Iva watched the master of ceremonies tap the microphone to quiet down the dinner conversations so he could begin the awards portion of the program. The dishes were being cleared, giving her a few last minutes to settle her nerves. She knew it would be best to go over her remarks one final time but was unable to focus. Looking out on the packed banquet hall from her chair at the head table, she saw over three hundred in attendance, far more than she expected. This was a well-to-do crowd, and everyone she spoke with said this recognition was long overdue.
Closing her eyes, she thought back to the many years of simply trying to survive. As she now knew, those years taught painful but valuable lessons. She’d realized how her youthful stubbornness and inexperience started events rolling downhill. If only I’d known then what I know now, but that’s the way life works. At least here I am, something I never could have imagined.
As the MC got control of the room, images of the people who touched her life flew through her mind. There was her father, Jun, now long passed, one of the few who had stood by her through everything. Iva wondered how much guilt drove him, since he was the one who insisted she go on the trip where everything went wrong. We all make mistakes, but Dad, that was a doozy.
An image of Filipe, now dead for seven years, flashed through her mind. Their marriage was more collateral damage for those out to get her. She regretted how he suffered in their marriage, but could she have survived without him being there? Maybe his pain was inevitable.
Other faces quickly followed one after another. Seeing these ghosts of the past, Iva remembered how people’s inner values were eventually revealed. Besides being lied to and manipulated repeatedly, she now knew that much of their behavior was driven by racism and hate no matter how they denied it. Too many times, Iva heard people justify their actions by saying, “I’m doing this because I love my country.”
Well, who loved the country more than me? Who experienced what I did or made the sacrifices I did all those years? If it wasn’t racism and bigotry, why would no one listen and understand my circumstances? Add in the press and their need for sensationalism. What chance did a single Japanese American woman have?
Breathe. Clear your mind. Tonight is the time to say what the audience expects. It’s not the forum to remind everyone of the terrible injustices I suffered or what others will likely experience in the future anytime politics trumps rationality. Tonight, this ceremony is what it is—a step in the right direction, showing that some people can listen and change their minds.
Iva heard the MC wrapping up his introduction. “And so, on behalf of the American Veterans Association, please put your hands together and welcome to the dais Iva Toguri, winner of the 2005 Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award.”
Standing slowly, Iva gazed out at the standing ovation, wondering what the audience saw. An almost eighty-yearold woman, a bit overweight, and worn down by life. It was too rich, getting a citizenship award as someone who was not even a citizen for many years. She put that thought aside and forced herself to smile as the framed award came into her hands.