Passing It On--A Memoir (book)

Title Passing It On--A Memoir
Author Yuri Kochiyama
Original Publisher UCLA Asian American Studies Center
Original Publication Date 2004
Pages 192
Awards Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award (2004)
WorldCat Link

Leading human rights activist reflects on her life, including her insulated childhood and the wartime incarceration experience that awakened her lifelong commitment to advocacy for all marginalized peoples.


Kochiyama begins her memoir by recounting her childhood in San Pedro, California, one she describes as sheltered and idyllic and removed from the discrimination, prejudice, and inequities most Japanese immigrants and their children regularly confronted. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shattered this world immediately: her father, who had been corresponding with a friend in the Japanese Navy, was arrested by the FBI and detained. Already in poor health, his weeks in detention without proper medical care led to his death days after his release a few weeks later. Kochiyama's mother was left to care for her and her two brothers. They went first to Santa Anita Assembly Center, and then to Jerome, in Denson, Arkansas.

World War II transformed Kochiyama. She organized a group of Nisei girls who wrote letters to Japanese American soldiers and continued to teach Sunday School. But she also developed a growing sense of indignation over the injustices her own family and others like them faced as a result of prejudice. She also identified parallels between her experiences and those of blacks in the south. She also met Bill Kochiyama, whom she married as soon as the war ended and who remained her companion and partner until his death in 1991. Moving to New York City with Bill, she was exposed to new communities and their struggles, eventually becoming a dedicated activist for civil rights, anti-war, anti-imprisonment, and myriad other causes.

The second half of the memoir is an accounting of how Kochiyama came to become involved in black civil rights—the cause with which she is most commonly associated—while raising her large family in Harlem. It also includes touching, humorous, and occasionally heartbreaking anecdotes of her life in New York, from her meeting with Malcolm X to her children's involvement in Freedom Summer, to the deaths of two of her children. She self-consciously drives the narrative forward with a sense of urgency and exhortation, using her own life story as an example to encourage others to support and fight for others.

Author Background

Yuri Kochiyama was a leading civil and human rights activist. While she is perhaps best known for her relationship with Malcolm X due to the photograph showing her cradling Malcolm X's head in the article covering his assassination in Life Magazine, she was also a dedicated advocate of political prisoners, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Asian American movement, other revolutionary movements, and all people who are disadvantaged or marginalized.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like Birth of an Activist: The Sox Kitashima Story by Tsuyako Kitashima; We the People: A Story of Internment in America by Mary Tsukamoto; Manzanar and Beyond: Memoirs of Frank F. Chuman by Frank F. Chuman

For More Information

"Yuri Kochiyama: Passing It On." The Tavis Smiley Show, NPR, Aug. 23, 2004.