I'm thrilled to announce that I'm putting the final touches on The Showgirl and the Writer, a hybrid memoir/biography about my long friendship with Mary Mon Toy, a Nisei performer. It will be published this summer, 2023, by Peace Corps Writers — an imprint of Peace Corps Worldwide.
Mary Mon Toy, a Japanese American performer, and I encountered each other by chance in late winter of 1994. Soon after, she sought me out. Both our lives changed as we began to meet, and our friendship developed. I ask myself now, years later, why I was drawn to Mary and she to me? There is no easy answer. There were many layers of our relationship, in which we presented true and false identities, and intermittently were both caring and resentful. Our ambivalence makes sense if you think of this as a love story of sorts spanning generations, art, politics, race, and ethnicity — driven by the bond of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. What follows is a tale of a fifteen-year friendship between two women — one Asian, one Caucasian of Jewish descent, one an actress and showgirl, one a fiction writer — who kept secrets as much from each other as we did from ourselves and the world.
~ Marnie Mueller
When we were young, Auntie Mary loomed larger than life. We always sat cross-legged at her feet, enthralled to watch as each spidery false lash magically transformed her eyelids. Our dad's older sister and sole sibling was Mary Watanabe. To us, "Mary Mon Toy" was just her catchy showbiz moniker, not realizing it hid her Japanese-ness so deftly that her obituary shocked her hometown community when it revealed that she was not Chinese… We now see the grit and resilience that Mary (Mon Toy Watanabe) needed in order to gain a professional foothold in an America embedded with prejudice against Asians and with particular hostility toward Japanese Americans after the war's end. Mary was like others in persecuted groups who are given the paradoxical choice to "pass" by masking their true identities, and who then bear an internal weight and cost for that decision for the remainder of their lives.
~ Mary Mon Toy's nieces, Lori Watanabe Saginaw and Wendy Watanabe