Yes, this is a picture of actor/activist George Takei holding my children’s book, The No-No Boys! I heard him speak recently at the National Speakers Association convention. When he came out on stage, everyone expected him to talk about his role as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek or his pop culture persona or his enormous social media reach. We were speakers, after all, hoping to learn how he’d “done it all.”
Instead he chose to talk about something most of the 1,700 attendees knew nothing about, his family’s incarceration in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
I knew about this episode in his past, though, because of the research I had done for my book. And as he told his story, he ceased to seem like a celebrity to me, and took on the look and sound of so many of the amazing people who have shared their memories of internment with me over the years. In his face and in his voice I saw and heard the same unforgotten pain and indignation, but also the pride in family and culture that I had come to recognize in survivors.
People shook their heads in disbelief as he detailed his family’s forced removal from their California home, and described the conditions at the Rohwer internment camp in the swamps of Arkansas, and shared how they were offered a one-way train ticket and $20 at the end of the war, after having lost everything.
Some people were disappointed that George didn’t use the stage to share funny stories about his life and career or even to talk about his activism for the LGBT community, but I was moved by his talk and grateful that he used that opportunity to raise awareness about a shameful episode in our country’s past.
I realize history isn’t as flashy or fun as pop culture, but it’s far more important. And George was brave to take that stand, knowing that he might disappoint. Celebrities bear so much pressure, but behind the fame, they lead very human lives.
George is premiering a new Broadway musical, Allegiance, this fall based on his personal experiences, which will be one more step in educating people about this topic. I’m hoping to go to New York to see it and support it!
I hope Mr. Takei likes my book and takes some comfort in the fact that some of us are working hard to preserve this history so it will never be forgotten. To learn more about all of my books based on true stories from WWII, click here.