Black and Asian Interaction in Movements for Social Change (by Art Li)

Overview: After the lesson, students should be aware of cross-racial interactions in social movement. Specifically, students should know more about how Black Power, its leaders and ideologies, affected the lives of Yuri Kochiyama and Richard Aoki

Framework: This lesson is intended to disrupt common conceptions of social movements as being racially exclusive through the instances of Black and Asian interaction via the Black Power movement. First, students will read an autobiographical account by Yuri Kochiyama on her experience with internment and her life in Harlem to understand the influence of Black Power on her activism. The students will also be lectured briefly on the youth of Richard Aoki and his shift towards the Black Panthers, as well Mo NIshida’s life trajectory. These primarily biographical accounts should jar student perceptions of a) Black and Asian relations and b) Asian American activism.

Students will be challenged to think critically about perceptions of race and racial difference throughout this lesson; they will be prompted to reconsider racial boundaries with the historical evidence provided, reconceptualize Asian Americans, and begin to draw connections between differing experiences of racism. Their comprehension skills will also be tested; students will be expected to incorporate the lesson material in their analysis and discussion.

Essential Understanding: Through their interaction with black communities, Asian American activists like Yuri Kochiyama drew inspiration from black leaders and movements into their own understandings of their experiences of racism.

Essential Questions:
1) What were the circumstances that led to black and Asian interaction?
2) What did Asian Americans draw from this interaction?
3) How are the experiences of Asian Americans and blacks similar and/or dissimilar?
4) Who are some predominant Asian American activists, and how did they become involved in the community?

Asian American activism is largely understudied and unknown. Figures in the Asian American community are largely unknown, yet we know relatively more about figures in the black community like Martin Luther King Jr. and to some extent Malcolm X. This lesson is intended to reveal the unexpected close association of Asian Americans and blacks primarily through the personal life of Yuri Kochiyama, an eminent yet generally unknown activist.
Kochiyama herself cites Japanese internment during WWII as a formative experience that shaped her involvement in the community. She characterizes the internment as being driven by racial fears and racism and demonstrates an critical view of the values of freedom and liberty espoused by the US. Although Kochiyama herself never explicitly states it, the contradictions of the internment experience seem clear: how could a country emphasizing democracy treat its own citizens in such a way? This sentiment is echoed by many, including Richard Aoki, another figure in Asian American activism who was involved integrally with the Black Panthers, a black radical organization.
Kochiyama further references the Black Nationalist Malcolm X. as one of the most influential forces in the development of her critical view of the US. Malcolm X. was a leader that promoted a critical view of the treatment of blacks in the US as being part of a historically racist system. Much of what Kochiyama herself implies and states directly seems to draw influence from X.’s ideology; Kochiyama herself draws parallels between anti-black discrimination and the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. However, it is important to note that Kochiyama admits that she did not develop these thoughts until significantly after the interment experience, and for much of the interment experience remained a “true red, white and blue American”. What, then, helped prompt her change in mindset?
Scholars agree that Kochiyama’s thoughts were echoed throughout the Asian American community. Place and geography are also thought to have been important in the development of these thoughts; Kochiyama herself lived in the predominantly black district of Harlem post-WWII and was exposed through this community to radicals like Malcolm X. Beyond an ideological relationship through shared experiences of racism, blacks and Asians were almost forced to interact by nature of their physical proximity in neighborhoods post-WWII.
We see through the life of Yuri Kochiyama some of how and why blacks and Asians interacted in social movements. The experience of extreme racism and hatred as expressed through internment began a process of questioning for Kochiyama, and shook her convictions in the benevolence of the US government and society. However, it was not until her exposure to black communities and the radicals they housed that her thoughts began to shift to fully acknowledge the racism present in the government and society. This shift in thought is what inspired her commitment to activism and the community.
However, the question remains: why do we not know more about Yuri Kochiyama and others like her? Why is Malcolm X. not studied as thoroughly as Martin Luther King? Although these questions are not addressed or explicitly raised by this lesson, it is intended to raise these questions and more by bringing a largely understudied topic to light.

Blue Scholars – Yuri Kochiyama
Should start at 1min24sec
Lyrics here

Sandra Oh reading Yuri’s speech
Sandra Oh here

Quotes here

Begin class by asking the students a series of short questions – expected answers in (parentheses):
• How many of you know who Martin Luther King is? (expect most to respond yes)
• What was he involved in? (civil rights movement, ending segregation and discrimination)
• How many of you know who Malcolm X is? (expect fewer responses)
• What was he involved in? (expect vague answers, maybe a response positioning him opposite of MLK)
• Now finally, how many of you know who Yuri Kochiyama is? (expect very few, if any)

Then, frame the class session: “Today we will be studying the role of Asian Americans in social movements, to show how not just blacks were involved in struggles for civil rights.”

