'Imprisoned in My Country': George Takei's Graphic Novel Traces Childhood in U.S. Internment Camp

George Takei
July 22, 2019

By Carlo Versano

George Takei is perhaps best known for his role as the USS Enterprise crewmember Hikaru Sulu on "Star Trek," but the actor has been redefining his legacy as an activist for social justice in the age of President Trump.

Cheddar caught up with Takei from San Diego Comic-Con, where he was promoting a new graphic novel, "They Call Us Enemy," which tells the story of his detention in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans at the height of World War II.

Takei was 5 years old when he and his family were rounded up, along with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, and imprisoned on the orders of FDR. More than 75 years later, he says he is still astonished to learn how many people, including well-read, intelligent adults, do not know that the U.S. government created camps for American citizens ー surrounded by barbed wire and overseen by armed guards ー targeted only for their ethnicity, at the same time the country was fighting the Nazis in Europe.

"They can't believe that I was imprisoned in my country, by my own government," he said. "Simply because of my Japanese ancestry."

Takei had previously written about his childhood experience in his 1994 autobiography, but said he decided to create a graphic memoir in order to reach a new generation of Americans at a time in which many people see parallels between the Japanese-American internment camps of the 40's and the border detention centers of today.

"This is the way to reach young readers," he said, referring to "They Called Us Enemy" as his "book of hope."

The internment camps were a result of "war hysteria and racism," Takei said, in which "sweeping generalizations" were made about the trustworthiness of all Japanese Americans living in the country in the direct aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Takei and his fellow prisoners were called spies and saboteurs without evidence. "We were not any of the things they accused us of being," he said.

He drew comparisons to how President Trump, in his 2015 presidential announcement speech, characterized Mexicans as "rapists" who are bringing drugs and crime into the U.S.

Takei said the goal is to help educate young people to understand that even a "great" country like the United States is capable of atrocities ー and it's up to the future generations to refuse to let it ever happen again.