Beloved actor George Takei is best known for his iconic role of Hikaru Sulu on "Star Trek," but now he’s boldly going to tell the story of his childhood in a Japanese American internment camp.
The 82-year-old actor and activist is joined by writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, and artist Harmony Becker for "They Called Us Enemy," a new graphic novel chronicling his childhood. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the relocation and forced incarcerationof people of Japanese ancestry — including American citizens — into camps. As a 4-year-old, Takei and his family were forced to live in one of those camps.
amNewYork spoke with Becker about the book and her experience working with Takei.
How did you come to work on this project?
I was tabling at a comics show in Brooklyn in the fall of 2017 when Leigh Walton, our editor, approached me and asked if I would be interested in being involved with a project about the Japanese American experience. As a Japanese American myself, I was of course very interested in the offer, although at the time I didn’t know anything about the story or who it was for. Several months later, Leigh contacted me again and told me that the project would be George Takei’s memoir of his experience in the internment camps, so of course, I accepted.
Were you familiar with George’s story?
Growing up I was always looking to see myself reflected in the books I read, and so was always looking for stories about Japan. It was through that search that I came to learn about that dark time in American history, although until that point I had not known that George himself had been interned as a child.
What was the experience like, working with George on this book?
Although the internment happened so many years ago, when he was just a child, George remembers it so vividly, down to the details of the exact layout of the barracks they were forced to stay in. It was a challenge at times to try to recreate the scenes exactly as he remembered them, but at the end of the day, working with George was really wonderful. He is just such a warm person, and makes everyone around him feel important.
What is the importance of this story, especially at this time in American history?
I hate how relevant this story continues to be today, especially with the terrible situation at the border, and the hateful rhetoric being used by people in power. I think it’s really important to get this story out so people can see how easy it is for our ideals to be compromised, and how vigilant we must be in preventing that from happening. In addition, I do think it is a very hopeful book, that presents a picture of what this country is capable of at its best.
What do you hope readers take away from this story?
I hope that readers, especially young readers, can take away a sense of empathy. That they can put a face to the numbers and the headlines, and see immigrants and people who may not look the same as them as people with stories and feelings just as important as their own.
Any favorite memories of George’s most iconic character, Hikaru Sulu?
It has to be that scene from "The Naked Time," right? [Sulu acts like a swashbuckler in the episode]. It’s just so iconic and showed a side of Asian American men that had never been portrayed on television before.
If you go: George Takei will be signing copies of "They Called Us Enemy" at 7 p.m.Tuesday at Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 E. 17th St., eventbrite.com, $17.41