Ms Kochiyama’s life changed on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, over 120,000 people of Japanese heritage were interned by the US government in internment camps; over 70% of these people were born in the US. Soon after the bombings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Ms Kochiyama’s father Seiichi Nakahara, who they considered a “suspect” that could threaten national security, and interned him in the Terminal Island Federal Prison. During her father’s time at a federal prison, he was denied medical care and was only moved to San Pedro Hospital after much pleading; he was placed in a room with injured marines where his bed was clearly labelled “Prisoner of War”. At the same time this occurred, Ms Kochiyama’s brother had been accepted into the US Army and was fighting for the US. By the time Seiichi was released in January, he was too sick to speak, and he died the day after his release.
Right after the death of her father, the U.S. government ordered Ms Kochiyama, her mother and brother to leave their home in San Pedro. They were moved into a horse stable in Southern California for a couple months and then moved yet again to Jerome, Arkansas, a Japanese internment camp where they stayed for the next three years. While interned, she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei (the official description of a second generation Japanese American person) Soldier fighting for the United States in the all-Japanese America 442nd regimental combat team. Ms Kochiyama wrote so many letters to her husband whilst he was in the army he grew embarrassed as his fellow soldiers were receiving little or none. He suggested Ms Kochiyama might wish to write to other soldiers, and from this suggestion Ms Kochiyama helped to found The Crusaders, an organisation which provided letters and support for Nisei soldiers in the US Army.
The couple got married right after the war. The experiences of her youth and during the war inspired Ms Kochiyama to become a vocal and active human rights activist, and she drew correlations between the experiences of her family and the treatment of other minority groups in US society. Her activism had been awaked, and since this time, she has been active in many civil rights organisations.
In 1960, Ms Kochiyama and her husband Bill moved to Harlem in New York City and joined the Harlem Parents Committee, which campaigned for street lighting amongst other things – an aspect of life often little thought about but vital to creating a safe community for all. She became acquainted with Malcolm X and was a member of his Organization of Afro-American Unity, following his departure from the Nation of Islam. She and Malcolm eventually grew to be good friends and often worked together. She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, and held him in her arms as he lay dying.
In 1977, Ms Kochiyama joined the group of Puerto Ricans that took over the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Ms Kochiyama and other activists demanded the release of five Puerto Rican nationalists that were jailed in the United States for more than 20 years. Despite a strong movement, they all “had planned to give up peacefully when the police came, but we seized the statue for nine hours,” according to her. The five Puerto Ricans were eventually released.
Ms Kochiyama also became a mentor during the Asian American movement that grew during and after the Vietnam War protests. Many young activists came to her for help for several of the Asian American protests. Due to her experience and her skill in connecting Black and Asian issues, Ms Kochiyama and her husband were able to get reparations and government apologies for some injustices against Asian American , like the Japanese internments. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which, among other things, awarded $20,000 to each internee still alive. The process of issuing cheques still continues to this day.
Over the years, Ms Kochiyama has dedicated herself to various causes, such as the rights of political prisoners, freeing Black Panther activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the campaign for nuclear disarmament, and the campaign to provide reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during the war. In 2005, Ms Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project. Ms Kochiyama passed away peacefully age 93 on 1st June 2014.
Biography first published in the This is What a Feminist Looks Like facebook group, and adapted by the same author.
http://www.enotes.com/immigration-biographies/kochiyama- Ms Kochiyama
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Ms Kochiyama_Kochiyama
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson