The Tenth Annual National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law and Public Policy (NAPACLPP) will be held on March 12 – March 13, 2004, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Entitled Border Crossings: Globalizing the APA Movement for the 21st Century, the Conference seeks to enrich our understanding of Asian Pacific American movements by situating them in an international context, and by exploring how the issues we face within the United States reflect those outside our borders.
Meeting Yuri Kochiyama: Reflection of the APALSA Conference
I was fiddling with Will’s tape recorder when he told me to look up and said amidst the myriad of chattering Harvard students, “Hey look! There she is!” I looked up and there, no more than 5 feet away from me, was this tiny, gray haired woman with a stoic and dignified expression on her face being helped up onto the platform for the panel speakers. A huge surge of admiration filled within me as I acknowledged her presence and I couldn’t help but smile to know how lucky I was to be there to hear her speak. I found it hard to take my eyes off her; here was a trembling feeble lady, and yet there was something about her that intimidated me. Maybe it was because I knew what she had gone through and what she had accomplished. She sat alone quietly, waiting for the other 3 speakers and moderator to take their seats at the panel and for the dispersed Harvard students to take their seats in the audience. When the time came, the moderator introduced the 4 speakers and veered our attention to Yuri as the first to speak. Yuri started off with an announcement. She informed us that Chris Iijama, an activist organizer in Hawaii, was very ill and asked that we support him by writing him get-well cards. Hearing her express such consideration for a fellow activist increased my admiration for her.
Then she began speaking of her internment during World War II. She explained all the difficulties and conditions of racism that the Japanese had to face, and you couldn’t help but see the endurance in her expressions and hear the strength in her voice. In history class, I had just recently learned of the Japanese internment, but to actually hear it from and be before someone who lived it was simply amazing. Hearing her experience followed by the speeches of the other 3 panelists completely opened my eyes to the problems of this world and now I find that my appreciation of those like Yuri, who battle these problems day in and day out, is limitless.
When the panelists session was over, Ms. Yuri Kochiyama was helped off the stage and as Will stepped aside to speak to a friend, I noticed that some people from the audience were getting their chance to meet Yuri and speak to her. I definitely did not want to miss out on meeting her so I quickly informed Will about it and the first thing that came to our minds was “what are we gonna say to her?” Lost in our excitement we decided that we should at least just introduce ourselves, tell her that we were making a website dedicated to her, and try to get a picture with her. We patiently waited as a two people were acquainting themselves with her, but by the time they finished, Yuri’s helper suggested that it was time for her to go. A feeling of anxiety came over me because I was so close to meeting her and didn’t want to lose my chance. We realized that Yuri just needed to use the bathroom so we waited in the reception room nonchalantly and with our fingers crossed that she would spare a few minutes to receive us.
When she and her helper entered the reception room again, Will politely approached her and she stopped to acknowledge us. I was so relieved and overjoyed. I introduced myself, shook hands with her, and told her that we were students from Boston Latin School who were creating a website on her. She was flattered, and I was honored to inform her of the well-deserved recognition she would be getting from our site and the viewing of it. She kindly took a picture with us and before we parted, she made sure that she knew our names, saying them over about 3 times and then confirming our nationalities with each of us. (In my opinion, I found it impressive that she could tell I was Filipino and that Will was Vietnamese by our names, because it is not very often, at least for myself, that people guess my nationality correctly.) She slowly made her exit and Will and I were left awed and dazed at what we had just experienced. From my confrontation with Yuri, I find her to be one of the kindest, most considerate, passionate, and strong-willed people in our world. It is truly an experience I will never forget.