Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama – Diane C. Fujino
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. The images of him laying mortally wounded are widely available and used to show the brutality employed by his killers. His death was violent and unmerciful, taking place in front of his wife Betty and their six daughters. As he laid mortally wounded on stage, he was surrounded by close aides and friends struggling in vain to keep him alive. If you look closely in the photo, there is a woman that has gone unmentioned in the photograph but whose life was one of purpose, dedication and hope. She was also a close friend of Malcolm’s and a dedicated civil rights activist in her own right. Her name was Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014).
When I think back to elementary school, I realize that I had never been taught anything about her nor is she mentioned in any of the textbooks I was required to make use of throughout my years in elementary and then high school. By chance, I discovered her as I was looking at the tragic image of Malcolm laying mortally wounded. Curiosity overcame me and I began to search online for any information I could find about this mysterious woman. Through Amazon I found this excellent biography by author Diane C. Fujino. Fujino is a Professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Fujino’s biography of Yuri as she was known to those who knew her, takes a close look at the life of the iconic figure, her husband Bill and their six children. The family becomes a fixture in the struggle for civil rights and operates out of their apartment in New York City. Fujino met personally with Kochiyama, her family and those who knew her, conducting interviews and recording the memories about her life. The end result is an incredible biography of an incredible woman who’s life story is as American as the reader could possibly ask for.
She was a native of San Pedro, California and was contained in the detainment camps for Japanese Americans in Jerome, Arkansas during the second World War. Her fateful encounter with Malcolm X at the Downstate Medical Center protest took her life in a new direction and allowed her to fulfill the destiny that awaited her. Her efforts on behalf of the movement have earned her a place on the list of those who went above and beyond in the struggle for equality. The book is both inspiring and encouraging and her story allows us to see the good in humanity and in ourselves. Horace Mann once said that we should “be ashamed to die until you have won a victory for humanity”. This is never more true than in the life of the late Yuri Kochiyama who’s life story should be required reading in all schools across the United States. Diane Fujino has done a great service to her memory and provided us with this gift that allows Yuri’s memory to live forever.
On June 2, 2014, Yuri died at the age of 93 peacefully in her sleep. Up until the time of her death she continued to advocate for equality and never lost track of the goals in front of her. Through her life she has shown us that we all have the ability to effect change if we are willing to do so.
“Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another” – Yuri Kochiyama