January 1, 2006
RIP, Chris Iijima
U Hawai'i LawProf Chris Kando Iijima died last week. We taught at Western New England College School of Law for three years, where he inspired me as a scholar, as a teacher and as a person. Chris did many things in his too short life. He was one of the first Asian American folk singers, with the trio Yellow Pearl; his group's album A Grain of Sand is still available, and he appeared on the Mike Douglas Show with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on February 15, 1972, singing We are the Children. (Here's Phil Nash's review of a 2000 reunion concert). Also in the 1960s, Chris was a founder of the Asian Americans for Action, one of the first APA advocacy organizations of the modern era of civil rights. Chris appears in the famous Life Magazine photograph of Mark Rudd smoking a cigar with his feet on Columbia President Grayson Kirk's desk during the 1968 strike and occupation; Chris is on the right in the hat, looking out the window for the police, surely not for the first or last time. (Scroll down to "In 1968 Student Radicals Take Over Administration Building at Columbia University.")
As director of the Hawai'i Law School's pre-admission program, he spent his professional career making legal education available to members of historically disadvantaged groups. His scholarship also focussed on historical and contemporary injustices; here's an article he wrote advocating for the rights of Native Hawai'ians. He was widely honored for his work. In December he won the "Keeper of the Flame Award" from the Na Loio Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center; earlier, he was recognized by the Hawai'i State Bar Association (scroll down). He was also an award-winning classroom teacher. Here, his letter "Why I Dissent" in opposition to the Iraq war (Scroll down); here's an an article about a talk he gave on Internment and its lessons for today. Farewell to a peaceful, courageous, committed man whose integrity and dedication will long be an inspiration. [Jack Chin] UPDATE: There's a memorial service in Hawai'i on January 18th; a radio memorial on WBAI on January 10. Info here.
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Chris Iijima was a teacher at Manhattan Country School and everything you say about him was our experience as colleagues. His students and their parents were deeply influenced by him. Every teacher dreams of having that kind of impact, only a few every achieve it. A highly developed sense of humor was as characteristic as his keen nose for injustice. What a gift to have worked with this extraordinary individual.
Posted by: Michele Sola | Jan 7, 2006 8:40:22 PM
I was a classmate of Chris's at Music and Art High School. Although I didn't know him well and wished I had known him better, he impressed me with his passion for social justice. He was someone who remained in my mind as a part of my experience in high school even though I was not yet politicized and didn't fully understand his concerns. However, having become much more aware in recent years, I think I have a better understanding of where he was coming from when he steadfastly refused to let our social studies teacher get away with glossing anything over or feeding us standard lines. I am grateful that there is a wealth of information about him on the web, and I can now belatedly learn about what he did with his life.
Posted by: Shola Friedensohn | Jan 9, 2006 7:07:11 AM