May 19, 2016

Happy birthday, Yuri! Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away in 2014, would have celebrated her 95th birthday today. (I’d like to imagine the K-Bears are throwing her a party somewhere, but maybe that’s just me?) The list of her political involvements is a long one, but what makes Yuri’s particular brand of activism so powerful was her ability to find the intersections of seemingly separate issues and unite people from radically different backgrounds under a common cause. In addition to the interethnic coalitions she’s famous for pioneering, Yuri was committed to creating a multigenerational movement, constantly supporting, and taking the time to learn from, young activists. The woman who occupied the Statue of Liberty with the Young Lords and nurtured baby Pac’s radical politics didn’t have a taste for the debates over “tactics” and respectability that usually follow younger movements. A lifelong student, she believed in the power of education to understand the interconnected histories that shape our everyday lives — and as an alarm call to fight for future change.

In honor of that legacy of compassion, conviction, and her relentless drive to make the world a better place, we’d like to share a few pearls of Yuri’s hard-won wisdom, in her own words.

On education:

“Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society than we have seen.”

Passion for Justice documentary

“Not everything is taught to us in school. It’s up to us to find out.”

From a 2009 interview with Densho

On wokeness:

“Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware. It is the perfect vehicle for students. Consciousness-raising is pertinent for power, and [to] be sure that power will not be abusively used, but used for building trust and goodwill domestically and internationally. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.”

Passion for Justice documentary

On priorities:

“Serve the people at the bottom. The people at the top don’t need your help.”

From a speech at the Serve the People Conference, UCLA 1998

And finally, on appreciating the folks who help you shine:

“Just remember that what you put on your pedestal will be your main influence in your life. I am hoping you place love for your family, friends, and humanity; service to your community; concern for human rights, justice, and human dignity on your pedestal. And please show appreciation to friends, old and new. The precious, intangible gems like happiness, satisfaction, self-respect, and pride–they are the thanks to the people who come into your life. Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.”

From Yuri’s 2004 book, Passing It On

Rest in power, Yuri, and thank you for leaving a legacy that continues to inspire.

By Nina Wallace, Densho Special Projects Coordinator

[Blog header: An artistic rendering of an iconic image of Yuri Kochiyama from International Examiner]