George Takei helps the U.S. remember Japanese American internment.
For years, George Takei, Star Trek’s own Hikaru Sulu, has used his celebrity status and platform to shine a spotlight on one of the darkest eras in United States history. On February 19, 1942, a little more than two months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor sparked America’s entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The order led to the forced relocation of 112,000 Japanese Americans, most of whom, nearly 70,000, were U.S. citizens.
A five-year-old George Takei and his family were among the thousands of people sent to and incarcerated in ten concentration camps between 1942 and 1945 in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. The Takeis were sent to Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas then Tule Lake Segregation Center in California.
Takei has tirelessly told his and his family’s story, mirrored by those of so many other Japanese American families. In 1981 and 1988, he testified before a Congressional commission as part of a successful campaign to win an apology and reparations for Japanese Americans. He wrote about his experiences in both his prose memoir, To the Stars (1995), and his graphic novel memoir, They Called Us Enemy (2019). It inspired Takei’s legacy project, the Broadway musical Allegiance. Most recently, he collaborated with composer Kenji Bunch on a piece of chamber music, Lost Freedom, that incorporates Takei’s Congressional testimony.
“As a teenager,” Takei told the Los Angeles Times Book Club in 2019, “I learned about the internment and the injustice. My father said, ‘You have to actively participate.’ It was the internment and my father’s good guidance that made me the activist that I am.”
George Takei visited the site of the Tanforan detention center.
This week, George Takei’s activism led him to San Bruno, California, where the Tanforan Assembly Center once stood. Tanforan was one of seventeen detention centers through which detainees passed before transfer to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. About 8,000 people were imprisoned at Tanforan.
The Tanforan site is today a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, but a memorial plaza, featuring the names of the incarcerated on plaques and a bronze statue, is nearby. It was unveiled this past August.
BART tweeted a photo of George Takei visiting the site with Steve Okamoto, Vice-President of the Tanforan Memorial Committee, on October 10.
As Steve Okamoton says in the news clip above, the Tanforan Memorial not only honors the 8,000 people imprisoned there 80 years ago but also “to remind [people] that something like this can never happen again.”
George Takei agrees the U.S. can’t allow such an injustice in the future. He recently told NPR, “It is my belief that America today is strong enough and confident enough to recognize a grievous failure,” and that he also believes the nation’s best ideals can prevail.