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About the Artist Pete Hironaka

Born to Issei parents who eked out a sharecroppers’ living near Sacramento, Pete was the second oldest of what would become a family of six children. When Pete was 6, the family moved to Salinas to take advantage of better farming opportunities. Pete fondly recalls one of his earliest experiences in the Salinas schools. His first grade teacher gathered her colleagues to marvel at a sketch he had made of a pretty, blonde-haired classmate.

Perhaps recognizing Pete’s latent abilities, his father talked him into taking a college-prep curriculum at Salinas H.S. With hard work and a bevy of A’s, he seemed poised in preparation for entry into a prestigious university.

However, Pete’s life path suddenly took an unexpected turn. Following Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 and a temporary stay in squalid conditions at Pinedale, Pete’s father accompanied him, his older sister and his four younger siblings (including an infant) on a train headed toward the unknown. It turned out to be Poston, the WRA’s makeshift city of crudely and hastily built barracks in the heart of Arizona desert. Pete’s mother was unable to return from a visit to Japan, and she died before any opportunity for family reunification.

Pete later wrote about the conditions at Poston: “The sun, which we cursed so often, again begins to beat down on us. Day by day the mercury rises. Again the rattlers and scorpions come out of their hiding places to ‘play’ with us. The ever-buzzing mosquitoes begin their nightly rounds. It was summer in Poston.”

Then came Joan Smith (later Mrs. Joan Smith Bodein). She promptly implemented a policy of beginning-of-year interviews with each of her Core Studies students. A life-changing meeting ensued. “Pete, this is ridiculous,” she began. More pointedly, “You’re just drifting through school . . .You CAN go (to college) if you try hard enough and set your mind to it!” The rest is history. Pete became valedictorian and was accepted to Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, sometimes referred to as the “Ivy League” school of the Midwest.

Pete describes his impressions upon leaving Poston to enroll at Miami: “. . . it was like Dorothy leaving Kansas in black and white and arriving in Oz in Technicolor.” But all was not viewed through rose-colored glasses. Not knowing how he would be treated, Pete recalls the trepidation he felt upon entering a barbershop and the relief from anxiety upon completion of his haircut and razor shave.

Photograph of Pete and his wife Jean.

About the website

This website is owned and operated by Pete Hironaka's family. We're big fans (naturally) and figured the broader internet would take a liking to his work. This site was built as a Progressive Web App (PWA), with the help of Gatsby.js and Shopify for eCommerce.

© 2021 Pete Hironaka Artwork

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