HomeBad Ass AsiansTrailblazing lawyer Rose Ochi dies at 81

Trailblazing lawyer Rose Ochi dies at 81

Rose Takayo Matsui Ochi lived up to her name. 

The trailblazing civil rights advocate and Los Angeles attorney was named “Takayo,” meaning “child with high ideals.” Ochi died Dec. 13, Nichi Bei reports, two days away from turning 82. 

Prior to her death, Ochi was dealing with a second bout of COVID-19, which exacerbated existing health problems, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Ochi made history as the first Asian American woman to serve as a Los Angeles Police Commission member, Nichi Bei reports. She was also the first Asian American woman in U.S. history to be appointed Assistant Attorney General and worked with numerous administrations, including the Carter and Clinton administrations. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, she advocated for criminal justice reform and was instrumental in seeking reparations for Japanese Americans who faced internment camps during World War II. 

Her own experience in an Arkansas internment camp at age 3 motivated her “lifelong commitment to fight for the underdog.” It was also during this time that Ochi was given an Anglicized name. 

“My first day of school, I was lined up to be renamed… this well-meaning teacher from Arkansas decided to give me an American name ‘Rose,’” Ochi said in an interview for Discover Nikkei. “When I look back on this, I realize this has been very very helpful in who I became because somehow even as a young child, you are made to believe you are not a real American that you’re an outsider.” 

“That empowered me throughout my life to be able to challenge institutions,” Ochi added. 

Following World War II, Ochi grew up in East L.A. and forged friendships beyond her Japanese American community. According to the Los Angeles Times, her upbringing pushed her to fight for racial justice for communities beyond her own. 

She hired and mentored people of color and women throughout her extensive career, Nichi Bei reports. 

An online memorial page for Ochi contained numerous messages and tributes. 

“Rose Ochi paved the way for people like me,” U.S. Rep Judy Chu wrote. “There were so few Asian American women in leadership positions as I was growing that I never even dreamed that I could be an elected official, let alone a Congressmember. But Rose was so bold that she was an inspiration to me.”

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