Yuri Kochiyama

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[A beautiful photo of Yuri Kochiyama in later years, found on the fantastic blog http://blog.angryasianman.com/2014/06/legendary-activist-yuri-kochiyama-dies.html that everyone should check out. Photograph by AnRong Xu, http://www.anrongxu.com/]

As I’m sure many of you have seen, Google recently dedicated the “Google Doodle” to Yuri Kochiyama in commemoration of what would have been her ninety-fifth birthday. This decision has been met with praise, spurring the writing + reposting of countless articles and blog posts on her life, and with an unfortunate amount of scorn from those who disagreed with her radical politics. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog decided to take this opportunity to add one more post in celebration of her life, in defence of her beliefs + activism, and in praise of the types of solidarity she engaged in with Black communities as a non-Black person of colour (NBPoC).

Kochiyama was born ninety-five years ago to two Issei* in California. During the Second World War, herself and her family along with 120,000 other people of Japanese descent were forcibly uprooted and imprisoned in concentration camps. It was during her time spent in a camp in Arkansas that she began to see the similar ways in which people of colour, in this case Black Americans and people of Japanese descent, were treated by the American government and broader American society. It was also during this time that Kochiyama met her husband, a Nisei* American soldier named Bill Kochiyama.

Although initially involved in more mainstream Civil Rights activism, Kochiyama went on to become involved in the Black nationalist struggle, Puerto Rican independence, and various other interrelated causes. In 1960, Yuri and Bill moved to Harlem with their six children. By this point, Yuri Kochiyama was already in her mid-40s – definitely not the type of person that is commonly imagined as the “politicized young activist” that many associate with the 1960s. In 1963, Kochiyama met Malcolm X and developed a close friendship with him, involving her in the ongoing struggles of Black liberation and against American imperialism. Kochiyama went on to befriend and support the struggles of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and many other radical activists of colour and working class activists across the United States. Due to her political beliefs, Kochiyama was under constant surveillance by the American government, which she was aware of and was conscious to “not bring heat on certain activists in the black liberation movement” (Kochiyama, 1972). By being aware of how her surveillance was affecting Black activists, Kochiyama exemplifies ways in which NBPoC can work with, for, and (when appropriate) on behalf of Black activists without causing further harm to Black communities. Kochiyama’s activism, as an Asian American woman, was therefore never at the expense of Black Americans – an important point to make note of as the “model minority” myth associated with many (East) Asian Americans has been propagated as a form of anti-Black racism.**

Yuri Kochiyama was a controversial figure, to say the least. While many conservatives paint her as an unpatriotic communist and terrorist, I think she embodies what solidarity and active support can look like from a NBPoC with Black communities in the United States. Kochiyama was a self aware freedom fighter who understood the power behind anti-Black racism and how she needed to actively fight against it as a Japanese American woman. She was someone that built ties with people of colour around the world struggling against imperialism, oppression, capitalism, and suffering brought on by systems of power beyond her control. Kochiyama continues to inspire us to this day, and provides us with just one “jumping off point” from which to understand the ways in which we can build community and struggle with each other across different ethnic and racial divisions.

In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, “I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist. But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.” Thank you, Yuri, for fighting against the injustices that surrounded you and continue to exist today.

~ M

* Issei is a Japanese word that refers to people of Japanese descent who immigrated to other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Peru, and beyond. Nisei refers to the second generation – the children of Issei – in Japanese diaspora communities.

** For more on the model minority myth and anti-Black racism, please check out this articlethis other article, and lastly this great article as an introduction to why the model minority myth is important to understand in relation to anti-Black racism in the United States.

Bibliography

Kochiyama, Yuri. “The Impact of Malcolm X on Asian-American Politics and Activism.” In Blacks, Latinos and Asians in Urban America: Status and Prospects for Politics and Activism, edited by James Jennings, 129-141. London: Praeger, 1994.

