Discover Nikkei

Californians didn't know about evacuation

You would think most Americans would’ve known, but even people in California didn’t know what happened to the Japanese Americans. It seemed like, you know, they disappeared. And I don’t think the American papers really played up where the Japanese were taken to and that they could only carry just what they could carry, which was very minimal. And I know people in our home town, I mean, we grew up in San Pedro. And yet, when we came back they said, “Oh! Where did you Japanese go? You all disappeared somewhere!” And, I don’t think they realized what this government had done, you know, to put the Japanese people away.

And they may have said it was for our safety, when it wasn’t so—it was almost like a punishment being Japanese and being taken in the same way as they thought of the Japanese from Japan—the enemy. We were—70 percent of us who went into camp—were Americans, I mean we were American citizens, and the rest of them were the Issei‘s born in Japan who America never allowed to be citizens.

discrimination imprisonment incarceration interpersonal relations racism World War II

Date: June 16, 2003

Location: California, US

Interviewer: Karen Ishizuka, Akira Boch

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum.

Interviewee Bio

Yuri Kochiyama (nee Mary Nakahara) was born in the southern California community of San Pedro in 1922. She was “provincial, religious, and apolitical” until Japan’s December 7, 1941, bombing of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawai`i led to the government’s mass incarceration of virtually all Japanese Americans. Her wartime detainment in two concentration camps in the segregated American South prompted her to see the parallels between the treatment of the Nikkei and African Americans.

After the war she married Bill Kochiyama, a veteran of a segregated Japanese American battalion, and lived in New York City. In 1960, the Kochiyamas moved their family into low-cost housing in the African American district of Harlem. Her political involvement there changed her life, especially after her 1963 meeting with Black Nationalist revolutionary Malcolm X, who was assassinated two years later. She has since had a long history of activism: for black liberation and Japanese American redress and against the Vietnam War, imperialism everywhere, and the imprisonment of people for combating injustice.  

She passed away on June 1, 2014, at age 93.  (June 2014)


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Japan vs. the United States (Japanese)

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Interest in Japanese migration studies (Japanese)

Tsuda College President, researcher of Nikkei history


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Giant Robot co-founder and publisher


Life in camp as teenager

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