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an homage for Yuri Kochiyama - read at the Los Angeles Memorial for Yuri on August 31, 2014


an homage for Yuri… 


You were 

the first stamp on the letter for the least likely to receive 

the last one to forget a face 

first finger at the light switch

the last one to leave

countless many hold their

“first time I met Yuri”


as if it happened yesterday

before meeting her

i didn’t understand

the meaning

of Star Struck

until my bones shook and

the skin on my arms shrieked

the day she walked in

from a sweltering J-Town afternoon

to rest at Alison’s desk

i was 20 years old

an intern for Karen at the museum

trying to swallow a gasp

the first time i saw her face


my excitement couldn’t help itself

It shifted my eyes toward her hands, her little legs,

and fixated on her teeth


she did what i came to learn

she did for everybody

she broke out her notebook

she wrote down my name, my hometown and my school

she asked which camps my parents were in

she mentioned all the people i should meet

she forgot she had come inside to rest


she was a conversation in pendulum form

a swift switch with steadfast passion

from politics to grandchildren

she made me lose track of the clock

the temperature

and even the fact that i had been

trying to memorize her face


she let me see an awesomely regular lady


i watched her become ordinary




extraordinary way

You were

the rebel with a mission

the perpetrator of Talk The Talk, Walk The Walk

the surprise on the other side of the bull horn

the nation’s most dangerous in disguise

when someone doesn’t recognize

her name

i find myself telling them

of the Japanese American woman

in cat’s eye glasses

pictured next to Malcolm X

in his final moments

i say she was an activist from Harlem to Redress

a mentor to the Asian American Movement

an advocate alongside political prisoners

i mention her

Nobel Peace Prize nomination

i quote the Blue Scholars:

“When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be Just Like Yuri Kochiyama”


but those are just my lead-ins


what people really get is

when i say she

was equal parts water and fire

speech so fluid

that the same love flowed in her words

to Free Mumia


it did to surface in gratitude for those

who gave to her beloved teddy bear collection

And on the day she died

i combed through every news channel

for a glimpse of her

Public radio and internet got it right

But the passing of a Revolution was not televised

i only felt sorry for the news stories

They missed out on but one cycle our

Extraordinary Yuri



You are

water hose to the crooked warden

flood light to the invisible prison

earthquake underneath the gatekeepers’ feet



i imagine Yuri

sitting at a chair nearest the front door

leaning forward to tie her shoes

notebook and pen

in the fanny pack

already secured around her waist

checking off yesterday’s list in her head

tabs spilling off the sides of today’s schedule


i think of the times

she sat on panels and

we saw her eyebrows get twisted

at the question

by activists decades her junior

on the issue of burn-out


i heard her say in one way or another

that there is so much to do

there isn’t time left


think of herself

getting tired

i imagine Yuri again

and see


excusing itself


revolution reflecting on

its future


i see

no wasted motion

a kind of Zen

without the stink of religion

i see

no rest for her weariness

no ego to prove


For a collection of her selected speeches

students at UCLA were keen

to include her handwritten notes

for a talk she gave on Malcolm X

to students in the 2nd and 3rd grade

In it, she shared an autograph

Malcolm wrote

to her daughter:

“Audee. Please help to

make this a better

world for all people.”

Yuri goes on to say:

“This is probably the

message he would give

to you—if he were here


And he is here in



‘To live in hearts that

are left behind is not to


Remember that—should

you ever lose someone

dear to you…

We, who loved Malcolm,

keep him alive in our




tossed the cells of the ivory tower


open-ended questions

iron-clad ideals

and principle that didn’t flinch


You are

happiness in the pursuit of freedom

justice at the hands of peace


the way the walk sprints


the way the talk chants in the streets

the way social justice dresses itself every morning

the way self-determination decides to breathe

the all ways affirmative action

visitation that refuses to leave

the metal cup clanging across the prison bars

harbinger to the fire alarm

theory in motion

articulation in practice

hammer to clock

blowtorch to burnout

bridge to the bridges

i quote from You in honor of You


You are the fire

who reminds us


make this a

better world

for all people

This is the message

we would give to you

if you were here today

And you are here in


“To live in hearts that

are left behind is not to


Remember that—now that we have lost a giant


We, who love you, honor you,


keep you alive in our hearts


in every single






*This tribute was originally published on traci kato-kiriyama’s blog.

© 2014 Traci Kato-Kiriyama

activism civil rights communities historic sites history Malcolm X memorials social action Traci Akemi Kato-Kiriyama women Yuri Kochiyama
About the Author

traci kato-kiriyama is a performer, actor, writer, author, educator, and art+community organizer who splits the time and space in her body feeling grounded in gratitude, inspired by audacity, and thoroughly insane—oft times all at once. She’s passionately invested in a number of projects that include Pull Project (PULL: Tales of Obsession); Generations Of War; The (title-ever-evolving) Nikkei Network for Gender and Sexual Positivity; Kizuna; Budokan of LA; and is the Director/Co-Founder of Tuesday Night Project and Co-Curator of its flagship “Tuesday Night Cafe.” She’s working on a second book of writing/poetry attuned to survival, slated for publication next year by Writ Large Press.

Updated August 2013

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