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"What am I doing for my people?"
"You're giving direction."
Malcolm smiled and reached through the crowd. Yuri grabbed his hand and said, "I admire what you're doing, but I disagree with some of your thoughts."
"And what don't you agree with?"
"Your harsh stand on integration."
Telling the story today, Yuri added: "I said some very stupid things back then."
Malcolm said he couldn't lay out the pros and cons of integration in two minutes and invited her to his office, but Yuri never met him there. Soon after their meeting, Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, silenced Malcolm for saying that the chickens had come home to roost in reference to John F. Kennedy's assassination. To keep a low profile, Malcolm stopped coming to his office on 125th Street.
Breaking with Muhammad in 1964, Malcolm started his own group, the Organization for Afro-American Unity. Yuri joined. That year, she invited him to her apartment to meet some hibakusha, atom-bomb victims who were traveling on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki World Peace Mission. They wanted to meet Malcolm X more than anyone else in America. She doubted that he would come, but as the program began, a knock came at the door. There stood Malcolm, with one of his bodyguards.
Yuri remembers his words from that evening well. He told the hibakusha he could see their scars, and that Harlem bore scars too, the result of racism. He talked of the European colonization of Asia, a miserable history it shared with black nations. "And I remember he said the struggle of the people of Vietnam is the struggle of the Third World, a struggle against imperialism," Yuri recalled in her room the other day, still impressed.
Malcolm opened Yuri's eyes to the depth of American racism, her daughter Audee said. "At a certain point, she believed not just in civil rights, but felt it was a lot deeper than civil rights and that we had to look at US policy in this country and across the world," Audee said. His refusal to sell out, as well as his willingness to change, earned her respect. "He symbolized an uncompromised challenge to policy and the social structure," explained Greg Morozumi, a Kochiyama family friend who helps run the Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland. "He was going for self-determination of black people and refused to sell out at any point."
When Malcolm traveled to Africa, he sent the Kochiyamas eleven postcards from nine different countries. "Still trying to travel and broaden my scope, since I've learned what a mess can be made by narrow-minded people," he wrote in one. "Bro. Malcolm X."
Several months after he returned from abroad, Yuri and Billy were listening to Malcolm speak at the Audubon Ballroom when three gunmen started shooting at the stage. Smoke bombs diffused; people ran screaming, crashing into chairs. "A young brother ran to the stage," Yuri remembered, "And I followed. I just put his head in my lap, hoping he was alive. But he didn't utter a word."
When Yuri still lived in New York, she would make a pilgrimage to Malcolm's grave site every May 19, his birthday. It was the least she could do for a man who had so changed her life. She always failed to mention that it was her birthday too.
When one has hung out with Malcolm X, there is bound to be a thick folder with one's name on it in a government filing cabinet somewhere. Some years ago, Yuri filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI and CIA. The government withheld hundreds of pages. Of the hundreds of pages it handed over, half of the text was blacked out. Still, the Kochiyamas had a good laugh. The files claimed that Yuri had run guns, and that one of the civil rights groups she and Bill belonged to, Asian Americans for Action, had been a terrorist threat.
She wasn't surprised. That the FBI came for her father while Pearl Harbor was still being bombed proved to her that they were already keeping tabs on him. And although the US Postal Service may have released a Malcolm X stamp a few years ago, during his lifetime the man was vilified by American leaders and the media.
"The US government has demonized all such people like Malcolm," Yuri said. Somewhat later, she added: "White people like Bush, they want to do away with everyone but themselves."
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