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'I am an optimist': George Takei authors human rights graphic memoir in the era of Trump

During the Second World War thousands of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent were forced from their homes, rounded up into camps and locked inside for years.

Star Trek actor was imprisoned in an internment camp as a child during WW II

George Takei is an actor, activist, and now author of the graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

During the Second World War, thousands of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent were forced from their homes by their countries' governments, rounded up into camps and locked inside for years.

Actor, activist and author George Takei, who was born in 1937, was in one of those U.S.-run internment camps for four years. Now, the Star Trek actor has chronicled his experience in the new graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy.

Takei says the current U.S. administration's treatment of illegal immigrants was a motivation for the book.

"What is happening today on the southern borders of the United States is a parallel of what happened to us 75 years ago. In fact, what's happening today is we've gone even lower. It's a grotesque system," Takei told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition

U.S. President Donald Trump introduced a "zero tolerance" policy in April 2018, since rescinded, that required the detention of those illegally entering the southern U.S. border. Many migrant children were separated, and many remain separated, from their parents as a result. 

When Japanese Canadians and Americans were incarcerated during World War II, they were at least kept with their parents, Takei points out.

"What we're doing now on the southern border is tearing the children away from their parents and putting them in filthy disgusting cages with human waste. And [it's] overcrowded," Takei said. 

Star Trek actor George Takei's new graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, is now available. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

The power of history

Takei grew up with comic books, and says preteens and teens are strongly affected by what they read when they're young. With They Called Us Enemy, Takei says he wants to target these youth, so they grow up knowing about the injustices Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians faced.

He says this will help them make empathetic and ethical choices once they become voters and leaders. 

Takei says it doesn't matter that those illegally crossing the southern border today aren't American citizens. They have a right to escape where they come from for a better life. 

"Asylum is a human right. They are fleeing from incredible violence and grinding poverty." 

The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn and actor George Takei pictured together in March 2019. (Matt Meuse/CBC)


In Star Trek, Takei played a character in a utopian society on a vessel on its way to explore the far reaches of the galaxy. In the show, characters from different places, backgrounds and even species worked together. 

Takei says that while the political and social landscape in North America is wracked with tension, especially over immigration, he believes things are slowly moving toward the unity seen on Star Trek

"You know, I am an optimist and I think we are getting closer because when we were incarcerated, all the elected officials in the United States were vilifying us. We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor and yet we were vilified ... seen as the enemy."

That's not the case anymore, Takei says.

George Takei's graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, documents his time in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

The actor points to Trump's "Muslim ban" in 2017. The executive order significantly lowered the number of refugees permitted to enter the U.S., suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and indefinitely suspended the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. 

Many Americans responded with mass protests and an outpouring of social and political support for those targeted by the executive order. 

"I do see change happening. Not enough change to prevent the kind of outrage happening on the southern border now ... but it's a changed America," he said.

This, says Takei, is why he calls They Called Us Enemy his book of hope.

"As utopian as the 23rd-century Star Trek society may seem, I do have hope that we can reach that."

Listen to the full story here:

With files from The Early Edition


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