Friday, March 3, 2017

Dharma Lesson from Yuri Kochiyama

When I talked up the showing of the film, “Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice,” I thought half the temple membership would be filling up the auditorium at the Block Museum on the Northwestern University campus last month. But only a handful of the folks I knew showed up and the total audience for the film showing was pretty thin.

Maybe just as well – it wasn’t a well made film (it seemed like in the mid-1990s sound recording for film must’ve been pretty primitive). But for me, the life of Yuri Kochiyama illustrated the Dharma lesson I try to impart at every memorial service – “That feeling of respect and gratitude you feel for your deceased loved one should carry over to a widening circle of compassion for the lives around you.”

(above quote alone is a Dharma Lesson - BTW, she was Muslim)
Yuri Kochiyama lost her father to the World War II hysteria against the ethnic Japanese in America (after Pearl Harbor he was jailed despite his poor health and died the day after he was released). Her passion for justice is a directing of her outrage over her father’s loss into the energy to fight for all people in the United States who are mistreated by the majority white society and the government.

Her story is a rare exception among Japanese Americans. While she raised her family in Harlem and got involved in the parents’ group which led her to activism with the black and Latino liberation movements, most Japanese Americans followed the white flight out of the inner cities to more affluent neighborhoods. This is reflected in our temple’s history – leaving the south side in the mid-1950s to move to the north side where most of the members were relocating during the time of real estate fear-mongering and redlining. And in the 1980s and -90s, there was a strong push to find a new location in a “nicer” neighborhood (such as northwest Chicago or Morton Grove) away from the black, brown and red people of Uptown.

Right now there are a lot of young Japanese Americans saying they’re against the “Muslim registry” (such as my cousin’s daughter, but I don’t hear many calling for reparations for African Americans as Yuri Kochiyama did. It’s good that young JAs relate to the recent immigrants, such as those from Muslim countries, but I wish more Asian Americans would relate to those whose ancestors were brought to the U.S. as slaves, to those who were here first and saw their lands taken away from them and to those vast numbers of descendants of Europeans who are in or near poverty due to shifts in the economy.

For many Americans, Yuri Kochiyama is seen as unpatriotic for her anti-government remarks (see the furor over the May 19, 2016 Google doodle), but she reminds us that the mindset of powerful interests that incarcerated the ethnic Japanese during World War II is still prevailing in policies and procedures that violate the rights of people of color and lower-income whites and deny them the opportunities easily accessed by residents of affluent areas. Yuri Kochiyama’s life reminds me of the Dharma teachings of considering myself and all beings as “we” - not to be divided into us (“we work hard and have morals”) versus them (“they’re lazy and just want to kill and rob”). My hope is that at our temple as we become Dharma friends with diverse ethnicities and those of differing socio-economic statuses, we categorize less and emphasize more with all the lives around us. That is, genuinely hearing the call of Namu Amida Butsu instead of just giving it lip-service.