George Takei’s ongoing mission: An education of the past

 

Actor, LBGTA rights activist, social media expert and “Allegiance” star George Takei appeared at the Japan Society on January 25 to recount the impact of his experience at the post-Pearl Harbor internment camps. In a panel moderated by law professor Kermit Roosevelt (great-great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, and author of the coincidentally named historical novel Allegiance), Takei needed few prompts during a discussion about his incarceration as a Japanese American from ages five to eight and a half years old.

“‘It’s a people’s democracy,’” said Takei, recalling his father’s words. “‘It can be as great as the people make it but it’s as infallible as human beings are.’”

Takei said that he would never forget seeing two soldiers marching up to his front door and knocking loudly on it as they waited to take his family to the horse stables at Santa Anita Park in 1942. As horrific as it sounds to have one’s rights as an American-born citizen taken away, Takei, with the innocence of a five-year-old, thought that it “was fun to sleep where the horses slept,” and remembers his first winter and having snow fights with his father. However, he wasn’t completely oblivious to the irony of “seeing the barbed wire and the sentry tower outside the schoolhouse window” as he recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

The incarceration not only separated Japanese Americans from their homes, but it also caused a division amongst families and even resulted in suicides. Per Takei, “there were two heroes of Japanese Americans”: the draft resisters and the members of the Japanese American Citizens League who encouraged Japanese Americans to comply with the U.S. government’s demands without a fight.

Such history is why the upcoming U.S. presidential elections have Takei fired up, particularly candidate hopeful Donald Trump’s statements about Muslims. Comically, there has been a seat reserved every day for Trump at “Allegiance,” the Broadway show that Takei is starring in that tells the story of the incarceration.

“Allegiance” is just the latest project in Takei’s mission, spanning more than a half-century, to educate Americans on this very topic. “I have been on speaking tours to universities, to corporate gatherings to governmental agencies,” Takei explained. “We founded a museum in Los Angeles called the Japanese American National Museum. We institutionalized the story of the internment of the Japanese Americans because the generation that experienced it died off, and those who did experience it [typically] don’t share it with their descendants.”

Takei is especially proud that with the debut of “Allegiance” on stage, the presence of Asians in his Broadway audiences has increased from seven to 37 percent.  In a past interview with Meniscus Magazine,  he acknowledged that America has taken steps to improve diversity.

“It’s important to know that there’s been a progression constantly forward in equality and civil liberties,” Takei said at the 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival.  “I think the United States is probably the only nation in the world which has dealt with issues of diversity and succeeded.”

The Broadway run of “Allegiance” at New York’s Longacre Theatre closes on February 14.

Video: Excerpt of George Takei at the Japan Society New York – Jan. 25, 2016
video by Megan Lee / Meniscus Magazine