Chris Iijima


Name Chris Iijima
Born December 19 1948
Died December 31 2005
Birth Location New York
Generational Identifier

Sansei

Chris Kando Iijima (1948–2005) was a lawyer, educator, legal scholar and musician. In the 1970s, Iijima, Joanne Nobuko Miyamoto, and "Charlie" Chin, were the members of the group Yellow Pearl; their 1973 album, A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America, (originally recorded on Paredon Records, now Smithsonian Folkways) was an important part of the development of Asian American identity in the early 1970s. AsianWeek columnist Phil Tajitsu Nash stated that when hearing the album or Yellow Pearl perform live, "From Boston to Chicago to San Francisco to Honolulu, Asian-derived people who had been classified in the Census as 'Other' suddenly realized that they had an identity, a history, and a place at the table." Iijima sang a song from the album on the Mike Douglas Show, co-hosted with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on February 15, 1972.[1]

He was born in New York City in 1948 to activist parents: father Takeru, who served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Company L; and mother Kazu. Kazuko Ikeda was born in California in 1918. She was one of the few Nisei who held a civil service job in prewar Oakland, at the social welfare department. Her fiancé, Tak Iijima, was drafted to fight for the United States Army. Kazu joined him in Salt Lake City, where he had been sent to get a pre-induction physical exam, and they were married there. She stayed a short time at the Topaz concentration camp in central Utah until she was able to join Tak in Mississippi.

Following the war, Iijima's parents were both active in the Asian-American movement in New York City, and with their son's encouragement, helped form the first community-based East Coast APA organization, known as Asian Americans for Action (Triple-A) in 1969, focusing on cultural and identity issues as well as political action such as ending the war in Vietnam. Iijima's parents were also instrumental in the formation of the United Asian Communities Center, which opened in New York in December 1972, with the support of Bill and Yuri Kochiyama and other community activists. The United Asian Communities Center became the incubator for a major political movement.

Iijima himself got involved in Asian American activism beginning in the late sixties and early seventies and was also one of the founders of the civil rights organization, Asian Americans for Action. He earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1969. While a student there, he was involved in the Columbia University protests of 1968 against the Vietnam War. In 1988 he received a J.D. from New York Law School. He served on the faculties of New York University School of Law, Western New England College School of Law, and the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Throughout his career as a law professor and legal scholar, Iijima wrote and published critical articles on discrimination against Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and members of other racial groups.

He died on December 31, 2005, of a rare blood disease at age 57.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

A Song for Ourselves. Documentary film. Directed by Tadashi Nakamura. Downtown Community Media Center, 2009. 35 minutes.

Fujimori, Leila. "UH Law Professor Was Asian-American Activist." Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 17, 2006. http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/01/17/news/story08.html.

Nash, Phil Tajitsu. "Remembering Chris Iijima." Common Dreams, January 7, 2006. http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0107-26.htm.

Footnotes

  1. Leila Fujimori, "UH law professor was Asian-American activist," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 17, 2006, accessed on January 9, 2014 at http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/01/17/news/story08.html.