[May 3rd marks the 80th anniversary of the infamous broadside through which the Roosevelt administration ordered Japanese Americans to surrender themselves to the internment policy (or incarceration—I’m convinced of the need for that term change, but most folks still know it as internment so I’m using that in my series title). So this week I’ll AmericanStudy images of that horrific history, leading up to a special weekend post on scholars helping us remember it.]
On a few of the
many reasons why we should better remember the influential activist.
Welcome back! Since
I wrote those posts I researched Kochiyama more deeply in order to include her
in the Japanese Internment chapter of We the People, and would now argue
that she can help us better remember at least two important sides to the
internment era. For one thing, she exemplifies multiple complex realities of
the internment camps: not just their unconstitutional and horrific imprisonment
of hundreds of thousands of Americans (a majority of them American citizens
like the California-born Kochiyama), but also the stories of Japanese American
soldiers who volunteered to serve while interned with their families (a roster
that includes both Kochiyama’s twin brother Peter
and her future husband
Bill) and the complementary activism that took place within the camps.
Kochiyama, for example, built on her college English degree to edit a newspaper
at her Jerome, Arkansas camp, and within that newspaper published letters from
and testimonials about Japanese American soldiers for her “Nisei in Khaki” column.
Every interned individual deserves a place in our collective memories, but
Kochiyama in particular illustrates those multi-layered histories quite
activism after the war, about which I did write more fully in those prior posts
(and which was often undertaken in partnership Bill, particularly their shared
advocacy for collective memory of and reparations for
internment), likewise helps us better remember the lives and legacies of
interned Japanese Americans. But Kochiyama’s activism extended far beyond
Japanese American causes, and included extensive experience with the Civil
Rights Movement (including a friendship
with Malcolm X that culminated in her presence in a
famous photograph [CW for graphic imagery] of the aftermath of his
assassination) and her
participation in the October
1977 takeover of the Statue of Liberty by Puerto Rican nationalists. Better
remembering that lifelong activism thus helps us engage both with the
interconnected nature of many 20th century social movements and with
the complex but crucial concept of intersectionality, of how different
identities and communities can pull together toward the common causes of
equality and social justice. That’s a lesson we sorely still need.
PS. What do you
think? Stories or histories you’d highlight?