Sunday, June 1, 2014

Secret Questions: Rest In Power, Yuri Kochiyama

I don't remember how I learned about Yuri Kochiyama; I know it was sometime after I grew into feminism, and was slowly learning about race identity and what that could potentially mean. I had very little sense of what Asian America was, what its relationship to Black America was, where it stood in the purview of white supremacy. But somehow I stumbled upon her name, and finding her biography interesting, I decided to look her up elsewhere.
I came across a Youtube video interview with her, of two young Asian women asking Yuri Kochiyama (and I thought, "how grand it must be to meet such a venerable elder" because it is the elders who have the stories that inform us how the world works, and it is through oral re-telling that such stories get transmitted) how she became involved in activism. I don't remember where the video is or what she said exactly, but she spoke about learning of the Native American genocides and how terrible it was that no one knew, and, I paraphrase, "how can you not do something about it?"

Other people have written more about her work and I didn't grow up knowing about her significance at all, but that question really stuck to me. When one sees injustice, how can one not do something, anything, about it? How can one just choose to turn away? It's not that I grew up with that kind of apathy, but none of my immediate family are activists. None of them move with the same quiet roar of righteousness I've seen from these luminaries.

I sometimes wonder how I end up where I am. Every year around my birthday, I wake up wondering how come I'm still alive. I don't know generally how I drove myself into learning about all these histories that I am learning; learning how to speak about systemic power and trying to whittle down high-level academic jargon into something I can speak into everyday conversation.

So today when I learned about Yuri Kochiyama's death, I was feeling the onset of mental depression, especially with other things happening--the UCSB shootings, major disappointments with my favourite con, Maya Angelou's death--I decided that today was a wash, nothing is beautiful, and felt like screaming into my pillow for the rest of the afternoon.

But how, though? How do you not do something about injustice? There is such a thing as activist fatique. You can, in fact, do so much emotional labour that you will tire yourself out, burn yourself out in a short amount of time. And when you are me, you can live in fear of a chronic mental condition and want to do so much more before you are afraid of the next strike, so you wear yourself out with caring.

Because how can you not do something? And doing something does not always mean "attempt to directly fix it immediately"--which I learned the hard way. To learn more is doing something. To speak about it to others is doing something. To begin conversation, open discussion, raise questions, is doing something.

I think it is easy to speak of Yuri Kochiyama's impact on the larger Asian-American community, but I imagine there are so many others who are also quietly personally impacted by her words and her actions and her sheer presence. I'm not Asian-American and I regret never having the chance to meet such a venerable woman.

So tonight I will nurse this depression and prepare for the first written portion of my qualifying exams.

Tomorrow the secret question in me, planted there by Yuri Kochiyama's words, will drive me out of bed and house to do something on the path towards ending injustice.

Rest in Power, Yuri Kochiyama.

When I grow up I want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama!

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