Keiko Yasukawa McKnight
February 11th 1936- February 8th 2001
Oh my gosh. My mom would be turning 80 years old this week. I can totally imagine her as a cute old Japanese obaasan, shuffling around in her little slippers. She’d probably be saying the same old things to me too. I can hear the litany of advice as I write.
It’s been 15 years since my mom passed away from a very brief period of having cancer. It was Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and she was stage 3 when first diagnosed. What was supposedly a very curable cancer or at the very least “livable” ended in her passing just a brief 6 months later.
It was the worst pain. The most grief I’ve ever experienced so far in my life. But pain subsides with time, and memories flood your mind.
And so today, in honor of my mom, I thought I’d share some of her “Keiko-isms”. There were so damn many, it was hard to keep track, but these are some words of wisdom my mom left behind…
I hated my name growing up. You can imagine, a halfsie with the weird name in 1970’s America. A constant source of embarrassment by friends who had field days with my name, my looks. Even well meaning adults somehow couldn’t pronounce my name.
“Yumiko” means “generosity, beauty and richness of heart”. You are all seriously jealous now, I know. All kidding aside, isn’t that the most amazing compliment my mom could bestow upon me? How I wish I had more time to thank her for my name.
#1 Keikoism is: “not outer beauty Yumiko but inner beauty” in her cute little accent.
Oh wow, I could go on forever with this one! As I get older, I can’t tell you how important this little bit of advice is to be reminded of. Especially in a culture so focused on youth and exterior appearance. Outer beauty fades people. It always does, and if there is nothing in you that is beyond your appearance, then really what is there of you? It’s great to look good and you want to feel your best, but feeling your best better start with what’s inside. Always.
#2 Keikoism is: “Work hard, make lots money”.
That’s right. And she said it just like that too. Asian immigrants work their butts off. Frankly most all immigrants do. They are hard working, humble yet ambitious and motivated to reach for that “American dream”. My mom always told me go to school ‘for business’. She was proud that she had a talented daughter who could sing opera, however, just like any parent, I’m sure she was worried how I would make a living. So in my 20’s I got a job and made lots of money, then guess what I heard next? “Why you don’t sing?” (insert Asian voice)
That’s right, hard to please those Tiger Moms out there. But really, forget the making lots money part, the “work hard” is true for anything you want to do in life. Work hard at it. Work harder. Period.
#3 Keikoism is: “family first”.
As a teenager you place a lot of emphasis on relationships with friends, and this goes into college too. When you are younger, you can’t imagine a life without someone, but time has a way of passing by. Friendships fade and relationships end. But family will always be there. For better or for worse, family first. I heard this one a million times.
You would be happy to see that I say the same things a million times over to Emi now. Thanks for the advice Mom. I miss you daily.