Yuri Kochiyama's Legacy Asks Us To Build Bridges Not Walls : Throughline "Build bridges, not walls." Solidarity was at the heart of Yuri Kochiyama's work. A Japanese-American activist whose early political awakenings came while incarcerated in the concentration camps of World War II America, Kochiyama dedicated her life to social justice and liberation movements. As hate crimes against AAPI people surge in this country, we reflect on Yuri Kochiyama's ideas around the Asian American struggle, and what solidarity and intersectionality can mean for all struggles.

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A quick note before we get started - this episode contains descriptions of racial violence.


YURI KOCHIYAMA: The date was February 21. It was a Sunday.


MALCOLM X: (Unintelligible).


DIANE FUJINO: Yuri and her oldest son Billy, a teenager, were among the audience in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem to listen to Malcolm give his message.


Y KOCHIYAMA: I think that whole week, there was a lot of rumors going on that something might happen to Malcolm.

FUJINO: Brother Malcolm had - the week before, had had his house bombed.


MALCOLM X: As many of you know, somebody threw some bombs inside my house. Normally, I wouldn't get excited over a few bombs, but the ones who threw these aimed them in rooms where three of my daughters sleep - one daughter 6, one daughter 4 and one daughter 2.


FUJINO: And on that day, February 21, 1965, when Brother Malcolm got up to speak, there was a distraction in the audience.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One guy got up and said, get your hands out of my pocket. And they started fighting, the two.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And just then, the gunfire went off. And his hand was up - I remember this. I turned around quickly, and the next thing I saw was Malcolm falling back in a dead faint.


FUJINO: He fell back with gunshots to his chest.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You know, chairs were being knocked over. There were screams. Everybody was in a mad confusion.


FUJINO: And in this commotion, of course, everyone ducked for cover, including Yuri and her son Billy. Malcolm's wife Betty and their young children were in the audience that day as well.


FUJINO: But then Yuri saw someone run up to the stage to try to help Malcolm, and she got out of her seat and followed him up on stage.


Y KOCHIYAMA: And picked up his head and just put it on my lap.

FUJINO: This was remarkable. Everybody was scared, trying to protect their own lives, which is completely understandable. And Yuri Kochiyama runs on the stage, places Malcolm's head on her lap and tries to offer some kind of comfort.


Y KOCHIYAMA: People asked, what did he say? He doesn't say anything. He was just having a difficult time breathing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: What did you say to him?

Y KOCHIYAMA: I said, please, Malcolm, please, Malcolm - stay alive.


ABDELFATAH: In that fateful moment, as Yuri Kochiyama cradled Malcolm's head in her arms, a close associate of Malcolm X took a photo. It has an almost ethereal quality to it - the fallen warrior, eyes closed, wounds exposed, white shirt stained with blood, being held in the arms of a loved one, Yuri Kochiyama. She's dressed in all black, kneeling on the ground, her back hunched over Malcolm, her hands holding up his head and her eyes pointed down his face. Looking at her, you get a sense of fear and panic, but also a certain gentleness and care. A couple weeks later, this photo ended up in the pages of Life magazine, but Yuri's name was nowhere to be found.

FUJINO: And yet, why was this Asian woman in the room, right? And what does this say about Black-Asian relations in any way? I think that those are some of the questions that we need to raise and ask.



Yuri Kochiyama dedicated her life to social justice for people of all backgrounds. She fought for Black liberation alongside Malcolm X, for Puerto Rican rights alongside the Young Lords, for better labor practices among the working class, and she was instrumental in building the Asian American movement.

ABDELFATAH: I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei.

ABDELFATAH: And on this episode of THROUGHLINE from NPR, the radical solidarity of Yuri Kochiyama.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Chanting) How do we get out of this mess?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Revolution - nothing less.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Chanting) How do we get out of this mess?


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: We have lived in the shadows - invisible, overlooked, stereotyped and relegated as second-class citizens.

