- Yuri Kochiyama
California State University, East Bay
Yuri Kochiyama is a grassroots activist who has been involved herself in issues from international political prisoner rights to nuclear disarmament to redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. She and her family were among thousands of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps after the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. That experience greatly impacted her life and involvement in civic causes.
Born in San Pedro, California, in 1921, Ms. Kochiyama lived an uneventful life, basically paying scant attention to political affairs and knowing little about the war. After the December 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing, life drastically changed. Despite her father's illness, he was taken from their home and put in Terminal Island Federal Prison, and not allowed back home until near death. A month after his death, the Executive Order was signed and Ms. Kochiyama and her family were sent to an internment camp in Arkansas, where she volunteered to teach Sunday school, work in the mess hall and eventually met her husband, Bill, who served in the Japanese American 442th combat unit. Upon release from camp, she moved to Mississippi, where she realized that what was happening to African Americans at the time mirrored what had happened to Japanese Americans.
That stark realization caused her to increase her activism, which intensified when she was reunited with her husband in New York City where they lived with their six children. Moving to Harlem, Ms. Kochiyama's involvement in the community heightened, including hers and her neighbors' activity to install street lights and improve conditions in Harlem. She participated in Asian American, Black and Third World movements promoting civil and human rights and ethnic studies while protesting the Vietnam War. It was in Harlem that she met and was influenced by Malcolm X. He came to a meeting she hosted for the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study and talked further about community struggles. For more than sixty years she has been an activist, not hesitating to help right wrongs in her communities.
In recognition of her distinguished service to many causes and communities and her unwavering commitment to a better life for all, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, East Bay proudly confer upon Yuri Kochiyama the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.