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https://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/clips/289/

Joining the movement

By the time I had six kids we had to move to a larger apartment. And, you know, we were living in the housing projects—low-income housing—and they were building a new low-income housing in Harlem. And so, we got into that one. And so, gee, Harlem, I mean, it was really…I mean, activism, I mean, Harlem was the place to go.

I would pick up, you know, leaflets on the street, and, gee, it would be so interesting, that I wanted to know more. And I’d pick up everytime I’d see a leaflet. And, it’ll say when the next event or what. And so then, when the youngest one was one year old, because Bill said, “As long as you take care of the house and the kids, you could go to some of the meetings.” I took all the kids with me, maybe, two on a, you know, push car, and one on a stroller or something. But, so all my kids started in real young. And they use kids for a lot of things, where kids were getting hit by cars, they asked all the mothers to bring their toddlers, and, or babies, and put them in the middle of street, and don’t let any cars pass. And we’re gonna stay there until the government would give traffic lights throughout Harlem.


activism Harlem New York (N.Y.) social action

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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