ARABLOUEI: The U.S. is grappling with increasing violence against Asian Americans, including the brutal killing of six Asian women in Atlanta and an elderly Thai man in San Francisco.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: There have been a number of incidents recently of API elders, of Chinese elders, of Southeast Asian elders, who have been walking in this community and have been attacked senselessly.

ARABLOUEI: It has raised long-simmering questions about the treatment of Asian Americans, especially since the pandemic began last March.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: The avalanche of anti-Asian American hate crimes.

ARABLOUEI: Hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities reportedly surged by nearly 150% in 2020.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: America, we have a problem.

FUJINO: I find myself constantly thinking about - what would Yuri do in this situation?

ARABLOUEI: This is Diane Fujino, professor of Asian American studies at UC Santa Barbara and author of the book "Heartbeat Of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life Of Yuri Kochiyama."

FUJINO: Yuri is always present with me. She not only dedicated her entire life to fierce political struggle, but she was also somebody who tried to treat the individuals in the movement and in communities with great love - what we would call today collective care.


ABDELFATAH: Collective care, solidarity - that was at the heart of Yuri's work and how she lived her life.

FUJINO: She allowed me to interview her multiple times. She invited me into her home. She tried to give me a key the first time I met her 'cause she thought that I would be stuck outside in the cold in case she arrived home late from a meeting. And I refused to accept that key. But from the second time on that I visited her in Harlem, I would stay with her in her home.

ABDELFATAH: Diane often reflects on the conversations they would have, the wisdom Yuri would impart.

FUJINO: Remember that consciousness is power. Tomorrow's world is yours to build. It's not going to be given to us, right? We have to demand it. We have to build it - together.


Y KOCHIYAMA: On the walls, I have all my heroes - from Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara, Assata Shakur, all the people in my family, every one of them.

ABDELFATAH: Yuri's legacy is complicated. On the one hand, she was a pioneer in the Asian American movement and supported freedom movements for many groups of people, but she also had controversial views on some things, including admiration for Mao Zedong and Osama bin Laden that stemmed from her radical opposition to American imperialism.

ARABLOUEI: Yuri was open to new ideas and perspectives throughout her life. She was constantly evolving and embodied different, sometimes uncomfortable, values. So in this episode, we're going to journey into the life of Yuri Kochiyama to explore how she developed her complex worldview, what she thought about the Asian American struggle and what collective care can mean for all struggles.


REBECCA: Hi. This is Rebecca (ph) from Santa Fe, N.M. You're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3, BYLINE: Part one - Then Came War.


SANDRA OH: (Reading) I was red, white and blue when I was growing up. I taught Sunday school and was very, very American. But I was also very provincial. We were just kids rooting for our high school.

ABDELFATAH: This is the voice of actress Sandra Oh, who you might know from shows like "Grey's Anatomy" or "Killing Eve." She's reciting an essay by Yuri Kochiyama from 1991 called "Then Came The War."


OH: (Reading) I was 19. I had just finished junior college. I was looking for a job...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Reading) ...And didn't realize how different the school world is from the work world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Reading) In the school world, I never felt racism. But when you got into the work world, it was very different.

ABDELFATAH: Lots of people, especially Asian American women, have recited this essay over the decades. It takes you back to a different time in U.S. history.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Reading) It was 1941, just before the war. I finally did get a job at a...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Reading) ...Department store. For us, back then, it was a big thing because I don't...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Reading) ...Think that they had ever hired an Asian in a department store before.


ORSON WELLES: Thank you.

ABDELFATAH: In 1941...


WELLES: How do you do, ladies and gentlemen?

ABDELFATAH: ...Gas was 19 cents a gallon.


WELLES: This is Orson Welles. I'm speaking from the Mercury Theater. And what follows is supposed to advertise our first motion picture. "Citizen Kane" is the title.

ABDELFATAH: "Citizen Kane" was debuting in theaters.


ABDELFATAH: And of course, the U.S. was inching towards war.


Y KOCHIYAMA: You know, I was so pro-U.S., I think because I had a good experience growing up in San Pedro.

FUJINO: San Pedro, Calif. She was born to a Japanese American family of some prominence. Her family was able to live right bumped up next to the white part of town. But of course, they could not pass that racial barrier - right? - of segregation.


