Although they have lived very different lives, the hardships they faced and their passion in fighting against the injustice of the American system was the same, and to tie that connection even further, they share the same birthdays. Yuri Kochiyama and her family were amongst the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her camp was located in Jerome, Arkansas and there, she came face to face with the segregation of the Jim Crow South. Not too far from Arkansas, Malcolm Little’s childhood experiences in Nebraska consisted of his father’s lessons concerning black pride and self-reliance and his own experiences concerning race. When he was 6 years old, his father was murdered by white supremacists. When he was 13, his mother fell into a nervous breakdown and was sent to a mental asylum.
Both Yuri and Malcolm were no strangers to the extreme difficulties they faced during their early years. From the racism, hardships, and lessons these two individuals went through, these factors became the fuel to spark their life-long quests to redress the injustices done towards them and to all who have suffered in the same way.
Yuri Kochihyama found the parallels between the oppression of Black people and the treatment of Japanese-Americans were striking and became determined to do something about it. She then moved into a housing project in Harlem along with her husband and became fiercely involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Through her involvement, she became part of the major struggles of the ’60s and ’70s and along the way, developed a close friendship with Malcolm X when they first encountered on October 16th, 1963. Two years later, on February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. As he drew his last breaths, Yuri Kochiyama held Malcolm in her arms.
As I write this, I can’t help but feel their presence and know that whatever I’m doing, as an actor, social justice activist, and 8asians writer, would not be possible without people like Yuri and Malcolm.
So I wish you both a happy birthday. Your legacy has inspired people like me to keep on fighting, to keep on loving, and to never give up.