Hand out the lyrics of Yuri Kochiyama and play the Blue Scholars music clip (see Materials above)

Ask for general responses; if the students do not mention it, point out that this section of the song is about Yuri’s presence at the time of Malcolm X’s assassination, and that the line “I wanna be just like Yuri Kochiyama” indicates that she was an inspiring figure, yet virtually unknown (should be evidenced by the number of students claiming to know who she is above).

Introduce Yuri briefly – Mention she was a Japanese American activist who worked with the Black Power movement and Malcolm X – then play the YouTube clip of Sandra Oh reading one of her speeches.

Split the students into groups of four or five. Each group should receive Quote 1 from the Quotes document above to discuss. Groups should be given ~4 minutes to read and discuss the quotes and question, before receiving the next quote (in sequential order)

Reconvene in a large group and ask groups to share with the class briefly what they discussed, quote by quote. Discussion should be guided; students will ideally provide answers to the question, and the teacher should paraphrase and summarize answers to tease out linkages between concepts.
Quote 1 – Make sure students understand that the experiences of internment and slavery/racial discrimination are somewhat linked, at least from the perspective of Yuri Kochiyama. Focus the discussion on the “hard road” cited by Kochiyama, and ask students to pull on their previous history class knowledge combine with the information in the YouTube clip and quotes.
Quote 2 – Expand on the discussion above; ask students how the information in quote 2 fits into Quote 1.
Quote 3 – Further expand on the discussion above, and build on the linkage between experiences of racism established in discussing Quote 1.
Quote 4 – Connect the sentiment of Aoki’s father’s experience to Yuri’s; close discussion of this quote by emphasizing that Yuri Kochiyama’s experience was not unique/singular.
Quote 5 – Begin by emphasizing that this quote reveals the importance of proximity and geography in making Black and Asian historically easier.

Conclude with an overarching question:
• Why do you think peope like Richard Aoki and Yuri Kochiyama were so inspired by black peoples and movements?
Be sure that students touch on two major points:
• Geographical and historical factors contributed to Black and Asian interaction.
• Asian and Black experiences of racism were thought to be more similar than different.
Let students draw their own conclusions, but always check that their analyses are rooted in the historical documents presented; if there are any contradictions in student statements and the information provided be sure to raise those contradictions.

If there is time remaining, challenge the students to consider some open-ended questions:
• Why is so little generally taught about Yuri Kochiyama, Richard Aoki, and even Malcolm X?
• What are some reasons you think blacks and Asians would NOT interact or cooperate?
• The history presented in this session is mostly from the 60s and 70s; how do you think things have or have not changed? Do you think the lessons learned can be applied today?

Total time: ~1hr

Additional Sources:
Kochiyama, Yuri. Passing it On: A Memoir. Edited by Marjorie Lee, Akemi Kochiyama-Sardinha, Audee Kochiyama-Holman. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2004.

“An Activist Life: 15 Minutes with Yuri Kochiyama”. Accessed Mar. 5, 2013.

Maeda, Daryl J. “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity through Performing Blackness, 1969-1972.” American Quarterly 57 (2005): 1079-1103

Fujino, Diane C. “Race, Place, Space, and Political Development: Japanese-American Radicalism in the “Pre Movement” 1960s.” Social Justice 35 (2008): 57-79

Kim, Claire Jean and Taeku Lee. “Interracial Politics: Asian Americans and Other Communities of Color.” PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (2001): 631-637

Key Ideas and Details
1) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
In discussion, students will be expected to cite the small quotes provided and relate them to the general story provided through the YouTube clip (which functions similarly to a primary source).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
2) Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Students will be expected to synthesize arguments from music, video, and text into a more complete understanding.
3) Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
Students will compare and contrast information from different sources.
4) Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
Primary, autobiographical information will be provided with secondary source analysis as well as additional primary information from a different perspective.

Chronological and Spatial Thinking
5) Students analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.
Students will analyze how post-WWII living situations forced together Asians and blacks and prompted interaction and ideological change.

11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights.
6) Examine the roles of civil rights advocates (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, James Farmer, Rosa Parks), including the significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have a Dream” speech.
Students will consider an alternate / secondary role for Malcolm X. as an educator and inspiration, separate from his “advocacy” role.

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