Toshiko Mohr- A first generation immigrant to the United States who came to California with one hope: the start for a more efficient life.
She sits stoic, posed as her hands stand upon the keys in front of her, resting. Then as if to be a petite marionette doll, one can see the tension glide away from the upper half of her body, as if the first notes of the piece are her release. And she becomes one with the cheap piano we have made of cherry wood that lies, shining in the living room. The piece seems to come more alive within her as she swells with the crescendos and dives with the decrescendos. Her thin, frail back ripples under her shirt, showing years of wear and tear, the signifier of hard dedication to mastering her craft and to her family. The weight she has had to carry on her back metaphorically in order to give her children and herself a compatible and livable lifestyle surpasses anyone I have encountered.
Her story is not an easy one, and I have only gathered snippets of understanding from hearing conversations in different rooms, and seeing the pain in her eyes when I mention her parents to piece together her ambiguous background. She comes from a hardened environment, an environment of wood rolling pins, and parents with beady eyes and an ignorance for kindness, but yet she thrives. She understands that some people were never given the life they deserved, and some people just had to work a lot harder to strive for their “perfect” reality. So she worked, and struggled and worked, all the while, the keys of the piano pushing her forward, being her deepest confidant in the whispers of the night, and her strongest supporter in her waning times. Yet not only did she want just a career, but she wanted a family to share that with and to find a person, who would provide her with love she had yet to learn.
One night at a hotel party, she found him. Her equal, her partner, her teammate, and the person who saw her in a way as her parents never did: a successful, strong woman. She found someone who she not only could grow with, but who also believed wholeheartedly in her dreams and endeavors. And together they decided to move to the United States to start a family in Pasadena, California.
But their story does not stop there, nor do the tribulations and hardships. Like the crescendos and decrescendos of her favorite piece, the swells are great, and the lows are desperate. After the move, she was scared. A petite woman at the age of 28, pregnant with her first daughter, and in a different country. The English language was that of the unknown, and to her seemed a distinct flat language that sounds more like flies buzzing in the background than that of the pretty, high pitched syllables of her country of origin. The people, the language, the culture were all so intimidating, and she felt so tiny, indistinct. Yet like many of the other occasions and obstacles she had to overcome in the past, she passed the ones in the United States with grace and a furrowed brow. She learns to speak fluent
English, and learns to intermingle the two cultures she has come to know and accept under one roof as her family grows, with one five year old daughter, and a newborn son, and a supportive husband.
Even in the midst of having to be the glue of the family and the ultimate caretaker, she never forgets her passion: the piano. Though she wants to have a thriving family, and a supportive and mutually respecting equal partner in life, she knows she has to strive for her passions as well. For her ultimate goal is to be a successful piano teacher, who could give back to the community- a tool that has gotten her through the hardest moments in her life– the gift of music. Fast forward ten years down the line, five moves, and the financial crisis in 2007, she finally meets her goal. She is now a successful piano teacher in the community of La Canada, California, and has over fifty students she teaches a week. She no longer seeks the validation of her parents, because she has found that in herself and in her community, and through guiding her students.
My mother, Toshiko Mohr, is the hardest working person I ever have encountered, and her story inspires me to get out of bed and to push myself harder than I did yesterday, for I am thankful for the life she has been able to give me, and for always creatively invoking a passion in me to never stop pursuing what I truly care about doing.
As the piano piece slowly comes to an end, a new spirit rises within her, and as she gets up from the seat, the fire in her eyes is anew.