George Takei recounts internment, career and sexuality in AARP conversation

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by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Creative Commons

by Renee Wang, AsAmNews Intern

Activist, author, and actor George Takei was just five years old when two soldiers carrying rifles marched into his driveway and ordered his family out of their home.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Takei remembered how Japanese Americans became to be categorized as “enemy aliens” — first a curfew was imposed and their bank accounts were frozen. Then, Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt mandated the internment of Japanese Americans into camps. An order, Takei points out, that had no charge, no trial, or due process, tenants in the American justice system.

“I will never that terror we felt when my father came out and answered the door and the soldiers pointed their bayonets at my father and ordered us our home,” Takei revealed in a conversation hosted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). “This happened in America, against innocent citizens simply because we looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.”

The prison camp Takei was interned at would occasionally show old Hollywood or Japanese samurai movies, igniting his interest in acting.

“I discovered movies in a prison camp,” Takei said. “Vicariously I was able to escape the barbed wire fences through these movies.”

Screenshot of the AARP conversation by Renee Wang

Takei is famous for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, a groundbreaking show at the time due to its diversity. Takei credits Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek for pushing the philosophy of IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. IDIC describes not only the variety in the fictional world of Star Trek but is also a metaphor for the events of the 1960s.

Takei feels that the Starship Enterprise is a metaphor for Earth. The strength of the starship is in the diversity of people hailing from different parts of the planet coming to work together.

“[Star Trek] had an African American woman as a communications official, an Asian American man as helmsman of the starship, and an engineer with a Scottish accent … you saw and heard that diversity,” Takei said. “One diversity you couldn’t see or hear is sexual orientation, which we could not talk about [on television]. However, I, a gay person, was there as a helmsman.”

Takei was closeted for most of his life, before coming out at 68 years old in 2015 when California was close to achieving marriage equality. Takei describes how both houses of the California legislature passed the Marriage Equality Bill, and needed the signature of the then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to become a law. However, when the bill landed on Schwarzenegger’s desk, he vetoed it.

“I was so raging angry … I decided to be closeted all my life because I cherished my acting career and thought no actor who was out in my lifetime would be hired,” Takei said. “But this was the final straw … I came out and blasted Schwarzenegger’s veto and spoke to the press for the first time as a gay man.”

The price of staying in the closet, and hiding his sexuality, was torturous, Takei said. Takei stated that he is forever indebted to the work of LBGTQ activists that made his coming out possible.

“I was involved in other social issues … but the issue that was most close to me — the fact that I am gay and attracted to men — I remained silent about,” Takei said. “When the work of LGBTQ activists started to change society, they made it possible for me to come out and I am eternally indebted to their sacrifices.”

At 85 years old, Takei has held an illustrious career as an actor, author, and activist. He revealed in the Facebook Live conversation that he has two books coming out next year. He also revealed his routine to stay healthy and happy, which includes avoiding red meat and being involved and engaged in current issues. In a fitting homage to his most famous role, Takei ends the conversation with the Star Trek Vulcan salute, live long and prosper!

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