SEATTLE — George Takei is an actor, author, and activist. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a 4-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s.
In 1942, his entire family was forced from their home and placed under military custody under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. Every person of Japanese descent on the West Coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers.” There were 120,000 Japanese Americans placed into Internment Camps thousands of miles away from their homes and held for years under armed guard.
"We were innocent people. Innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry. We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, and yet simply because we looked exactly like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor -- with no charges, with no trial, due process a central pillar of our justice system -- disappeared," explained Takei. "It’s an American story that all Americans should know about and work to prevent something like this from reoccurring again.”
Takei's new memoir, They Called Us Enemy, is a first-hand account of his family's experiences being held for years behind barbed wire by his own government and how those experiences "planted the seeds for his astonishing future."
Takei first talked about his childhood experience in his autobiography published in 1994 but said to this day when he tells people about his childhood imprisonment they are shocked that it even happened. That's why he said it's important to educate younger readers about the past, and he hopes his new memoir's graphic novel format will help do just that.
"I thought we need to reach more people, while they’re young. I grew up on comic books and I absorbed in everything that I read, and it remains with me in my body and so I thought maybe by going the graphic memoir route, a comic strip, we might reach a youth readership," Takei said.
Takei hopes that educating younger people will help them grow up into responsible voters who participate in their government. He reflected on the current situation happening along the U.S.-Mexico border, where immigrants are being held in border facilities.
"What’s happening now is a new, grotesque low. We were always intact with our parents," said Takei, talking about his own imprisonment. "What’s happening today is children are being torn away from their parents, put into disgusting, filthy cages with human waste and a cage that’s supposed to hold ten people holds six times that many, crammed together. It is brutalization of young children and that’s going to change who they are for the rest of their lives.”
Takei said despite what's happening now, he remains an optimist and believes we have made significant progress.
"We live in a fantastic country," Takei said. "Yes, we have made mistakes, but we are learning from those mistakes and we have made progress since that time."
Takei said he is "82-years-young" and it's seeing the progress of our country that energizes him to keep working and fighting for change.
"Yes, we have problems, but let's overcome that and face the newer challenges that lie before us. As we said in Star Trek: the Vulcan greedy, Live Long and Prosper."
George Takei hosted a book signing for They Called Us Enemy at the University Book Store on Thursday evening.