By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
I woke up this morning to discover the late Asian American civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama was the top trending topic on AsAmNews.
Turns out Kochiyama is being honored with a Google Doodle to mark what would have been her 95th birthday. Anyone who conducts a search on Google today will see her image across the top of the page.
It’s great to see such a simple gesture can generate interest about a late pioneer who has gotten very little ink in our history books.
Kochiyama’s life was greatly influenced by her experience in the World War II incarceration camps. Her father was arrested as a threat to national security the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Already in poor health, he was denied medical care while in prison and died January 21, 1942, the day after his release from prison.
Kochiyama was incarcerated in Jerome, Arkansas. It was there she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, who fought for the United States during World War II.
The couple would eventually move to Harlem where they would join the Harlem Parents Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
She would eventually meet Malcolm X and form a close bond with him.
It is Yochiyama who is seen in a Life Magazine photo holding the bloody head of Malcolm X the day he was assassinated in 1965.
The two struck a friendship when they met in a Brooklyn courthouse. The two met when Malcolm X attended a hearing for hundreds of mostly African American protestors arrested. Kochiyama was among those arrested. When she saw Malcolm, she requested to shake his hand and the rest is history.
Kochiyama was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
She died in 2014 at the age of 93.
Kochiyama reminds me of Vincent Chin, another iconic figure in Asian American history who lost his life in 1982 when two unemployed auto workers mistook him for Japanese and bashed him to death with a baseball bat. Chin is Chinese American. Despite two trials, the men responsible for his death were sentenced to just three years probation. The case became a rallying cry for Asian Americans and helped to mobilize the Asian American movement.
The movie Vincent Who, produced in 2009, revealed that most young Asian Americans today know very little about Chin.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said about Kochiyama. Hopefully today’s Google Doodle plays a role in changing that.
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