Every January, the nation pauses to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holding just as much meaning for many is Feb. 21, the anniversary of Malcolm X's untimely death. Among those who last saw him alive is a Japanese woman who cradled his head as he lay dying from gunshot wounds in New York City's Audubon Ballroom in 1965.
That woman, Yuri Kochiyama, is one of many whose social, political and civil rights activism was inspired by Malcolm X. She is one of the few non-Blacks often associated with him and has forged multi-ethnic coalitions, especially between Asian Americans and Blacks. An 84-year-old Nisei--American-born child of immigrant parents--Kochiyama is one of the most prominent Asian American activists who emerged from the 1960s. She has championed human rights, protested racial inequality and supported political prisoners worldwide, often doing mundane but important behind-the-scenes work. Interned during World War II, Kochiyama has likened the ordeal to the segregation of Blacks.
Kochiyama is so well known for her warmth and sincerity that Dr. Diane C. Fujino refers to her by first name in Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama, a biography of the activist published last year. A University of California, Santa Barbara associate professor of Asian American studies, Fujino says she is glad Kochiyama has diverse supporters.
"Every Black radical and nationalist I've met embraces Yuri," Fujino says. "And in Yuri, young Asian Americans learn about someone who looks like them, but has worked completely outside the system."
LESSONS IN DISCRIMINATION
Born Mary Nakahara in...