By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Auntie Nancy would be proud.

Matt Consalvi proposes to Marissa Hernandez under the “Home Is Little Tokyo” mural on Central Avenue last Saturday. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Little Tokyo has been through much in 2020, but last Saturday was a rare moment of celebration and joy in this most difficult year. Under the “Home Is Little Tokyo” Mural Matt Consalvi got down on one knee and asked his girlfriend, Marissa Hernandez, to be his wife.

“I have no words. I’m blown away,” Marissa said, beaming, a diamond ring on her finger.

Family and friends, all wearing masks, were there to surprise the happy couple. In a special way, Nancy Kikuchi, who passed away in 2014 at 52, was there as well.

Kikuchi, Marissa’s aunt, and is depicted on the mural as a taiko drummer. “Home Is Little Tokyo” was rededicated in 2019, honoring her infectious spirit of volunteerism and leadership as project manager on the mural that has become a colorful symbol of Little Tokyo.

“I wanted to do something special. I know her aunt meant a lot to her and I wanted her to be a part of this as well,” Matt said.

Kikuchi would take her nieces to Nisei Week, where they danced in the parade as part of L.A. Beat. Marissa also recalled volunteering at clean-ups and during the year-end Mochi Madness at Fugetsu-Do.

“It’s hard coming up because it brings back so many memories of her, but it is such a happy place, she loved the community so much,” Marissa said.

Hernandez shows the ring. Consalvi had picked it out just before shutdown orders in March. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

The couple met when they were both in the same dorm at Arizona State University and found they shared similar upbringings and enjoyed the same restaurants.

Matt purchased the ring back in either February or March, hoping to pop the question.

“Then all this happened,” he said.

Marissa explained: “We had been living together and then his work had quite a few (COVID) cases and we had to move apart.”

Marissa moved back home and Matt, a physical therapist, isolated himself for two months. During that time the couple could only wave to one another.

“I had just bought the ring, so that was awesome,” he said of the separation.

“It got postponed a little bit because of everything with COVID, but as it’s gone on it’s gotten a lot better.”

Marissa’s parents Donna and Marty Hernandez and sister Alana were there to celebrate the moment. Matt had gone to their home three weeks earlier to ask their permission. Donna revealed that Matt had also sought out Marissa’s jichan, Yasuo Kikuchi.

Nancy Kikuchi celebrated with family when she received the JACCC Community Spirit Award in 2014. From left: Matt Consalvi, Marissa Hernandez, Kikuchi, Alana Hernandez, Janna, Kristina and Jake Akers. (Photo courtesy of Donna Kikuchi Hernandez)

“I’m beyond touched. I was speechless. He knows how much Nancy meant to all of us. He’s such a sweet and thoughtful person,” Donna said. “Nancy always told Marissa, ‘He’s a great guy. I like him.’”

The couple now have a wedding to plan, a challenge under ordinary circumstances, but a year of tremendous difficulties has taken a happy turn.

“All the not-so-great times this year, this outweighs it all,” Marissa said.

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