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Virtual Asian-American Art Museum Project

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Shimomura’s Relationship with his Parents, Part 2

Before we leave the question of your parents behind entirely, did your mother encourage your creative activities or your political engagement?

Like so many other Japanese American women, my mother’s approach to things derived from being the typical Japanese woman and all that that stands for. She always said, “Ask your father.” Her stance on most issues was not to take a stance, actually, which might have been a little bit more progressive than I give her credit for. Her brothers were sort of my role models. The three brothers were all successful artists, graphic designers in Seattle—but she knew that my dad was dead set against me becoming an artist. In that regard she never discouraged me from wanting to follow in their footsteps, but never encouraged me either.

Were her brothers instrumental in your decision after you left the armed forces to pursue a career in design?

No, they weren’t really. They were highly visible professionals in the city but they never tried to talk me into anything. I don’t know if they felt the tension that existed between my father and me about the subject or whether they didn’t think I was talented enough. The evening before my first enrollment at the University of Washington, my father came in and said, “We need to talk about what you’re going to declare as your major.” This was not the first timewe had talked about it. We had many conversations, but he knew that it was
crunch time. And so he said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor.” Because of the Depression, he, who was pre-med at the time, had had to take the quickest route to a degree, so he majored in pharmacy, thinking that one day his son might fulfill his dream. I said, “I want to be like Uncles Rick, Roy, and George. I want to be a graphic designer.” And he said, “Can we compromise?” I thought, “Well, how do you compromise between being a doctor and being an artist?” Since I had been giving some casual thought to being an architect, I said, “What about architecture?” And he said, “What about dentistry?” It was at that point that I realized there was no hope of any kind of compromise, so I went and enrolled in graphic design, and from that point on he pretty much accepted
it. Until my next change of interest, which was going to graduate school and studying painting. That really had him baffled. He had somewhat of a grip on what my mom’s brothers did. But make paintings?
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