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Mary Yuriko "Yuri" Kochiyama, nee Nakahara was born on May 19, 1921, in San Pedro, CA, to Japanese immigrants. On December 7, 1941, her life was put in disarray, when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor at Oahu, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced out approximately 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast and interned them at various camps across the United States. Yuri, her mother, and her brother were transferred to the War Relocation Authority internment camp at Jerome, AK, where they lived for the next three years.
In 1946, Yuri married Bill Kochiyama, a veteran of the 442nd Regiment. The couple moved to New York City where her political activism would flourish. In 1960 the family moved to a low-income housing project in Harlem. Yuri and her family invited many civil rights activists, such as the Freedom Riders, to their home gatherings. They also became members of the Harlem Parents Committee, a grassroots organization fighting for safer streets and integrated education.
In October 1963, at a protest against the arrest of about 600 minority construction workers in Brooklyn, Kochiyama met the African-American activist Malcolm X, the Black Muslim minister, prominent member of the Nation of Islam and for and for a time its spokesperson. Malcolm X helped radicalize her and Kochiyama joined his Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York City, and held him in her arms as he lay dying – a famous photo appeared in Life magazine capturing that moment.
In the Vietnam War period and after, Kochiyama became a mentor to the radical wing of the Asian American movement. As organizers of East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress and Reparations, for example Yuri and Bill Kochiyama advocated for reparations and a government apology for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and spearheaded the campaign to bring the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to New York. Additionally, Kochiyama founded the Day of Remembrance Committee in New York City to commemorate the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066, which caused the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which awarded $20,000 to each Japanese American internment survivor. Kochiyama used this victory to advocate for reparations for African Americans. In later years, she and Bill were active in opposing profiling of and bigotry against Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians in the United States, a phenomenon she viewed as similar to the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. Their continued dedication to social causes would inspire younger generations of activists, especially within the Asian-American community. Bill Kochiyama died in 1993.
On the international level, Kochiyama backed the work of the Communist Party of Peru or the Shining Path and the Venceremos Brigade, which challenged U.S. policy towards Cuba. At home, she also taught English to immigrant students and volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City. In 2005, Kochiyama was one of 1,000 women collectively nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the "1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005" project. In 2010, she received an honorary doctorate from California State University, East Bay. On June 1, 2014, Yuri Kochiyama passed away at the age of 93 in Oakland, CA.
William Yukon Chang was the founder and editor of "Chinese-American Times", a Chinese American paper that published completely in English. A Chinese American from Hawai'i, Chang graduated from St. John's University in Shanghai. After college, he worked for the Republic of China's news agency and the popular English-language China Press. As the Chinese civil war raged, Chang returned to the U.S. and earned an M.A. in education from New York University. He married Tang Kou Mei, the first daughter of the Nationalist general Tang Enbo and an exchange student at St. Mary's College, Winona in 1952 and raised three daughters, Dallas, Marina and Priscilla. He began publishing the CAT (as it became known) in 1955. By focusing on community betterment and staying politically neutral, William Yukon Chang kept his newspaper going until the early 1970s. By that point, many in the English-speaking second generation had moved out of New York City, as so many people did during this period. Because of the Immigration Act of 1965, thousands of new Chinese immigrants–at the time mostly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia–were making New York their home, but they sought Chinese-language papers rather than English ones. And by the early 1970s, Chang had been writing, editing, and publishing the paper for almost two decades, so he eventually decided to end the CAT's run. While running the newspaper, Chang also served in local social and civic groups, including Tsung Tsin Benevolent Association, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Hamilton-Madison House, and Manhattan Borough President's Planning Board No.1.
Gary Y. Okihiro is an Asian American author and scholar. He is a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University in New York City and the founding director of Columbia's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Okihiro received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1976. Okihiro is the originator of "social formation theory" which he defines as the forms and processes of power in society to oppress and exploit. By forms, he means the discourses and practices of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation, and by processes, he refers to the articulations and intersections of those social categories. Power is agency, while oppression is the restriction of agency, and exploitation, the expropriation of land and labor. Okihiro has also proposed a field of study that he calls "Third World studies" from the "Third World curriculum" demanded by students of the Third World Liberation Front in 1968. Third World studies, he contends, is the correct name for the field now known as "ethnic studies." He explains that name switch and some of its consequences in his book "Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation" (2016).