Star Trek actor turned activist George Takei shares the moving story of his life before his acting career in this graphic memoir. It’s been getting a lot of deservedly good press, and I knew I had to read it. I brought it home at the same time as Cheshire Crossing, and my son passed over that much more light-hearted book to read this one.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, with art by Harmony Becker.
Mr. and Mrs. Takei met in America – George’s father an immigrant from Japan, his mother born and raised in California, where the couple met. They owned a business and their own home, and had three children when the Pearl Harbor bombing took place and Japanese-Americans were moved to internment camps.
George’s memories as a child growing up in the camps, with his limited understanding, are mixed together with stories of his parents, historical information, and the fights he got into with his father as a teen, blaming his father for what happened. This mixed format – along with the warm family memories that happened even in the camp – keep the narrative from descending into despair, despite the horrible injustices. Multicultural artist Harmony Becker does an excellent job with the art, too, bringing life to what would otherwise be dull accounts of the passage of bills through Congress, for example, and keeping even very young George recognizable and giving the many inhabitants of the camps distinct appearances.
As a four-year-old, George saw living in a horse stall at a newly converted racetrack as an adventure, but as time goes on, he comes to understand the pain of the assumed disloyalty, as the government not only confiscates homes and businesses, but also removes men in any kind of leadership position – from teacher to Buddhist priest – from their families. The extreme efforts of those in the camps for years to create something like normalcy for their children – setting up schools and visits from Santa – are also inspiring. As the author points out, we are again in a time where we are placing people in camps, simply because of where they come from. As uncomfortable as it can be to revisit our past, it is necessary to keep from repeating our mistakes. This is a very accessible way to bear witness, and one that my normally sci-fi only teen son read and endorses.