Louise Suski


Name Louise Suski
Born June 27 1905
Died June 5 2003
Birth Location San Francisco
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Louise J. Suski (1905-2003) was the first English language editor-in-chief at the Los Angeles-based Rafu Shimpo newspaper. Newspaper veteran Harry Honda remembered Louise Suski as "the Queen Bee at the Rafu prewar, with us young cub reporters writing stories and helping out the English section."[1]

Early Life and Family History

Suski was born in San Francisco on June 27, 1905, the second daughter of a prominent and trusted community doctor. Dr. Sakae Suski (also known as Peter M. Suski), was born in Okayama Prefecture in 1875 and immigrated to the United States in 1898. He made a living as a photographer in San Francisco until 1906, relocating to Los Angeles following the Great San Francisco Earthquake that same year. Upon establishing himself in LA, he opened his own studio specializing in retouching, which required a steady hand, painting over prints. By 1908, his dedication to the Los Angeles immigrant community was renowned, and he served as managing editor of the Southern California Association for the Preservation of Japanese History. As his family grew, he realized that photography was insufficient to support them, so he enrolled at the University of Southern California medical school while working at night. In 1917, he even spent a year in specialized study at the University of Berlin while the family remained in LA. Dr. Suski was also a writer, linguist, and a close confidante as well as the personal physician of Henry Toyosaku (H.T.) Komai, publisher of theRafu Shimpo newspaper, which was based in Little Tokyo.

Altogether, there were seven Suski children: Julia, Louisa, Flora, Clara, Margaret, Joe and Elmer. The eldest, Julia Suski, was a musician and artist, whose pen illustrations appeared almost daily in the Rafu Shimpo from 1926 to 1929. As a teenager, Louise Suski explored two common outlets for Nisei girls: church (her father was baptized in Japan and the family attended Maryknoll Catholic Church) and Nisei youth clubs (she and her siblings belonged the first girls Olivers Club in 1919 and later were active with the YWCA). After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1924, she applied to the University of California, Los Angeles, with the hopes of becoming a kindergarten teacher, and majored in education.

First English Editor of the Rafu Shimpo

In 1926, the Rafu Shimpo was the oldest and largest Japanese newspaper serving the immigrant population of the greater Los Angeles area, and to reach out to its growing Nisei readership, publisher H.T. Komai hired 20-year-old Suski. The first quarter page of English in the Rafu Shimpo appeared on Feb. 21, 1926.

In April 1932, the paper installed a four-deck rotary Goss press, replacing the old flat-bed press. The installment of the new machine enabled the paper to publish a tabloid, print clearly and produce 25,000 copies an hour. By 1932, the English section was a daily feature, informing young folks about what was going on in the city and elsewhere, but also containing articles about Japan in order to teach Nisei about the country that their parents called home. Dr. Suski himself became a regular contributor to the English section, writing essays on the Japanese language for the benefit of Nisei readers.

Of various kinds of newspaper work, Suski later admitted that she loved reporting female sports; her childhood dream had been to be a physical education teacher, but her mother had discouraged her and led her to instead study general education. (Although the job at the Rafu developed into a full-time job, she never finished her degree). Suski covered the women's sports and reporter Tony Gomez covered the men's sports. In June 1933, Suski was joined by George Nakamoto, a Fresno native who had studied journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University as a co-editor. Three years later, the Rafu hired Togo Tanaka as another editor on staff.

Heart Mountain Sentinel staff

In the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing, publisher H.T. Komai was arrested and detained for his role with the press. With the imminent removal of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, the Rafu Shimpo ceased publication on April 4, 1942. The Suski family was sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where Suski joined the camp newspaper, the Heart Mountain Sentinel, with Bill Hosokawa as its editor. Among the dozen or so who worked in the Sentinel office, there were a few professional journalists such as the paper's managing editor, Haruo Imura, who had worked in San Francisco, and Suski. But most of the staff had little or no reporting experience. Once Heart Mountain closed, the Sentinel, which had grown from a pamphlet newsletter into an eight-page tabloid, released its final paper on July 28, 1945 after 145 issues.

Postwar Journalism Work

Following the war, Suski moved to Chicago and continued to write for Japanese American publications, reporting on the lives of Nisei in Chicago and Milwaukee who were trying to eke out a new existence in the Midwest. In Chicago, she found work with the General Mailing and Sales Company, which was owned by a Nisei, and at the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) office, collecting data such as inmate letters, diaries, photos and reports submitted by social scientists and journalists. She also helped edit Scene magazine, a Japanese American magazine published by her former co-editor, Togo Tanaka, and the Shikago Shimpo (Chicago Courier), a Japanese American paper published in Chicago by Roichi Fujii.

In 1978, Suski returned to Los Angeles to spend the rest of her life after retirement living with her brother Joe and his wife in Cerritos.

She died in June 2003 in Cerritos, California, at age ninety-eight.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

"Louise Suski: The Mother of the Rafu Shimpo's English Page," April 23, 2013. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2013/4/23/louise-suski/

Matsumoto, Valerie J. City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920–1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Suski, Peter. My Fifty Years in America. Los Angeles: 1960.

Footnotes

  1. "Louise Suski: The Mother of the Rafu Shimpo's English Page," Discover Nikkei website, accessed on June 30, 2014 at http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2013/4/23/louise-suski/