Discover Nikkei

Meeting Malcolm X

He came into the court one day, and all the Black kids, I mean, they all ran down to the foyer of the courthouse—they surrounded him, they were shaking his hands, and he’s…their laughing and talking and all. But, I wasn’t Japa…I mean, I wasn’t Black so I thought, “Gee, I shouldn’t go down there.” Because I remember, one, it was in Life Magazine, was a white girl who went to where Malcolm was eating, and she said, “What can I do for you?” which is a odd thing to ask Malcolm. And he just said, “Nothing.” And she went away crying. And I thought, “Gee, I hope I don’t do that.” You know, ‘cause, it should be, maybe, just a Black thing. But, I wanted to meet him so much, and I asked the people head of the core, “You think, maybe, I could try to…” They were all a circle around Malcolm. He said, “Well, if you want to try, but he could just tell you to get away.”
--And so, well, I thought I’ll try, and I kept going closer and closer. And I thought, “If I see him look up, I’m gonna take my chances and say something.” I didn’t know what to say, but he did look up once. So, I said, “Can I shake your hand?”
--And he said, “For what?”
--And, I, I didn’t know what to say. What should I say next? Um… “To congratulate you.”
--And he said, “For what?”
--And, I said, “For what you’re doing for your people.”
--And he said, well, “What am I doing for my people?”
--And, I had to think hard to answer. I said, “You’re giving directions.”
And then, gee, all of a sudden he came out of the, you know, the group. And he put his hands out, so I ran and grabbed his hands. I mean, it was just one of those lucky moments.

Then, you know, after that, I joined his group and went to hear him every week. He is such a unusual person. I mean, you could just feel his, I don’t know, that he’s different. Whether it’s his spirituality, or his…I mean, he is just a born leader, like. And yet, he is so unassuming, unpretentious, and really, I think he’s just a, a very, very, modest kind of person.

Malcolm X

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)