asian American woman are included in this group. The fact that they are women has led to them being subjected to sexism. Asian women have been categorized as “women with color” who had to face harsh immigration policies and laws. At work, they suffered poor working conditions and were treated unjustly. Unfairly compensated and unjustly represented, they were also discriminated against. Asian women were subjected to physical and mental violence. They were also degraded and stereotyped. They were denied citizenship and the same rights as Americans. They were also viewed as being unworthy. Asian women are fighting to be accepted beyond the stereotypes they were given. Asian American woman like Yuri Kochiyama has fought the injustices minorities have experienced. She is a political activist and has fought for civil, human and minority rights.

Early LifeYuri Kochiyama, born on May 19, 1921. Mary Yuriko Nakahara is her birthname. She was born and raised on the San Pedro coast of California. She had two older brothers and two younger siblings. One of them was her twin, Peter. Seiichi was Yuri Nakahara’s father. He worked as a fish merchant and had connections with superior Japanese, who provided ships to them. Tsuyako was Yuri Nakahara’s mother. She had a college degree and stayed at home and ran the household. Yuri was taught by her mother to play the piano. She was involved in various girls’ organizations, led sports teams, and taught children at the Sunday School. She was the very first woman to hold a vice-presidential position at San Pedro High. Yuri was a sports writer for the San Pedro News-Pilot newspaper. She studied English, Art, and Journalism at Compton Junior College.

Pearl Harbor was hit by Japanese bombs on 7 December 1941. This marked a significant event in American and United States history. Yuri Kochiyama also had her life personally affected. Yuri and her father were recovering at home from surgery on the day FBI agents arrested them. He was detained in Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary. He was falsely branded a Japanese spy, despite his work as a merchant of fish who also provided ships to the Japanese and had strong ties with them. Kochiyama’s parents learned later that the FBI was monitoring them. Yuri Nakahara’s dad, Mr. Nakahara had to be interrogated during his detention in regards to the broadcasts out of Japan and a message sent by Ambassador Kichisaburo Namura, a long-time Japanese friend. The Ambassador apologized to Mr. Nakahara in that message for being unable to visit him and enjoy “sanma”, due to his business in Washington. But the FBI did not recognize that word they used, a Japanese term called “sanma”, and assumed it to be some code. Unbeknownst of the FBI’s knowledge, “sanma”, is a Japanese word for a particular type of seafood (Murase (2007). The accusations and doubts led to Yuri’s unjustly detained father. His health deteriorated, and he died. Mr. Nakahara’s death occurred on January 21, 1942, six weeks after his release.

Experience at an Internment CampIn the month of February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The military was ordered to relocate any residents who were considered enemy “aliens”. Yuri and family were Nisei who were sent to the internment camps, or “assembly-centers” as a result of Executive Order 9066. They were moved to an internment center in Jerome, Arkansas. There they stayed for about two years. During that time, she was able to see and feel the various social problems as well as racism in the South. These laws implemented segregation of races in the Southern United States. Yuri had a number of experiences during her youth, including an unwarranted father’s death, that made her more aware of how the government misused power. Yuri remained engaged and positive with her fellow interns. Yuri resumed her Sunday School teaching, as she had previously done before moving to the internment camp. These youths she taught were known as Crusaders. They are a structured group that she organized. The Crusaders wrote and composed numerous letters for the Nisei Soldiers who served in the United States Army during WWII to provide a positive and supportive environment. Yuri had a positive experience at the Jerome USO. Bill Kochiyama was a Nisei Soldier in the United States Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Marriage, Activism, & Malcolm X In 1946, Yuri Nakahara & Bill Kochiyama got married. They lived in New York City’s small housing projects. Together, the couple had six kids. Due to their community involvement, their social life was thriving despite their small apartment. They also had many guests due to the fact that they were active and involved in their community. Christmas Cheer is a family-oriented newsletter they produced and wrote together between 1950 and 1969. Yuri & Bill moved to Harlem at the beginning of the 1960s. The neighborhood was populated by Puerto Ricans & Blacks. This move was what sparked her activism. She invited others to speak in her home. Yuri enrolled with her husband in “freedom classes” to become familiarized with the culture of blacks. The Civil Rights Movement, which spanned from the 1950s to the 1960s, was an effort by African Americans for freedom, equality, and privileges, as well as the eradication of racial segregation and discrimination. She organized school boycotts to ensure inner-city students received equal and high quality education. Yuri was arrested in 1963 after she learned of the discrimination faced by Puerto Ricans as well as Blacks when it came to the hiring process for a specific job. In a Brooklyn courthouse, she met Malcolm X for the first time. She gestured to give him a hug, and friendship began. Yuri invited Malcolm X to a meeting in June 1964. Malcolm X was invited by Yuri to meet Japanese survivors who had been affected by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bomb. The journalists were also on a tour of the world to promote peace. Yuri was interested in Malcolm X’s fight for Black liberation and joined his organization, the Organization for Afro-American Unity. Yuri saw her friend Malcolm X killed while attending a speech by Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom of Harlem in February 1965. She placed her head in his lap and ran to him without hesitation as he took his final breaths. Photos have captured the moment when Yuri cradles Malcolm X on her lap.

Yuri, despite Malcolm X’s premature death, continued to be active in politics and continue her fight for civil and human rights. She became an active member of Asian Americans for Action in the latter half of the 1960s. This was to support their fight against US military aggression on Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia. She sought to create a more politically-charged Asian American movement, which could be connected with the struggle for Black freedoms. She often visited prisons to lend support to imprisoned activists. In 1977 she joined Puerto Rican nationalists to help their non-violent fight for the release of five political prisoners. Yuri continued to fight for her rights even as time passed. She was involved in reparations campaigns for Japanese Americans. Yuri’s husband and she both campaigned to get reparations for Japanese Americans who had been detained in World War II. Yuri won this battle. The Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Reagan in 1988. As a result, Japanese Americans who had been detained in World War II received $20,000 per person.

Yuri’s political involvement continued into her nineties, and she inspired younger people to continue. Yuri Kochiyama died on June 1, 2014. She was 93. Yuri made a contribution to social change all her life. She participated in a variety of human and civil rights movements, both in the United States and in Third World nations. She was involved in many movements that aimed to liberate Black, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino minorities and fight racism. She also fought to ensure inner-city children received an equal education. Yuri Kochiyama has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” Project. This award honors women who strive to bring peace and justice to the world, and who show dedication and determination to make lives better for future and present generations. Yuri Kochiyama had a strong and influential personality who was a major contributor to the rectification, and reparations for civil and human-rights of minorities. “Our ultimate purpose in learning anything, is to create and build a juster society than what we currently have,” (Kochiyama, 1993). In one Yuri Kochiyama’s talks, in which she discussed her detention at the internment camp she made a very powerful statement. It is still applicable today. Kochiyama, in 1991, said: “I could not believe it was happening. . . I was so naive. As I reflect, I am surprised at how little I know about American history. It’s what they want to you know. . . . “Voices of a People’s History” (Kochiyama, 1991, para. 6). History is not taught in its entirety. Instead, only the parts they think we should know are included. Yuri Kochiyama exhibited strength, determination and positivity despite all the obstacles that she encountered.


  • ernestfarley

    Ernest is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who writes about a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. He has a passion for helping others learn and grow, and believes that education should be accessible to everyone. Ernest is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and he has taught high school students in the United States, Mexico, and Chile.