Ross, Janell. “Google commemorates a very controversial civil-rights figure, Yuri Kochiyama.” Washington Post. May 19, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/05/19/google-commemorates-a-very-controversial-civil-rights-figure-yuri-kochiyama/

Woo, Elaine. “Yuri Kochiyama dies at 93; civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X.” Los Angeles Times. June 3, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-yuri-kochiyama-20140604-story.html

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Yuri Kochiyama

Terri-Jean Bedford

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[A fantastic photograph of Terri-Jean Bedford with her iconic black riding crop, retrieved from her personal website www.http://terrijeanbedford.com/%5D

Terri-Jean Bedford is a name that many in Canada might recognize, and whom many might question as to whether or not she might count as an “historical hottie” or a contemporary one. We here at Historical Hotties hope to constantly push the boundaries of what constitutes “history” – and that includes forcing us to rethink the lines between past and present, historical and contemporary.

Bedford was born in October 1959, and has spent a large portion of her life working in the sex work industry, most notably as “Canada’s most famous” (in her words) dominatrix and as the former owner/operator of Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica in the Thornhill neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. In 1994, fifteen police officers stormed Madame de Sade’s, arresting Bedford (along with several other women) while committing acts of police violence including “pushing and shoving the female dominants, demanding that the accused call them ‘master,’ asking for a demonstration of boot licking, […] ridiculing the sadomasochistic props and clothes” and strip-searching the employees of Madame de Sade’s (Khan, 168). The arrests led to charges of keeping a bawdy house for Bedford. As defined by the Criminal Code, a bawdy house is “a place that is (a) kept or occupied, or (b) resorted to by one or more persons for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency.” However, Bedford and the accused insisted that the legal definitions of prostitution in Canada did not apply, as Bedford specifically mandated that no vaginal or oral sex could take place on the premises (in order to adhere to the law!). During the several trials that resulted from the 1994 arrests made in relation to Madame de Sade’s, Bedford only made legal appearances with her black riding crop in tow, dressed in black leather (like the total boss dom she is).

Bedford has gone on to become prominent in sex work advocacy in Canada and,along with Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, was involved as an applicant in the high profile case Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101. In Canada (AG) v Bedford, Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down, with bawdy house provisions being deemed unconstitutional.

Bedford is known in Canada as a vocal advocate for the rights of sex workers, working tirelessly to ensure that sex workers are treated with dignity and respect both in the proverbial eyes of the law and amongst the general public. Terri-Jean Bedford challenges us to reevaluate how we define whether someone is an historical personage or a contemporary one, and whether or not this distinction even matters. Furthermore, her work and the way she has been treated by the law and broader Canadian society forces us as historians to confront how we deal with questions surrounding desire, sexuality, consent, and sex work that bleed from the past into the present day. Bedford is most definitely a Historical Hottie, and one that makes us especially aware of the role “hotness” plays in different historical contexts of desire and (supposedly) deviant sexualities.

~ M

Bibliography

Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101.

Khan, Ummni. “‘Putting a Dominatrix in Her Place’ The Representation and Regulation of Female Dom/Male Sub Sexuality.” The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 21 (2009):  143-177.

Terri-Jean Bedford

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Sylvia Hamilton

[A photograph of Sylvia D. Hamilton, from her professional page as Assistant Professor and Rogers Chair in Communications at the University of King’s College, Halifax http://www.ukings.ca/sylvia-d-hamilton]

Who counts as an historical subject? Who is worthy of our attention when historians tease out the narratives we call “history” from the amorphous past? And, moreover, who is the “we,” the “our” that can be found – sometimes explicitly, other times just a looming threat – in historical writing? For today’s post – the last in our celebration of Black History Month – I want to highlight Sylvia D. Hamilton, a Black Canadian filmmaker, and writer who has helped to shift both who counts as an historical subject in Canada and who counts as the historian, the always present “our” in historical writing. Sylvia D. Hamilton is therefore both historian and historical subject, both the one crafting narratives and the one centred in various stories.

Instead of the usual post where myself or Spirit write a tribute to an historical (and in this case, living) person, or set of persons, I will in its place allow for Hamilton’s own words to tell you where she is from and why she does the work she does. The following is an excerpt from her fantastic 2012 article “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Let her words inform you, remind you, or perhaps even challenge you into thinking about how Blackness is an integral part of the Canadian national project, and about how the same issues of anti-Black racism that exist in the United States punctuate Canadian history (and the many Canadian presents), as well:

Since our earliest days in Canada as African-descended people, we have striven to find a compass: to locate ourselves in this vast land, to plot our position on the physical and mental map of Canada…

I am the grateful daughter of Marie Nita Waldron and Gerald Mac Hamilton, the granddaughter of Ida Grosse and Gilbert Hamilton and of Hattie Kellum and William Waldron, and the great granddaughter of Charlotte and Charles Grosse. William Waldron was a sailor and watchmaker who came to Halifax from the Barbados at the turn of the century and married Hattie Kellum. All are the reason I can stand before you today.

I have become a seeker, trying to plot some of the co-ordinates, not just for myself, but also for others. For me, as a filmmaker and a writer, history and memory combine to create a lens through which I view the present. These joint themes figure in much of my work that draws on oral story telling, archival and other found documents and objects, and on geography to tell stories about African Nova Scotians and African Canadians generally.

My work re-inserts and re-positions African-descended people in our landscapes by presenting stories and images of people being witnesses to their own lives. Their experiences and stories are the evidence of their realities. I think that a true understanding of our past and its meaning, one rooted in our bones, is vital to our future.

 

Thank you to Sylvia D. Hamilton, for telling your story.

~ M

P.S. I encourage everyone who has access, to read Sylvia D. Hamilton’s article cited here. And I especially encourage everyone to watch her fantastic and at times heartbreaking documentary The Little Black Schoolhouse (2007) which chronicles the experiences of Black Canadians who were subjected to school segregation in Nova Scotia.

Bibliography

Hamilton, Sylvia D. “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Acadiensis XLI, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2012): 3-16.

 

 

 

 

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Nicky Hallett

Since Monique and I launched this blog in September, I’ve wanted to feature a nun. As I wrote, revised and scrapped posts though, I realised that, despite a number of early modern Catholic nuns having characteristics that inspire me, many were also problematic figures. Some advocated crusading, others participated in aggressive missionisation among indigenous populations. In short, many were not people I feel comfortable labelling historical hotties. I’m sure that as I move forward in my research, I’ll learn about and feature some of the nuns I study. For now, I’m excited to post about an incredible, provocative historian of nuns: Nicky Hallett.

In 2013 Hallett published The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600-1800: Early Modern ‘Convents of Pleasure. For readers unfamiliar with sensory history, I believe this book will prove to be one of the genre’s great works. Early modern histories of the senses have tended to apply anachronistically present-day notions about the senses to the past. But Hallett avoids approaching the sensory experiences of nuns from present-day perspectives. Instead, she respects the priorities of her historical subjects where the senses were concerned.

Although the Teresian Carmelite nuns she studies meditated on senses such as smell in order move out of their bodies and closer to the divine, Hallett does not dismiss the ways they understood or experienced their senses as backward, incorrect or delusional. Instead, she presents the nuns’ practice of mastering their senses as a demonstration that both notions about and experiences of the senses are plural and mutable rather universal and fixed. Hallett points out that “secular philosophers necessarily have conceptualised smell from a human point of view.”[1] By contrast, the nuns she studies used the senses in order to bring themselves nearer to God. By taking seriously the Teresian Carmelite discipline of mastering the senses, Hallet undermines the essentialist assumption that each sense has a true/natural mode of operation.[2]

What’s most important about Hallett’s argument is that it does not perpetuate ideas that early modern people understood their senses incorrectly. Rather, she shows the plurality of valid ways of sensing, knowing and being. This isn’t just good news for students of history like myself who want to study the senses respectfully and meaningfully. It’s also an affirmation for those of us interested in challenging right now—today—assumptions that certain present-day cultures have more truthful ways of knowing and being in the world than others.

~S

 

[1] Hallett, Nicky. The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600-1800 : Early Modern “Convents of Pleasure.” (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 164.

[2] Ibid., 162, 164.

Nicky Hallett