Keeping the Revolution Alive: Remembering Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away last Sunday, June 1st, was known for her radical social activism during the 1960s in the course of the Civil Rights Movement and also for her prolonged dedication to the fight against racial injustice.

We should remember and honor Yuri by carrying on her legacy and applying the life lessons she left us with. The issues of inequality and injustice that she fought so strongly against are still very much with us today, perhaps not in the same shape or form, but in the ways they affect our communities.

As members of the communities that Kochiyama revolutionized, it is our duty to continue her work and, thereby, keep the revolution alive.

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Preserve and protect your roots 

Kochiyama was dedicated to the preservation of her Japanese-American identity and pushed for others to foster the same cultural selfhood. Having experienced the atrocities of internment camps in the wake of Executive Order 9066, Kochiyama first-handedly witnessed the abhorrent treatment of her ethnic community and zealously strove to resist anything that disrespected or threatened her culture.

In 1988, Kochiyama’s attempts to alleviate the cruelties of World War II and the internment camps proved to be successful through the signing of the Civil Liberties Act, which granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned by the U.S. government. She also demonstrated this commitment to the preservation of her culture through her fight for ethnic studies departments in colleges.

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Others are key

Kochiyama once stated: “Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it.” In the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Kochiyama knew that collective action was necessary to realize success. Noticing the similarities between the discriminatory treatment of Japanese Americans and African Americans, she practiced intersectional camaraderie by standing in solidarity with other ethnic communities. She involved herself in the fight for Puerto Rican independence, acquainted herself with the goals of the Black Panther Party, and recognized that the struggles of all minority groups were connected.

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Be conscious

Yuri coined the famous saying: “Consciousness is power.” She knew that the first step to any movement of change was to become aware, which would foster “trust and goodwill”. Kochiyama continuously raised awareness, not only during the 60s through her activism in social movements, but also through delivering speeches throughout her lifetime, urging people to mobilize against inequity.

In addition, Kochiyama saw consciousness as “the perfect vehicle for students” to implement change and served as a strong advocate for student voices. Many believed that Kochiyama was almost hyper-aware and “ahead of her time”.

Stay open-minded and compassionate

Although Kochiyama knew the importance of being critical, she also knew that narrow-mindedness, bitterness, and violence crippled the heart of revolutions. Her compassion was actualized both on a nationwide scale through her support of nuclear disarmament and on a personal scale through her services as a pen pal to political prisoners.

Importantly, her friendship with Malcolm X also showed that she valued interpersonal relations amidst intense social change. Kochiyama’s compassion for Malcolm was famously documented by TIME Magazine, in a photograph that captured Kochiyama by his side at the time of his death.

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Never settle

Yuri’s prolonged efforts to question the quality of social and racial systems show us that change is constant, and because society is persistently changing, we must continue to challenge the inherent disparities that come along with it.

Yuri Kochiyama never settled for anything less than equality, so in her honor, we must carry on the revolution and keep her legacy alive. The Blue Scholars’ song, titled “Yuri Kochiyama” proclaims: “Revolutionaries die, but the revolution won’t.”

Thank you, Yuri Kochiyama, for being the revolution.

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