Activist inspires students to make film

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Two students from the Asian-American Studies Department began filming a documentary last spring about the life of famous civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama and plan to finish by Spring 2006.

Amy Ikeda, junior Asian American Studies major, who is working on the project, first became aware of Kochiyama through her Asian American women’s studies class. Ikeda learned that Kochiyama had traveled to numerous college campuses, but was unable to visit CSUN.

Kochiyama, now 84 years old, does not tour Southern California like she used to.

Ikeda, with the help of J.P. deGuzman, CSUN alumnus, decided to travel to interview Kochiyama in Oakland with questions from CSUN students about her career as a civil rights activist. After learning about all of Kochiyama’s key contributions to the civil rights movements, Ikeda was inspired to make a film about her specifically geared toward CSUN students.

“Although Yuri Kochiyama is a Japanese-American, she hasn’t just worked to help out the Japanese or Asian community,” Ikeda said. “She has helped and supported many minorities and (helped) protect human rights.”

When Kochiyama was a young woman, she and her family were put into internment camps after the Pearl Harbor bombing. They were jailed and lost everything. She drew back from her experiences at the camps to aid minorities, Ikeda said.

In 1977, Kochiyama joined the Young Lords, a group that fought for Puerto Rican independence in taking over the Statue of Liberty. The group took over the statue in protest to set certain political prisoners free, and was successful, she said.

“One person can really touch many lives,” Ikeda said.

Ikeda wrote a proposal to the Japanese American Citizens League for funding.

Stephen Ropp, professor in the Asian American Studies Department, helped Ikeda and deGuzman find sources to fund the project and provided direction for the film. The estimated cost to make the documentary is $2,000.

Ikeda received funding for the documentary, and Ropp helped her address questions about issues involving the importance of the project.

The JACL made the largest contribution, and the Associated Students also helped fund the documentary, Ikeda said.

Ikeda and deGuzman work on the documentary during their free time outside of classes or other obligations.

“We took a camera around campus and asked students what they wanted to ask her,” Ikeda said. “I had been interviewing Kochiyama, but I will cut (myself) out and let the (videotaped) students speak for themselves.”

“She is an amazing woman,” Ikeda said, adding that Kochiyama accompanied Malcolm X when he was assassinated.

“She – held Malcolm X’s head when he was shot,” Ikeda added.

Ikeda plans to feature the documentary at the University Student Union Grand Salon when she completes the film. Ikeda has not set a date to visit Kochiyama again.

“We still have one more trip to make up there,” Ikeda said. “We then have to edit it.”

When the documentary is completed, she said she wants to give a copy of the finished film to the JACL and the Oviatt Library, where it could be available to students, faculty and staff.

Ropp said there have been other students who wanted to do a documentary in the Asian American Studies Department, but Ikeda was the first to attempt it.

“It is a really important thing because (the film) is CSUN-focused,” said deGuzman, adding that he works mostly behind the scenes in making the documentary. “She had the idea and I just help her out with the interviewing and paperwork.”

“Kochiyama is a staple figure in the Asian American Studies program,” deGuzman said. “Her life was shaped by the Japanese-American culture. She had even received criticism for helping other minorities rather than focusing on just the Asian community. Not only was she active for the rights of Asian-Americans, she fought for social justice of many cultures.”

Michael Sullivan can be reached at michael.Sullivan.843@csun.edu.