“Yuri’s like a center of communication. That’s the key to Yuri. She brings all these things together. She’s a uniter.”
Contrary to most people’s idea of the movement for civil rights during the mid to late 1900s, it was not solely a black struggle. There were multiple civil rights movements that emerged around the same time for other cultures, resulting in Yuri’s partaking in the struggle for Ethnic Studies. Caught on the churning wheels of Movement, Yuri became one of the earliest grassroots activists as she engaged in many of these movements by participating in various multicultural organizations. In the black struggle, stepping up from her involvement with the Harlem Parents Committee and Malcolm, she became an active supporter and eventual member of the Republic of New Africa(RNA), founded in 1968. Yuri Kochiyama also became a member of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), of which Malcolm X was a leader. The OAAU was an organization formed in 1964 by Malcolm to increase black cultural awareness, independence, and unity among blacks, and fight out against racism and injustice in the U.S. It was newly formed when Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, and did not continue successfully afterwards. A document describing their "Basic Unity Program" can be found here
At around the same time, between 1960-1965, the Puerto Rican Movement arose, in which the Puerto Ricans wanted to liberate themselves from U.S. colonization. However, in the heated atmosphere of the black movement in the ‘60s, not enough people paid mind to the Puerto Rican effort for independence. Yuri was aware of their movement and began to see that there were many countries in the world trying to resist imperialism. Thus, she joined their cause by joining the Young Lords. The Young Lords Party was originally a Puerto Rican gang in Chicago, which was turned towards community work and political action in the late 1960s. In 1969 several persons were inspired to start a New York chapter of the Young Lords, which Yuri was a part of. (Following New York, came five other branches around the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, one of which was Boston) Locally they were responsible for organizing among other things, free breakfast programs and clothing drives, cultural events, community testing for tuberculosis/lead poisoning, and their own newspaper. Internationally they also fought for Puerto Rican Independence, including a 1977 Statue of Liberty Storming of which Yuri was a part. Articles about the event can be found here.
Not at all neglectful of her own roots, Yuri joined the Asian American movement as well. This movement surfaced in the 1960s in response to the Vietnam War, which many people opposed, finding U.S. involvement in the war as an act of imperialism. Yuri joined Vietnamese and people of all races as they marched in protest of the war. Another issue Yuri became involved with was blue-collar employment for Asians in the United States. Many Chinese workers who immigrated to the U.S. would not be hired by contractors because they were thought of as incompetent, yet Yuri knew that many Chinese who immigrated had in fact already had experience with construction work. She and her husband, Bill Kochiyama, also fought ardently for Japanese reparations for Japanese internees during WWII or their descendants. In the 1980s and 90s, Yuri joined in the fight against Japanese government war atrocities on Korean women and other Asian ethnicities. A few of the organizations she became involved with within the Asian Movement are Asian Americans for Action (AAA), the Asian Coalition Against the Vietnam War, and the N.Y./Justice for Vincent Chin Coalition.
Video - from Yuri Kochiyama: A Passion For Justice
1. Kazu Iijima talks about the inception of the Asian Americans for Action (AAA):
2. Yuri Kochiyama talks about the storming of the Statue of Liberty with the Young Lords group: