CHRIS IIJIMA / 1948-2006
UH law professor was Asian-American activist
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As a young man, Chris Iijima began fighting for social justice through anti-war and Asian-American movements.
In the early 1970s he toured the country with the trio Yellow Pearl, singing about Asian-American identity, and appeared on a television show hosted by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
The New York-reared Iijima went on to obtain a law degree and began practicing law, but eventually returned to his social justice work and to teaching, a University of Hawaii news release said.
Iijima, who joined the William S. Richardson School of Law faculty in 1998 and worked as director of its Preadmission Program, died Dec. 31 of a rare blood disease at age 57.
"He was a person who cared so much about both social justice but also about people as human beings," said his wife, Jane Dickson. "He always had time for everyone. He loved people. He was the most giving, kind person."
Iijima was born in New York City to activist parents: father Takeru, who served with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, Company L; and mother Kazu, who was interned during World War II. They were both active in the Asian-American movement in New York City, Dickson said.
Iijima protested the Vietnam War and took part in the Asian-American movement during and after his years at Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1969.
"He had a way of distilling his beliefs into song as a poet and as a musician," said Nobuko Miyamoto, who met him at a 1970 Japanese American Citizens League convention in Chicago, where they wrote their first song together.
Iijima wrote numerous songs, and the trio Yellow Pearl, which included Iijima, Miyamoto and Charlie Chin, recorded the album "A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America." Iijima and Chin went on to record another album several years later called "Back to Back."
In 1972 the trio received a call from Yoko Ono inviting them to appear on a TV show, Miyamoto recalled. Ono and Lennon were hosting a week of the "Mike Douglas Show."
"For that day, they brought on Jerry Rubin, head of the Yippies, and Bobby Seale, head of the Black Panthers, and us," Miyamoto said.
Friend and UH law school Dean Avi Soifer described Iijima as a legal scholar.
Among law review articles he wrote were "Race as Resistance" and "Swimming from the Island of the Colorblind: Deserting an Ill-Conceived Constitutional Metaphor."
Besides his wife and parents, Iijima is survived by sons Alan and Christopher, and sister Lynne.
A Celebration of the Life of Chris Iijima will be held at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Campus Center Ballroom. For more information, go to www.hawaii.edu/law.