Celebrating the 90 years that JACL has been doing work for our Nikkei community has made me reflect on the legacy that I want to leave when I am gone. What is important to me? Am I spending my days focused on what is important, or am I using my time to do things that others think are important? And so, writing this article has projected me into the future to explore what I hope my legacy will be for the time I am here on earth.
In the beginning, I thought my legacy would be family, my LGBTQ activism and my work in the Nikkei/Asian community. But as I sat and thought about the things that have most deeply impacted my life, I realized it wasn’t things I had done that I want to define my life, but who I have been within those areas. And so I came up with the following three areas that I hope will be my legacy, even if people don’t remember my name.
Telling the Truth
A few months ago, I rushed my husband to Emergency. He had spiked a fever from an infection that caused him to shake uncontrollably and struggle to breathe. While we were there waiting for the doctors to confirm a diagnosis, I called both of my kids to let them know what had happened.
Aiden was at Knott’s Berry Farm with his wife, Mary, and my niece. They were prepared to leave immediately. I told Aiden I would keep him posted, so he didn’t have to come to the hospital yet.
Stefen, who was still in the area, agreed to bring some things Papa asked for, but also called Aiden to discuss how they could best support their father and me. There was a discussion about whether Aiden and Mary should leave even when I said it was not necessary. Aiden’s reply struck deep in my heart when he said, “Momma always tells the truth, so if she wanted me to leave now, she would have said so.”
Some people call me transparent, others say, “You can’t hide your feelings,” but Aiden’s comment about me telling the truth really lingered in my heart. In that one sentence, what he was saying was that he trusted me to be honest with him, and that trust is what I want my legacy to be.
As Aiden and I travel around the country to share our story, I want others feel that same authenticity and integrity. Being real and telling the truth breeds not only trust in my family, but also I hope it breeds trust within the work I am doing in the LGBTQ and Nikkei community.
But telling the truth can have a double edge to it, so I hope that I tell my truth with directness, compassion and empathy for others, rather than meekly, bluntly or carelessly without concern for how it is received.
Some people have said that I cannot control whether people are hurt or not by my truth no matter how carefully I word it. To this I reply, “Yes, you are right.” But what I can do is make sure my reasons for telling the truth come from the best of intentions and not to raise myself up or put others down. If I can strive each day to speak my truth from that place, then I hope my words will not hurt, but be seen as a gift to the person I am speaking to.
All of my advocacy has taken courage. I remember in the beginning, I was so afraid that I wondered why I agreed to speak at an event, or do an interview or travel so far from home. But I have chosen to focus on the possibilities and not the potential failures. I have chosen to see what positives could come out of my work and not what challenges might stand in my way. This has pushed me through some of my deepest fears and made me stronger.
I remember pulling up my courage to speak to large groups of people. I was glad to stand behind a podium, so people couldn’t see my legs trembling or how my hands were wringing a Kleenex to shreds. I was scared to travel to China by myself to speak about LGBTQ issues in a country that wasn’t supportive and where I didn’t speak their language. And I really had to reach deep inside for courage to speak to a Mormon church last year, but I had Aiden by my side and Emerson, a Mormon leader, at my back. When I focused on making the world safer for Aiden and the LGBTQ community, it made me braver that I ever thought I could be. Love can do that.
It has also taken courage to stand up and say, “We need to bring more visibility and voice to the Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ community.” But today, “Okaeri: A Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering” is having its fourth biennial conference in 2020. PFLAG San Gabriel Valley has been supporting API LGBTQ families for over seven years. Our book “Two Spirits, One Heart” has been read by people in the United States and Asia.
I am so proud of my courage, but the courage to make things happen must be balanced with the humility that it takes to know I didn’t do it alone. There were others work- ing so hard with me. There were others investing their heart into this work. And there have been others whose shoulders I have stood on to be successful.
I want people to say that I was courageous, but I also knew that it wasn’t all about me. It was about organizations who went before me with courage, like PFLAG and JACL. It was about Tad, Aiden and Stefen’s courage allowing me to be visible and cheering me on along the way. And it is about the courage of Nikkei, Asian Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ individuals who live each day authentically and their families who proudly and lovingly stand by their children and family members.
Courage with humility can be a powerful magnet for others to get involved. And it can be the perfect formula for a lasting legacy because it is all about doing what is right and just. We need more of that in our world today.
Loving With My Whole Heart
Finally, I want people to say that I loved with my whole heart in all that I did. I spoke and wrote from my whole heart. I connected with others with my whole heart, but most of all, I loved my family and my communities with my whole heart.
To me, loving with my whole heart really encompasses the first two qualities: telling the truth with kindness and courageously being myself while honoring others. But it is also about believing in a better world and knowing that my voice can make a difference.
It is understanding that we are all on our own personal journeys, which have different timelines. It is recognizing the choices that others make might be different than my choices, but that is their journey. I cannot understand the history they may be carrying, and so I must respect the decisions they make. And it is always seeing the best in people who have good intentions, even if we differ in our opinions.
I want to leave a legacy of good deeds, actions and words, and that all comes from working to the best of my ability on being a good person myself. One day, we will all leave this world. … I hope when I do, my legacy will remain through the work I have been involved in and the people who I have touched.
It is not important that they remember my name, but it is important that they remember the value of truth, trust, courage, humility and love. If that is what endures, then my legacy will truly live on.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”