Y KOCHIYAMA: During my whole young life, I felt very safe (ph). I didn't feel that much of, you know, prejudice, and so I was very - I don't know - very American then.

FUJINO: And this was a time before the development of ethnic studies, before people like Malcolm X were really rallying in very large-scale ways - a sense of pride in one's culture. And so on one hand, somebody like Yuri spoke Japanese in the home. Her parents were Japanese immigrants, right? She was closely connected to Japanese culture. And then, on the other hand, like many Nisei - second-generation Japanese American - wanted to be an American, whatever that means, right? And I think in many ways it meant getting closer to white America.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: (Non-English language spoken).


Y KOCHIYAMA: But I really was ignorant, just ignorant, about a lot of things. The war was already going on in Europe, you know? Hitler was moving across Europe and all that. But I didn't even know too much why that was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: December 7, 1941...

Y KOCHIYAMA: December 7 is a date...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: ...A date which will live...

Y KOCHIYAMA: ...We won't forget.



ARABLOUEI: On December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m., Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And within hours, Yuri's family, the Nakaharas, got a knock on their door.


Y KOCHIYAMA: Three guys walked in. I didn't know what they were till later. But it was FBI. And they asked if Mr. Nakahara lived there. I said, oh, yeah, but he just came home from the hospital, and he's sleeping in the back.

FUJINO: He had had ulcer surgery.


Y KOCHIYAMA: They didn't say anything. They just went in the house, went to the back, woke up my father and said, put on your bathrobe and slippers, I guess. And they took him away just like that.


FUJINO: Yuri's father is detained. And this happened to 2- or 3,000 Japanese American immigrant men in particular, who were picked up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


Y KOCHIYAMA: We were calling each other up, saying, did anyone come to your house yet? Some of the people said, yes; some said no. But they all had heard over the radio that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. So we said, oh, my God, we're all going to be in trouble.


ARABLOUEI: Five weeks went by before Yuri was allowed to visit her father. A week later, he was released. But just one day after returning home, he died, perhaps from being moved so soon after his surgery.


MILTON EISENHOWER: When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, our West Coast became a potential combat zone. Living in that zone were more than 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. Military authorities therefore determined that all of them would have to move.

ARABLOUEI: Before long, Yuri - who was 20 years old at this point - along with her family and many other Japanese people, were forced to leave their homes, their fates unknown.


Y KOCHIYAMA: There were some people on the street who had signs saying, we're sorry to see you go, you know, you Japanese go. But there were also people who had signs that say, get out Japs. The hysteria of war was really high.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: The relocation centers are supervised by the War Relocation Authority in unsettled parts of California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas.

FUJINO: It helped her to recognize herself as a Japanese American - this is what Yuri says - and to see the strength of the Japanese American community and to survive as not just individuals, but to come together as community. You know, people grew gardens, right? They figured out how to put up partitions in the bathrooms to have a little privacy and dignity. There was great protest inside the concentration camps.


FUJINO: She talked to a lot of people inside the camps. She listened to discussions of more politicized Japanese Americans inside the camps. And I would say she started to grow a social consciousness, a sense that problems in the United States had social and structural origins.


ABDELFATAH: I noticed that you called the - what are typically referred to as internment camps, Japanese internment camps, concentration camps. And I wonder if that's intentional and why you decided to use that term.

FUJINO: Yeah. Thank you for that, for drawing out - right? - a vocabulary, which is so important. And I borrow from the Japanese American redress and reparation activists who talked about the ways that the U.S. government used euphemisms - right? - or kinder, gentler words that actually distort the real meanings of things to refer to what happened to the Japanese Americans during World War II.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Their evacuation did not imply individual disloyalty but was ordered to reduce a military hazard at a time when danger of invasion was great.

FUJINO: Evacuation refers to moving to safety, but that's not what happened. It was forced, right? It was done through racial profiling and racism against a group who were the descendants of, supposedly, the enemy. And so what the Japanese American activist community has called upon for decades is that they be called concentration camps.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: (Reading) We always called the camps relocation centers while we were there. Now it feels apropos to call them concentration camps.

FUJINO: And when people say, well, doesn't that diminish what happened in Nazi Germany? The response has been that those were death camps, but these - that Yuri and Japanese Americans were placed in were concentration camps. There was barbed wire. There were sentries. They were forced to be placed into them. Their freedoms were limited.


FUJINO: One-hundred-twenty-thousand Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Yuri spent two years living in a camp. And that experience forever changed the way she viewed the U.S. and its history.


Y KOCHIYAMA: You know, if you took history in school, I don't think we learned very much of anything.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: (Reading) 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 and even to the Chinese when they worked on the railroad camps.


Y KOCHIYAMA: You're taught what a good country America is and it does so much good to the world and all that crap. I believed it wholeheartedly. And certainly for the first time, I felt something different.


ARABLOUEI: When we come back, Yuri Kochiyama begins to learn a whole different side of American history and comes face to face with Malcolm X for the first time.


JENNY WATERS: Hi. This is Jenny Waters (ph) in East Lansing, Mich., and you're listening to THROUGHLINE. Thank you for this podcast. I love it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11, BYLINE: Part two - The Handshake.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: The fragile peace was suddenly shattered. The communist-led North Korean army plunged across the line which separated it from free South Korea.


ABDELFATAH: It's now the 1950s. The U.S. is at war - again, this time in Korea.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: And now once again, the soldier was on foreign soil.


FUJINO: Tell me when you first met.

Y KOCHIYAMA: He doesn't even remember.


Y KOCHIYAMA: You never remember that date.

B KOCHIYAMA: November something?


ABDELFATAH: By this point, Yuri was married to Bill Kochiyama, a World War II vet. They'd first met at the camp where Yuri and her family were detained. And, well, they hit it off.


Y KOCHIYAMA: November of what?

B KOCHIYAMA: I don't know.



ABDELFATAH: Yuri and Bill lived in Mississippi for a while, and by the 1950s they were living in New York.

FUJINO: In New York, there was not a large Japanese American community, and so there wasn't a ready Japanese American or Asian American activist community to plug into. And in some ways, Yuri and her husband Bill were doing that work. They're supporting, you know, Asian Americans en route to the Korean War, right?

ABDELFATAH: Hosting gatherings at their home, giving soldiers a sense of camaraderie.

FUJINO: This is like - people would call it community activism.


Y KOCHIYAMA: The first place I worked in New York was Chock Full O' Nuts, very famous restaurant. And I got a job as a, you know, waitress. I loved that job. And it was the first time I'm working with just Black people. Two of the guys were from the South, and so I mentioned to them that I lived for a year and a half in Mississippi and that a USO should service everybody.

ARABLOUEI: USO stands for the United Service Organizations, a nonprofit that provides live entertainment to soldiers and their families.


Y KOCHIYAMA: But no Black soldiers came in. And so they said, what was the address? I gave the address. I couldn't forget - 2235 (ph). They said, that's the main drag; no Black soldiers even wearing a uniform can go in anywhere on the main drag. I was shocked. Then I got really interested and wanted to find out everything I could about what Black people have gone through. And it made me ashamed when I could think of Asians who were just as racist as whites towards Blacks anyway.

ARABLOUEI: It was experiences like that talking to co-workers and neighbors who were Black and Puerto Rican that began to educate Yuri about the deep roots of segregation and racism in America.

FUJINO: Yuri and others living in the same building shared with each other. These were people who didn't always have a lot, so they needed to share food with each other. They shared child care. They shared resources and information. And they talked.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: The sickness and ugliness of racism was exposed to the entire nation and to the rest of the world as well by newspaper...

FUJINO: And at the same time, she was following the news of the civil rights movement unfolding on television and in the newspapers. And she was seeing things like water cannons blasting peaceful Black protesters, dogs being sicced on peaceful Black protesters.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not...

ARABLOUEI: The more Yuri learned, the more she wanted to learn more.

