HARLINGEN — He traces his roots to Cuba, Japan, France and the Canary Islands.
But retired Air Force Master Sgt. Armando Tsukano has spent the past 15 years building character in local youth through the Harlingen High School South Air Force JROTC program.
“This particular career path is about developing citizens of character,” said Tsukano, 59. “That’s one of the missions of the JROTC program. We don’t teach them anything about war fighting skills, we don’t teach them about being in combat.”
But, Tsukano is a long way from his roots and he has quite a story to tell that explains why he does what he does now.
Tsukano hails from Baton Rouge, Miami, and his birthplace in Havana. His father had his own varied birthright as the son of Japanese immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands.
“They came in the late 1800s and worked on the pineapple fields,” he said about his family. “I have pictures of my grandmother in a kimono.”
His father trained as a dental technician and mastered his trade in Loma Linda, California.
“He made teeth for all kinds of people,” Tsukano said. “Growing up I used to see the mouth molds of Henry Fonda, Clark Gable. He made teeth for them, crowns and bridges. My brother and I used to play with the mouth molds all the time. It would make my father upset.”
From California, Tsukano’s father went to Miami and then Havana and continued his profession there. He married and had children there but then, alas, the Castro revolution erupted in the late 50s.
“He loses everything, my family leaves Cuba and they go on different paths,” Tsukano said. “Most Cubans went to the Cuban Plymouth Rock which was Miami. My dad, being from a different cultural background, he said, ‘Let’s just go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.’”
Tsukano remembers the dynamics of growing up in such a varied household.
“I grew up with those cultures and they’re very opposite, loud and boisterous on the Cuban side, very honored and quiet and reserved on the Japanese side,” he recalled. “I remember my mom and my dad having arguments about forks or chopsticks.
“My father would say things like, ‘They need to learn how to eat with chopsticks. They can always learn how to eat with forks.”
And always there was the environment of having lost everything and starting all over in the United States.
His mother, the daughter of a French father and a mother with Canary Island ancestry, died when Tsukano was about 7 years old.
He himself continued the family legacy of varied lives. He spent several summers in Brownsville working for his uncle, a physician, and even attended Hanna High School. That’s where he met his future wife, Maria Concepcion of Matamoros.
“I left to Miami and graduated from South Miami High School, then I came back to marry my high school sweetheart in Brownsville,” he said. “Then I joined the Air Force and we traveled the world for 24 years.”
He’s even had a varied Air Force career. He first served as an Air Force police officer. He flew with a presidential mission and served on a SWAT team.
Then he cross-trained into telecommunications, eventually becoming an instructor.
“I eventually went into the management world and trained all the middle managers of the Air Force,” he said. “Then I retired, came here, and this has been the most exciting job I’ve ever had.”
Some of his reasons for joining the military hark back to vivid memories of his father speaking to veteran groups about losing everything to communism and what he’d gained through democracy.
“That is one of the reasons why I felt that I owed something back to my nation,” he said. “They opened their arms and the sky’s the limit.”
He and his wife have a son who is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. Their daughter is the chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Pacific region.
WHO: Retired Air Force Master
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Armando Tsukano
WHAT: Air Force JROTC instructor at Harlingen High School South
WORK EXPERIENCE: 24 years in the U.S. Air Force
FAMILY: Married with two children
BIRTHPLACE: Havana, Cuba
EDUCATION: Hanna High School in Brownsville; Graduated from South Miami High School
Associates in Applied Science, Electronic Systems Technology, from US Air Force Community College of the Air Force
Associates in Applied Science, Instructor of Technology and Military Science, from US Air Force Community College of the Air Force
Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education, from Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas
Master of Arts in Management, from Wayland Baptist University, Plainview, Texas