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A visit with Nisei artist George Suyeoka

Posted on February 23, 2012

I had the opportunity to visit famed artist George Suyeoka with my father this week in regards to an upcoming JASC benefit event (6/7/12).

At 86 years old, George retains a sense of wonder with a lyrical wit for satire not attributed with the other Nisei of his generation.

George was born in Hawaii and recalls Pearl Harbor with stunning detail. He was running his early morning paper-route between the varios ethnic ghettos when the roar of anti-aircraft guns tore the morning silence. He rode his bike up the mountain trail to get a better view of the Naval base. The white plumes of practice shells were replaced by the black clouds of live flak that tore the sky. Diving zeroes and ships ablaze overtook the tropical sunrise. Truly a new day was dawning.

Like many Hawaiians, George was drafted by the army but was picked up to serve in the Military Intelligence Service, just like my great uncle Steve. In the Occupation, George found himself serving as an early Cold War spy as part of the Counterintelligence Corps in northern Hokaido. The CIC was mainly concerned with fighting Japanese Communist organizations and catching Russian spies. George would never explain it that way. Even today he insists he was just a secretary.

George’s experience included regularly acting as a plain-cloths armed courier with a briefcase chained to his wrist relaying messages back to the CIC Headquarters in Tokyo. He also told me about the time that he and a group of hand-picked Japanese American CIC soldiers were dressed-up as Japanese Secret Police and armed with sub-machine guns hidden in lunch-boxes on a pre-dawn mission to patrol the beach, hunting for a Russsian submarine landing…

Yes, a secretary.

Unlike many of his fellow Nisei soldiers, George understood the ridiculous layers of irony that acted as the glue of the American War-machine.

After the war, Hawaii had been transformed from a ghettoized colony to a commercialized island get-away. George knew he could not stay. The GI-Bill allowed him to pursue his passion: Art. George graduated from the Art Institue of Chicago and became a successful professional artist and designer.

George’s house is a testament to his life as an Artist whose answer to an imbalanced and violent world was to create art and share the joke:

House Tour

Portrait of the Artist with another Artist

George, my Dad and the Transforming Samurai

The Work Bench

Winnie the Pooh mural George painted for his Daughter.


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