FUJINO: She started to invite civil rights activists. She was quite unusual. She would just see people announced in the newspaper that they were speakers coming through town, and she would call up Columbia University and invite them to her home. And she was always also so extraordinarily modest. And she just did this to try to get exposed and get the people around her exposed.

ARABLOUEI: She also began getting involved in the labor movement.


Y KOCHIYAMA: Racism is something that it seemed like all people of color - if not people of color, it would be poor people - have gone through that this country is not only race conscious, but class conscious.

ABDELFATAH: Meanwhile, Yuri's family was growing.

FUJINO: You know, she became an activist and an organizer in her 40s as the mother of six children.


FUJINO: Right? Right?


Y KOCHIYAMA: By the time I had six kids, we had to move to a larger apartment. And you know, we were living in the housing project, low-income housing. And they were building a new low-income housing in Harlem.

FUJINO: So her family moves to Harlem in 1960. She tells a hilarious story of how they carried their whole life - their whole apartment full of stuff on the subway, back and forth multiple times from midtown Manhattan to New York - I mean, to Harlem.


Y KOCHIYAMA: Gee, Harlem. I mean, activism - I mean, Harlem was the place to go.

FUJINO: She was really primed when she moved to Harlem to get involved after the growth in her political consciousness during the '50s. And the activism around her in Harlem is mostly in the Black movement.


FUJINO: She got involved in supporting better quality schools for the children of Harlem, now including her own children. And then she got involved in a labor struggle at a medical site where they were going to build a new medical building and were doing their typical discrimination in hiring.


Y KOCHIYAMA: During the summer of '63, it was a fight for jobs for Black and Puerto Ricans.

FUJINO: CORE had organized this, the Congress on Racial Equality, to demand jobs for Black and Puerto Rican construction workers. And you know, some of what they were doing was putting their bodies on the line to block the entry of construction trucks onto the site and to slow down the work. And Yuri did that, and she got arrested. She was one of more than 600 arrested.


Y KOCHIYAMA: The hearings started after the summer. And one day, Malcolm walked through the door.

FUJINO: Malcolm X.


FUJINO: You know, he was this monumental figure, especially in Harlem, where he was based. And in the Black community, you know, people greatly admired him. Not everyone agreed with him, but he was a force to be reckoned with.


Y KOCHIYAMA: All the Black activists all ran over to Malcolm and circled him. They were shaking hands with him. I though, gee, I want to shake his hands, too, you know. But I thought, gee, maybe it's not right for me 'cause I'm not Black. And somebody's not going to like that, wondering why an Asian wants to do that. And I said, doggone it, I'm going to - somehow I'm going to shake his hand.

ABDELFATAH: Yuri mustered the courage to yell out...


Y KOCHIYAMA: Malcolm, can I shake your head?

ABDELFATAH: He looked over at her.


Y KOCHIYAMA: I think he was surprised it was an Asian woman anyway.

ABDELFATAH: And then he responded...


Y KOCHIYAMA: What for? I said, I want to congratulate you. I don't know why I said that.

ABDELFATAH: He's like, congratulate me on what?


Y KOCHIYAMA: I thought, gee, gosh, what do I want to congratulate him for? And I said, for what you're doing for your people. And he said, and what am I doing for my people? And I thought, oh, now what shall I say? But I said, I think, giving direction.


ABDELFATAH: Malcolm X then smiled and put out his hand.


Y KOCHIYAMA: And so I ran, and I grabbed it. And then I said something very stupid. I mean, I said, I admire what you're doing, but I don't agree with you about everything. And he said, well, what don't you agree with me about? And I said, your harsh stand on integration.

MALCOLM X: Whenever you are begging for a chance to participate in that which belongs to someone else, that's not dignity, that's ignorance.

Y KOCHIYAMA: And he said, well, I don't have time to talk to you, but he said, if you're really interested, he said, you could call my secretary and make an appointment.


ARABLOUEI: After her chance meeting with Malcolm X, Yuri decided to write him a letter to clarify what she meant when she'd said your harsh stand on integration.

