George Takei’s Graphic Novel Recounts Dark Period for JapaneseAmericans

When George Takei was five years old, he was roused from sleep by his father as soldiers hovered in the doorway of their Los Angeles home. Takei was permitted to quickly pack a few belongings before being ushered onto a bus along with his parents and two siblings. Their destination was the Santa Anita racetracks, where the family was forced to sleep surrounded by horse manure. Within a few days, they were led onto a train along with hundreds of other bewildered passengers for the long ride to their new unwelcoming home: the Rohwer Relocation Center. Encompassed by barbed wire in a sparse wooden barrack on the eastern edge of Alabama, the Takei family’s distressing journey of internment had only just begun. They were among the 120,000 JapaneseAmericans who were ejected from their homes and detained in camps during World War II. Now, the former “Star Trek” actor has written a graphic novel that details this nightmarish chapter of his life.

In They Called Us Enemy, Takei utilizes comic book style graphics and minimal narration to recount a dark episode in U.S. history. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy Air Service that thrust the United States into WWII, then President Franklin Roosevelt made a devastating decision to round up and relocate tens of thousands of Americans with Japanese ancestry to internment camps for the duration of the war, purportedly in the interest of national security. Despite the fact that many of the prisoners, like Takei’s mother, had been born in America, they were swiftly stripped of the property and business rights and had their bank accounts drained by the government. Many other prisoners were Japanese immigrants pursing the American dream of freedom and prosperity, such as Takei’s father, who had built a flourishing dry cleaning business.

Takei’s memoir traces the many ways that his family, along with the thousands of other interred prisoners, was deemed a potential threat to the country virtually overnight after years of contributing to their communities in the U.S. Among the most egregious indignities was being pressured to sign a loyalty pledge to the United States and renounce allegiance to the Japanese emperor. Takei recalls in his book that his parents considered themselves devoted Americans, even in the face of betrayal by their own president. But they bravely refused to sign, not because they were disloyal to the United States, but because they felt that signing such a pledge would be akin to admitting that they were somehow anything other than true Americans. This act of “defiance” resulted in the family being relocated to Camp Tule Lake, a maximum security internment facility for those considered dangerously disloyal.

While the United States is undoubtedly a nation of immigrants, that is not to say that this country has always truly embraced each group of immigrants who have made it to these shores. To the contrary, so many groups of U.S. immigrants have had to overcome adversity and discrimination before finding acceptance and success in America. Stories like the one recounted in They Called Us Enemy help us to remember this nation’s roots, and hopefully open our hearts and minds to the next wave of immigrants arriving here seeking the American dream. [See Review: George Takei’s ‘They Called Us Enemy’ shows injustice through a child’s eyes, by Patrick J. Kiger, Los Angeles Times, 30.Aug.2019.]


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