Star Trek’s George Takei talks equality

By Madari Pendas
Staff Writer

George Takei, famous for playing Lt. Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek” and admired for his work on “Futurama” as a disembodied talking head, visited FIU last week in the U.S. Century Bank Arena.

In the first row were members of Stonewall; behind them were SGA members, and filtered throughout the grid of chairs were people with “Star Trek” shirts and snapbacks. It resembled what Takei called, “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.”

A representative came out and introduced the event. He flubbed the name and introduced George Takei as George Takee—a mistake never corrected.

Takei walked out with his catchphrase, “Oh, my!”

His gruff, baritone voice echoed across the arena. Even without the microphone, he would have been easy to hear.

He began by speaking about equality. Speaking about the founding fathers, the first functionaries of egalitarianism, but “who kept other people as slaves.” Equality was not done yet, Takei explained – a theme of his speech.

He spoke about the inequality he had experienced in his life. When he was five years old, he and his family were sent to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. “Our bank accounts were frozen…and they began rounding us up.” Americans, rounding up people based on their ethnicity, resembled their enemies. He recalled the day they took him. An officer stood outside their home while the family scrambled to get their belongings. “My mother took the longest,” he said. “She came out holding my baby sister in one arm, crying, while wheeling a suitcase with all her belongings.”

The Japanese-Americans in the camp were described as “enemy non-aliens” and had to forswear their allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. “As if we had some genetic loyalty to the emperor,” Takei explained. “And if we forswear our ‘allegiance’ we would be admitting to having one, which we didn’t.” Takei’s family was just as American as any other family; both of his parents had been born in the United States.

The Japanese-Americans who volunteered to fight in the European theater during WWII were placed in a segregated, all Japanese-American unit. This was the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which after the war received 21 Medals of Honor. Their motto was “go for broke” because of their indefatigable desire to prove their loyalty to the United States. Takei described the unit’s heroism during the battle at the Gothic Line. The allies had been stalemated and could not push forward into the Italian territory. The 442nd Unit decided to scale the cliff behind the enemy battalion because they knew a surprise attack from behind would guarantee victory.

“The members who fell off, fell silently, each and everyone, as to not give away their position,” Takei said. “We not only fought the enemy, but prejudice, and we won.”

The discussion then shifted to another form of inequality. “I knew I was different,” Takei said. He explained how no one in Hollywood would hire a gay actor and thus his silence began. “I loved my career,” Takei repeated as he explained his reason for not being openly gay. He met an older gay man who told him about the raids that would occur at gay bars. Police would raid, arrest, and fingerprint the men. “They ruined many people’s lives…some even killed themselves.” These men and women were publicly shamed and humiliated.

The first time Takei publically presented himself as a gay man was after Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the same-sex marriage bill that would have legalized gay marriage in California. “We need to hold democracy’s feet to the fire,” Takei said.

He concluded his speech by announcing, “At the age of 77, I will be making my Broadway debut.” The musical is titled “Allegiance” and focuses on a romance in a Japanese-American internment camp. The message of the musical, which connects with the theme of Takei’s speech, is “being able to find joy even in the harshest of circumstances.”

 

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