FUJINO: She says if people could show their true dedication to Black liberation or to racial justice, could you then accept the togetherness of all people? So even though she always had a vision for the togetherness of all people, she was even then recognizing that the blame didn't, you know, reside within Black people who wanted autonomous spaces, but in folks who exhibited anti-Black racism and that they were the ones who needed to change before all people could come together.

ARABLOUEI: In other words, Yuri thought integration could be the key to bringing people together through nonviolence. And in order for it to happen, non-Black Americans first had to recognize that they were the problem. But Malcolm X and other more radical members of the civil rights movement saw integration as a trap. They argued that integration really meant...

FUJINO: Trying to get closer to white America, not really all groups coming together.


MALCOLM X: As long as we sit around here trying to pray to the white man's God and go to the white man's church and into the white man's school, we'll be brainwashed by the white man's educational system, and we'll continue to look down upon ourselves, and we'll continue to be a beggar to him because we'll continue to think that he's superior to us.

FUJINO: And so isn't integration just subterfuge for white supremacy?

ABDELFATAH: You know, integration is generally talked about as Black and white, and she is an Asian American woman. And I'm trying to imagine where she saw herself fitting into this conversation around integration - and herself and more broadly, the Asian American community.

FUJINO: Yeah, this was a thing for Asian Americans always, right? We were even smaller in numbers than we are now - a sense of invisibility, which continues to the present, I would argue. And in places in the South, Asian Americans who had been to the South said everything was completely a Black-and-white model. And they didn't know, when there were Black bathrooms and white bathrooms, which ones should they use, right? And Asian Americans who had gone to the South under that very explicit apartheid segregation systems said that sometimes they would be treated as Black and sometimes they would be treated as white. It wasn't clear.

And in places like New York, the Black-and-white model was dominant. But of course, it was mitigated by having, say, Puerto Ricans in New York - right? - and some Asian Americans and Chinese Americans in Chinatown. And so I think Yuri occupied a liminal space - right? - a space of ambiguity that was both constricting, but also in certain ways allowed a kind of fluidity and allowed her to work in multiple movements as a person of great solidarity.


ARABLOUEI: Malcolm X seemed receptive to her feedback.

FUJINO: He invites her to attend his Organization of Afro-American Unity - newly formed after he left the Nation of Islam - the OAAU's liberation school. And Yuri joins and studies, and it transforms her life.


Y KOCHIYAMA: I feel that Malcolm did more than anyone else to let me see what's really happening in the world and why.

ABDELFATAH: They talked about Black liberation in the U.S., but also connected the dots between freedom struggles all around the world.

FUJINO: He absolutely was for Black liberation. That was front and foremost for him. And he was also an internationalist and a third world-ist. When he talked to the Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors in the Kochiyama's home in 1964, he said to them - right? - you have been bombed, and you bear the scars of the bombs. And we, too, as Black Americans in the United States also bear the scars of bombs. So he was constantly making these connections.


MALCOLM X: The whole system in this country, the economic system, is such that jobs are scarce. Automation is limiting jobs. It's decreasing jobs, even for white people.

FUJINO: In the latter part of his life, saw oppression has increasingly global. Anti-Black racism was increasingly connected to colonialism and capitalism - right? - and what Cedric Robinson would call racial capitalism.


MALCOLM X: All it will do is bring about friction and hostility between the two races.

FUJINO: ...And seeing socialism in Africa as what people who were fighting for freedom were promoting.


ARABLOUEI: I'm wondering about what her views were on the violence as a form of resistance, and I wonder how the evolution of Malcolm X's views impacted that.

FUJINO: Right. Yes, a very important question, right? And here again, Yuri was greatly impacted by Malcolm X. And so Malcolm - what he did is he really announced the hypocrisy of the U.S. government. So he would say things like, in referring to the Korean War, how can you ask us - right? - Black people to be nonviolent in Mississippi...


MALCOLM X: As violent as you were in Korea? How can you justify being nonviolent in Mississippi and Alabama when your churches are being bombed and your little girls are being murdered, and at the same time, you're going to get violent with Hitler and Tojo and somebody else that you don't even know?


