They Called Us Enemy – George Takei

Readers of a certain age will recognize George Takei from his stint on Star Trek (1966-69), where he played Lt. Sulu. He’s had a long show biz career beginning back in 1955. At 83 he’s still working, but is probably best known (currently) for his provocative and political Tweets. I am one of his 3.1 million Twitter followers. He is also an outspoken advocate for gay rights.

Takei, along with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, wrote the words and Harmony Becker has illustrated the story of Takei’s young life in graphic form. They Called Us Enemy introduces readers to George, who lives with his brother, Henry, and baby sister, Nancy, with their parents in Los Angeles.

My father, Takekuma Norman Takei, was born in Yamanashi, Japan. He came to America as a teenager and was educated in the Bay area. He later pursued a lucrative dry cleaning business in Los Angeles’ Wilshire corridor.

My mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura, was born in Florin. California, but was raised traditionally Japanese. Her father had sent her to Japan to avoid school segregation in Sacramento.

Life was pretty awesome until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the government decided to round up anyone of Japanese descent and place them in camps. These people could take only what they could carry. Their homes and businesses were confiscated; their rights as American citizens null and void.

First stop for George and his family was the Santa Anita Racetrack where they were “assigned to a horse stall still pungent with the stink of manure.” George’s reminiscences are seen through a child’s eyes and all his experiences are tempered by his father, who somehow managed to make the best of the situation in which they found themselves.

Through my child’s eyes, Daddy always seemed in command of any given situation. It was my father who bore the pain, the anguish…and the torturous experiences the most in our family.

Takei’s story is one of resilience and it is no wonder that he is such a force of nature when it comes to activism of all sorts. They Called Us Enemy methodically, and almost without emotion, recounts his story, and the story of thousands of other Japanese who were wrongly imprisoned. I think it’s also a love letter to his father, who Takei claims “taught me the power of American democracy – the people’s democracy.” That’s saying something given the circumstances.

Canada did no better post- Pearl Harbour. Our government rounded up 21,000 Japanese Canadians without charge or due process, exiling them to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. It’s a shameful part of our history and the only way to atone is to make sure it never happens again. Sadly, the world seems to be getting crazier by the moment.

They Called Us Enemy is a chilling and sobering look at what happens when we become afraid of people who don’t look like us. It’s yet another skeleton in our historical closet, and is well worth your reading time.

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