Kochiyama’s life in social change is inspiring, both for its longevity and for her willingness to take on the most controversial causes. She is, perhaps, most famous for her association with Malcolm X, and for the photos of her holding Malcolm X in her arms as he lay dying after being gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom on February 12, 1965. But there was much, much more to Kochiyama’s activism than her sojourn with the Organization for Afro-American Unity. She fought for Puerto Rican independence, provided support for social and political prisoners, and was instrumental in the fight for reparations for Japanese American internees.
But the importance of Kochiyama’s story doesn’t end with her personal history. For while she is no doubt a remarkable person, she was not alone among Asian Americans of her generation in her commitment to social justice. Throughout her story we are reminded of others who struggled alongside her, of the the Asian American movement of the 1960s that was inspired, in part, by Japanese American internment, exclusionary and blatantly racist immigration laws, the Vietnam War, and exploitation and discrimination of Asian immigrant workers. That movement gave birth to the phrase “Asian American” as a statement of inter-ethnic solidarity, and it stood against unjust wars and with the movements for African American civil rights, workers rights, and immigrant rights, and for multiculturalism, open enrollment in colleges and universities, and diversification of university curricula. That movement gave us Asian American studies, and Asian American studies has allowed us to create a record of our history, in our own words.
Because y’all were kind of clamoring for this Crush when we featured Nichelle Nichols on the R…yes, this week’s Crush is the man for whom she served as matron of honor at his nuptials to his beloved of 20 years, George Takei.
Proof of this Star Trek-iest of events, you say?
(l-r: Walter Koening (best man), Nichelle Nichols (matron of honor), Brad Altman (Takei’s spouse), George Takei)
Here’s an fuller excerpt of an interview with Forbes on his latest project, his Buddhist faith, and how he rocks social media:
What prompted you to start a Facebook page in the first place?
I had been active on Twitter in early 2011 posting daily quips and humor, and while I enjoyed how fast something could speed across the Twitterverse, there wasn’t an easy way for me to interact with fans or to build discussion around posts or pictures. Facebook allowed me to review and “like” comments in one place, post my own thoughts to a group of fans discussing a particular topic, and go back later and see who else had weighed in and what others thought of it. It seemed a much more open and interactive forum, a natural fit for the kind of community I wanted to build.
What was your approach on Facebook to start engaging with your fans?
I have had a lifelong engagement with Star Trek fans as well as a more recent engagement with fans who know me from my guest announcer gig on Howard Stern on Sirius XM. So I naturally began with that, which produced a curious combination of geek/nerd humor and somewhat raunchy and irreverent banter. It was rather like The Sci-Fi Channel meets Comedy Central.
I also had a vibrant following among LGBT fans who have come to embrace my message of combatting idiocy with humor. It’s really hard to hate someone for being different when you’re too busy laughing together. So my early fans were also comprised of equality-minded activists ready to do battle against the “douchebags” and bullies of the world.
What’s your favorite aspect of being on Facebook?
I relish the free-wheeling marketplace of ideas that abounds there. People from all different walks of life are on the page, challenging me, each other, and doing it all mostly with good cheer, since this is largely a platform for daily belly laughs, with a sprinkle of thoughtful commentary on life tossed in. I also appreciate that fans can “send” me notes simply by posting on my wall, and I have a direct and immediate way to thank or acknowledge them.
What’s the worst part of being on Facebook?
It truly is addicting and quite time consuming. With so many fans now, and such terrific engagement from them, I’ve had to devote an increasing portion of my day to the page. It’s really the first thing I do in the morning now. I’ve had to enlist my husband Brad to help me sift through hundreds of fan posts a day and thousands of fan comments, as well as an intern to help post my images when I’m on set or in the studio or traveling for various speaking gigs.
Like many of my fans, I also have some difficulty navigating the dizzying pace of changes to the Facebook interface, including the new “Timeline” feature. Pictures don’t always get posted the way you expect, and there are many new rules and settings that I’ve had to adjust to. But I’ve actually developed a following among some Facebook engineers, and we have had the pleasure of troubleshooting some anomalies together. They’ve even blogged about that. I feel like I’m back on the bridge of the Enterprise, communicating with the Engine Room!
You’ve been a vocal supporter of gay rights and other human rights issues. Do you find that having a strong social media presence has helped you advocate for those causes?
My social media presence has been a game-changer in this regard. I used to rely exclusively on TV and radio, and, to a smaller extent, print, to champion my favorite causes. I was entirely dependent on whether the news media wanted to pick up a story. But now withYouTube and my blog (“That Blog Is So Takei“), I get to decide when a message or cause matters. The content not only can be shared and reshared, but those who missed the first wave can go back and see it later. With crowd-funding sites we can agglomerate supporters, show a relevant video, and compound the effect of our ask. None of this was possible even a few years ago.
You’re currently working on a musical ‘Allegiance’ – which tells the story of the Japanese American internment camps. What prompted you to tell this story, and how did it feel to revisit that part of your life?
I’ve dedicated the better part of my life to ensuring that this dark chapter of our national history is not only told but understood, so that we never forget and never repeat this grave injustice. I am a founding member and chairman emeritus of the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles whose mission is in large measure to continue this effort.
Allegiance is a personal journey of mine for certain, and I view it as the culmination of my work not only as an activist but an actor. It is a beautiful, haunting story, with glorious music and an unparalleled cast including Tony winner Lea Salonga, the original Miss Saigon. It will take the theater world by storm when we open this fall at The Old Globe in San Diego, and then transfer in 2013 to the great American stage on Broadway.
According to Wikipedia, you’re a Buddhist. I was curious to know how your religion has influenced your life?
I find my peace and inspiration in Buddhism. It’s a philosophy, and it doesn’t require ritual. I believe in the oneness of the world. I believe in the dignity and worth of every individual. I believe we are all interconnected by the law of cause and effect. When I wed Brad, though, we wanted to have a Buddhist ceremony to make the point that California is a diverse state, not just ethnically and culturally, but religiously as well.
I think the serenity at the heart of the Buddhist philosophy has allowed me to combat injustice and inequality with a certain level of patient perspective. It’s so necessary to engage those who would seek to oppress you, and to extend to them a hand in our common humanity. That’s the philosophy I try to maintain on the Facebook page–with a few adorable and irresistible cat pictures, of course.