FUJINO: Yuri said something like, people have a right to violence, to rebel, to fight back. And given what the United States government and Western powers have done to the Third World, I feel these countries should fight back. So the question is, while everybody supports nonviolence as ideal, what do you do when you're fighting state power and a greater power that exhibits violence, that causes enormous violence, both direct killings but also the violence of poverty and racism and colonialism?


ABDELFATAH: You know, one thing that occurs to me is that I think I used the term Asian American earlier, and I realize that at that time, there may not have been the same identification that we have today. I mean, now we say Asian American. We can be referring to people of Chinese, Korean, you know, Japanese descent. But at - you know, during this time, as Yuri is sort of, you know, grappling with all these different ideas, what was her sense of her own identity? You know, how was she defining herself? And was there even a category?

FUJINO: Right. Absolutely. I would say she primarily identifies as Japanese American. I mean, the Asian American consciousness and identity and very term comes out of the Asian American movement in the late '60s. right? It's the Asian American political alliance in Berkeley that's credited with coining the very term Asian American. And it was both a term that was Pan-Asian. It was also Third Worldist. It connected kind of an Asian American identity to a Third World identity. And it was explicitly political as a form of resistance against racism. And so that Asian American movement that emerges in the late '60s is unique because it's the first time that Asian Americans come together in political ways in large scale.


Y KOCHIYAMA: Well, I think the Black liberation movement has an influence on every movement because they were really more advanced and I think all the other movements sort of followed suit, knowing what racism has done to this country and this feeling of white superiority that has spread all over the world.

ARABLOUEI: When we come back, Yuri helps build the Asian American movement and in the face of tragedy, finds unity.


MIKE: Hi, this is Mike calling from Denver, Colo., and you are listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Part three - vision matters.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) We want justice. We want justice. We want justice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The 27-year-old Chinese American engineer...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...Was at his bachelor party in Detroit...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: ...Supposed to get married a week later...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...When he got into a fight with Ronald Ebens, an auto worker, and his stepson, Michael Nitz.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Exactly what happened next is not clear.

FUJINO: Vincent Chin was mistaken for a Japanese American at the height of Japan's rise in the auto industry and the U.S.'s decline in the auto industry.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: From across the ocean they came, little cars determined to change the buying habits of a nation.

FUJINO: And as that really powerful documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" shows, at that time in Detroit, people were engaging in a lot of Japan-bashing. And across the U.S., people were upset about Japan's global rise.


CARL LEVIN: We are being shot at and shot up by the Japanese, who have the most protectionist economy in the world.

FUJINO: If we remember, after World War II, Japan was not only defeated, it was under U.S. military occupation and was - so always supposed to be a junior partner to the United States in its global capitalist expansionism.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: A brawl began and spilled out into the street.

FUJINO: And these two autoworkers attacked Vincent Chin and beat him with a baseball bat. While one held him, the other swung at him like home runs. And they killed him.

ABDELFATAH: Both men denied using racist, anti-Asian language and pleaded guilty to manslaughter instead of second-degree murder.


FUJINO: But after they got very lenient sentences, then people galvanized. And it launched the first Pan-Asian movement in the community.


ARABLOUEI: Over the course of the previous decade leading up to this moment, Yuri Kochiyama had been organizing the Asian American movement mostly on college campuses, putting together protests against the Vietnam War, lobbying for the development of ethnic studies programs.

ABDELFATAH: But when Vincent Chin was brutally murdered, this new, shared identity took on even greater meaning. It was a moment when the bitter reality of racism against Asian Americans couldn't be ignored. And it helped solidify the movement beyond the campus.


Y KOCHIYAMA: Asian nations have been the brunt of so many wars that young Asians should do everything to offset that pattern and work for peace and work to bring about a world where natural resources can be shared. There must be ways that we could work together.


ARABLOUEI: Yuri got involved in a group called Asian Americans for Action. She fought for reparations for Japanese American incarceration, and she also found connections between the Asian American struggle and the struggles other groups faced.

ABDELFATAH: She protested and organized alongside the Young Lords, a group fighting for self-determination for Puerto Ricans and colonized people. She lobbied for the release of political prisoners. And in the aftermath of 9/11, she spoke out against the racial profiling of Muslim Americans.


