“It’s been my life’s mission to raise the awareness of my childhood imprisonment,” declares actor, activist, and Internet celebrity George Takei. That imprisonment and its aftermath set Takei’s life course. The horrific events began the day that then-five-year-old Takei and his mother, father, younger brother, and infant sister were taken from their Los Angeles home and then placed in a concentration camp in 1942. Their internment took place on American soil at the direction of the American government during WWII.
In his latest book, the graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy (Top Shelf, July), Takei, co-writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, and artist Harmony Becker bring those events to life. Takei recounts the terror inflicted on innocent Japanese-Americans, and emphasizes his continued belief in American democracy.
That lesson, says Takei, was impressed on him by his father, whom he credits for shaping him as an activist. “My father said our democracy is a people’s democracy, and people have the potential to do great things,” he continues. “But people are also fallible human beings and have the potential to make mistakes.”
Takei points to the country’s president at the time, FDR. “Roosevelt was a great president,” he says. “He was able to create jobs and programs and pull people out of that crushing Depression and put America back on its feet. But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the terror and the racism that swept through this country stampeded him as well.”
Takei sees many of the same forces roiling the country today, which makes this graphic novel particularly timely. “We were the ‘others’ then,” Takei says. “Today, the ‘others’ are Muslims and Latinos coming across the southern border.”
Despite the resurgence of those forces, Takei remains optimistic, citing the Parkland students in Florida. “After the gun horror that happened at their school,” he says, “I was really impressed by their activism, their eloquence. They are the hope for our American democracy.”
With They Called Us Enemy, Takei and his collaborators have shaped his story for that next generation. “We wanted to reach today’s middle school to high school age group. And the best way to do that is with a graphic novel,” he says.