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Paul S. Kochi

Name Paul S. Kochi
Born February 27 1889
Died December 20 1980
Birth Location Nakijin, Okinawa
Generational Identifier

Issei

Paul Shinsei Kochi (1889–1980) was a pre- and postwar Issei leader of the Okinawan immigrant community in Los Angeles, who made his living as a migrant farmworker and gardener. He was part of the circle of radical worker-intellectuals and activists who formed the progressive wing of the prewar Okinawan community, a labor organizer and writer. During WWII, he served in the OSS and the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and afterwards led the formation of the Okinawan relief movement with his close associate Shingi Nakamura . He survived the government's attempt in the McCarthy period to deport him as a communist, continued to be active in the Okinawan community, and was well-known among activists in the Asian American movement.

Early Life and Work

Paul Shinsei Kochi was born in Nakijin, Okinawa, on February 27, 1889. He was an only son raised by his widowed mother and attended the Kunigami Agricultural School. He emigrated in 1917, first to Mexico and then crossed over illegally to the U.S.

Paul Kochi worked as a migrant farmworker in Fresno and elsewhere in the Central Valley in California. He and his close friend Shingi Nakamura were among the founding members of the Reimeikai (New Dawn Club), a study group of about twenty-one younger, progressive Okinawan Issei, who met in Los Angeles to study contemporary social issues. They opened a collectively run worker owned Owl Restaurant in 1923. The study group soon included other non-Okinawan activists who belonged to the Japanese section of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). As the Reimeikai became more radical and formed the Los Angeles Japanese Workers Association around 1927-28, some Okinawans left the group while others remained and joined the CPUSA, Paul Kochi among them.

In the late 1920s, Paul Kochi moved to New York where he met the writer Ayako Ishigaki, wife of the Issei artist Eitaro Ishigaki. Together they began publishing the Rodosha Bunka (Workers Culture) in 1932. By 1934, he had returned to Los Angeles, joined the Zaibei Okinawa Seinenkai (Okinawan Young Peoples Association of America) composed of former Reimeikai members and other politically progressive Okinawans. Paul Kochi was elected to serve on the executive committee which sought to unify the politically divided Okinawan immigrant community. The more conservative Okinawa Kaigai Kyokai (Okinawan Overseas Association) resisted amalgamation of the two organizations until August 1941, when most of their members joined the rival Okinawa kenjinkai, effectively unifying the community.

Meanwhile, working as a gardener, Paul Kochi also helped organize the Hollywood Gardeners Association (1933), the Southern California Japanese Gardeners Federation (1937), and served on the editorial committee of the monthly bulletin Gadena Shimbun (Gardeners News), the predecessor to Gadena no Tomo (Gardeners Friend) in journal format.

Paul Kochi was also a writer, publishing in the Japanese language sections of the Japanese vernaculars and the annual journal Ryukyu . An early essay, "Lumber Workers on Terminal Island," was published in the Nichibei Shimbun in 1923 and won a prize as did his 1938 piece "Vacation" published in the Rafu Shimpo . Notably, in June 1940, he published in Ryukyu a prescient essay criticizing Sei Fujii's false reassurances in Kashu Mainichi , in which he anticipated the likely mass repercussions against Japanese Americans if the imperialist rivalry in the Pacific between the U.S. and Japan led to war: "It is not difficult to imagine that American Japanese, like the Germans some years ago, will find that what they have built up over the years will be completely uprooted overnight." [1]

World War II and the Okinawan Relief Movement

After Pearl Harbor, he served on the executive council of the Wartime Measures Council established by the Okinawan community in February 1942. This council issued a public statement in the Japanese vernaculars and the Los Angeles Times declaring its support for the war effort to defeat Japanese militarism and decided to actively cooperate with the Anti-Axis Committee.

When the mass removals began after E.O. 9066 , Paul Kochi was incarcerated in the Santa Anita Assembly Center on May 2, 1942 along with others in the Okinawan community and then transferred to the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming on August 30. He was released to work for the Omaha Sheep Company in Cozad, Nebraska, in May 1943. By October, he relocated to New York and published articles in the Hokubei Jiji encouraging others to apply for leave to work outside the camps.

In April 1944, Paul Kochi was working for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which recruited many foreign-born Asian and European communists for secret wartime propaganda and intelligence work. He was assigned to the Collingwood team for "white propaganda" and posted to the China-Burma-India front, first to India and then to Kunming Province in China until September 1945. After returning briefly to New York, in October 1945 he served with his friend Shingi Nakamura on the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, assigned to the Kyushu survey and southwards through the Kansai area, including Nagasaki. While there, he observed the terrible condition of Okinawans returning from the Philippines stuck in refugee camps in Fukuoka and realized the need for an Okinawa relief movement in the U.S.

On their return to the U.S., Nakamura and Kochi jointly published a "Report on the Condition of Okinawans in Japan after the War" in the Hokubei Shimpo in New York on March 1, 1946. It appealed to the Okinawan communities in the U.S. to form a national movement to send relief goods to Okinawa, which was under a separate American jurisdiction and excluded from access to the relief goods and donations sent by the Japanese American communities to occupied Japan. They proceeded to establish the first of the Okinawan relief committees in New York on April 15. Then, accompanied by Takeshi Haga of the Japanese American Committee for Democracy (JACD) and with the help of Jesse Shima, an Okinawan Issei living in Washington, D.C. who had extensive contacts in the government, they visited the Navy Department and negotiated arrangements for the shipment of Okinawan relief goods and mail on navy ships. They were able subsequently to get Okinawa included under LARA (Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia) with distribution of relief managed through the Church World Service, one of its member organizations. Paul Kochi and Shingi Nakamura then began a cross-country tour on May 20 to urge Okinawan communities in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Central Valley in California to begin forming local relief committees. They established the Okinawan Relief League of America in Los Angeles on June 23, 1946, with Kochi serving as head of the Information Bureau, which published the Kyuen News bulletin. Later renamed the Okinawan Reconstruction League, it remained active until 1954, collecting and sending mail, relief goods, and donations in a separate relief movement that paralleled relief efforts in the Japanese American community.

"Red Scare" and Later Life

In the midst of this, in 1953, at the height of McCarthy "red scare" period, Paul Kochi was ordered for deportation as a subversive under the McCarran Acts of 1950 and 1952. This began an eleven-year legal battle to remain in the U.S., defended by the Los Angeles chapter of the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign-born, which defended several other Asian immigrant leftists as well. By 1958, the subversion charges were dismissed, but he still faced charges of illegal entry, which were not resolved until 1964.

Paul Kochi remained active as a leader in the Okinawan community until the end of his life. In 1954, he presented the proposal to change the name of the Okinawa Reconstruction League to the Okinawa Club of America, closing the relief movement period and shifting the focus toward the future of the Okinawan community in the US. Towards this end, in 1966, he helped form the Editorial Committee to compile a comprehensive history of Okinawans in North America, which was published in Japanese in 1981 with an English translation, targeting the Nisei and Sansei generations, in 1988. Sadly, Paul Kochi died at the age of 91 on December 20, 1980, and did not live to see this completed.

In the later stages of his life, as an elderly Issei, Paul Kochi became active in the Asian American movement, serving as an advisor for the Sansei -organized Pioneer Center in Los Angeles and one of the founders and first president of the Japanese Welfare Rights Organization (JWRO).

Authored by Ben Kobashigawa , Emeritus, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University

For More Information

Fujino, Diane C. "The Indivisibility of Freedom: The Nisei Progressives, Deep Solidarities, and Cold War Alternatives." Journal of Asian American Studies 21.2 (June 2018): 171-208.

Fujioka, Shiro. Ayumi no ato . Los Angeles: Ayumi no Ato Kanko Koenkai, 1957.

Ishigaki Ayako, Saraba waga Amerika: Jiyu to yokuatsu no 25 Nen . Tokyo: Sanseido, 1972.

Kochi, Paul. Imin no aiwa (An Immigrant's Sad Tale) . Translated by Ben Kobashigawa. Los Angeles: privately published, 1978.

Okinawa Club of America, comp. History of the Okinawans in North America . Translated by Ben Kobashigawa. Los Angeles: University of California and Okinawa Club of America, 1988.

Footnotes

  1. Paul Kochi, "Crisis in the Pacific and Japanese Americans: How Do We Deal with It," in Okinawa Club of America, comp., History of the Okinawans in North America , translated by Ben Kobashigawa (Los Angeles: University of California and Okinawa Club of America, 1988).

Last updated Nov. 30, 2020, 8:58 a.m..