Y KOCHIYAMA: At this crucial moment when United States is readying for a devastating retaliation of the bombing of America's symbols of power and light, we Japanese Americans should feel a kinship with the Arab and Muslim people who are the newest targets of racism, hysteria and jingoism. In war, they say that the first casualty is truth.


ABDELFATAH: Yuri defended Osama bin Laden. She was further left than most leftists. She was adamantly anti-imperialist and sometimes came under scrutiny for her public support of radical figures and groups, ranging from bin Laden to Mao Zedong to the Shining Path, a communist organization in Peru classified as a terrorist group.

ARABLOUEI: As we're talking about her story, one of the things that comes to mind is something you said earlier in an interview about mutual care - I think that's the term you used. And in a moment like we're living through right now, where it feels like - every few months feels like a new group of people, whether Black Americans or Asian Americans or, for a time, it was Muslim or Middle Eastern Americans or, of course, Native Americans are targeted, what does her example tell us about the need to see that connectivity between the groups that are being targeted?

FUJINO: Yes. I think that there are two crucial lessons. The first one is what you're referring to, this need for solidarity - that we cannot only look to the interests of our own people. First of all, who are our own people? Right? Many of us cross multiple groups. And at the same time, working only out of self-interest gets us in a trap. It's like the model minority myth, where we work out of self-interest, but the gains that one group makes comes at an expense of other groups. This is not a model of liberation. It's a very problematic model and one that Yuri always resisted. And Yuri Kochiyama always said and operated by the ethos that my people's liberation is intricately linked to your people's liberation. I cannot be free if you're not free.


FUJINO: We need to think about how things impact the most vulnerable among us and work out of those best interests. The second thing that I think is really crucial here is that we cannot just work in reactionary ways every time there's an incident, a new incident of an attack on Asian Americans, yet another police killing of an unarmed Black person - right? - of attacks against Indigenous peoples and their lands and waters. This gets us nowhere. It's a constant battle, and it's exhausting. And what's most important is that we build movements for liberation.

How do we really get to a place where we have a transformed society, where we work for transformational justice and not just transactional reforms? And this means that we need to be moving beyond the low-hanging fruit, the kinds of work that's easiest to do. And sometimes we have to try for those things that are really so hard, maybe impossible, maybe we won't make - you know, achieve them. But maybe something happens in the process. The knowledge we gain, the relationships we build, perhaps are more important than just attaining that one smaller goal.

Robin Kelley in his fabulous book "Freedom Dreams," he writes about how this very vision matters. Even if you never get there, the vision matters.

ABDELFATAH: Yuri Kochiyama died on June 1, 2014, at the age of 93. Her life, her struggle, were guided by that idea - keep striving, even if you don't always get there. On a visit to Mississippi years after living there, Yuri stopped by the grave of James Chaney, a young civil rights worker murdered by the Klan in 1964. She wanted to honor his memory and tell him that his vision mattered.


Y KOCHIYAMA: You and your two comrades, Goodman and Schwerner, are part of a history that can never be erased. Others have followed after you and always the struggle for a better, safer and equitable world will continue. We are here to remember you and be inspired by your life.


ARABLOUEI: If you want to learn more about the history of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States, go over and check out an episode from our fam at the NPR podcast Code Switch about this very topic. It's a must listen. You should check out.

ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei, and you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me and...







ABDELFATAH: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl.

ARABLOUEI: Thank you to Yolanda Sangweni, Beth Donovan and Anya Grundmann.

ABDELFATAH: And a special thanks to Densho: the Japanese American Legacy Project for allowing us to use so much amazing tape of Yuri Kochiyama. Our music was composed by Ramtin and his band, Drop Electric, which includes...

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara.

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

ARABLOUEI: There was also music in this episode by Hanya Roni (ph). If you have an idea or like something you heard on the show, email us at throughline@npr.org or hit us up on Twitter - @throughlineNPR.

ABDELFATAH: Thanks for listening.

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