"Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society." - Yuri Kochiyama
The fact that I have had nearly twenty years of schooling is very disappointing when I consider that I had never heard of Yuri Kochiyama until my involvement with ECAASU. Despite several units dedicated to the civil rights movement, despite even teaching the civil rights movement, I had not realized the extent to which APIA liberation is tied to and involved with others’ liberations.
For those who don’t know, Kochiyama had a rich history and background in her dedication towards social justice. She is most well known for a photograph in the Times of her and Malcolm X, right after he was shot. But there’s much more to Kochiyama than just an image. Her actions were as great as any other civil rights leader.
What is the most incredible is how easily Kochiyama fell into social justice. Though she didn’t necessarily seek this out, it’s her sort of accidental foray into activism that really resonates with me.
"I didn't wake up and decide to become an activist," she told the Dallas Morning News in 2004. "But you couldn't help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you." (Elaine Woo, for the LA Times)
I too, didn’t wake up one morning and decide to seek change. But every small moment of catcalling, or racial joke, or homophobic remark made me cringe, and wonder if that needed to be true. What I’ll remember the most is that all actions count, and that there is no limitation to doing the right thing.
There weren’t any limits to Kochiyama’s issues, either. What I loved the most was how she was willing to fight for any cause she deemed unjust, and her continued dedication to social justice even through her nineties.
Kochiyama’s death is a loss, but also a learning opportunity. We should actively seek out and recognize such crusaders when they’re alive, instead of waiting to memorialize them after their death.
Let’s ensure that Kochiyama’s legacy is never forgotten. When we talk about equality and movements, let’s remember that everybody can play a role, and that one of us cannot be free while another is oppressed.