Sunday, December 1, 2019

Fall Reading 2019 They Called Us Enemy

Incredible. Thought-provoking. I'm not sure what the best way to describe this book would be, but it is a powerful memoir of the time Takei's family spent in the internment camps during World War II. He describes the life he led before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, then what happened to his family after the presidential order to relocate all those of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. 

Looking back at his memories, he talks of how his mother packed goodies to keep the children occupied on the train ride, how his father told them they were taking a vacation, and the realization that they did everything they could to shield and comfort George and his siblings. He doesn't spare himself, describing how he confronted his father as a teen about passively accepting their internment, as if resistance would have been possible.

Illustrations bring the scenes to life: being told to make a home in a horse stall at the Santa Anita Racetrack, then the hastily assembled barracks at Rohwer, and later Tule Lake; the armed guards on the trains that transported them; the politicians giving speeches about the untrustworthiness of anyone with Japanese ties. And there are more recent scenes such as Takei's TED Talk and his presence at  the F.D.R. Museum and Presidential Library for the 75th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance that reflect how the past has continued to affect survivors and their families.

I was privileged to hear Mr. Takei speak briefly about the book at the NCTE Conference in Baltimore last month. After growing up seeing him as the capable Mr. Sulu of the Enterprise on television and cheering for him as Captain Sulu of the U.S.S. Excelsior at the movies, it was jarring to see him in person and hear him refer to such a terrible period of hysteria and racism. He said something that I think all those present will remember, "Our strength is in our diversity." Make it so.

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