When her family was interned in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II, Kochiyama saw firsthand the parallels between the treatment of African Americans and Japanese Americans. The petite Kochiyama is a towering figure in the civil rights and racial equality movements. She has worked alongside the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and she was the woman who cradled his head after he was shot in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965. In the 1970s, she helped to bring attention to the cause for Puerto Rican independence by joining activists in a takeover of the Statue of Liberty.
Today, Kochiyama remains an advocate, participating in rallies for immigrant rights and against the war. She has started a grassroots group called Asian Americans for the San Francisco Eight, to raise awareness among fellow Asian Americans on how the “case of the San Francisco 8 is such a struggle for progressive and radical community activists to fight for basic human rights, for their chosen means of redressing injustices, and for all peoples’ rights for life, liberty, and true democracy.”
Few people have consistently represented Asian Americans or done more to bridge the social justice struggles across the racial and ethnic divide.