“Years later, the trauma of those experiences continued to haunt me. Most Japanese Americans from my parents’ generation didn’t like to talk about the internment with their children. As with many traumatic experiences, they were anguished by their memories and haunted by shame for something that wasn’t their fault. Shame is a cruel thing. It should rest on the perpetrators but they don’t carry it the way the victims do.”
You never know the journey someone has walked until you hear their story. At best, you can empathize with their journey, but you will honestly never know what someone has felt or gone through unless you have walked in their shoes. This story comes as close as one could get to walking in someone’s shoes. That someone is George Takai of Star Trek fame. Here are the superficial things you know about George Takai. Firstly, George stared in Star Trek as ensign turned captain in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek franchise. You also probably know that George Takai has a wicked sense of humor, having turned the phrase “oh my” into an art form. You may even know that George is a massive defender of LGTBQI rights. Takei currently serves as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign “Coming Out Project.” What you probably don’t know is that George was an internee of the Japanese internment camps during world war 2. A dark stain on America’s history. And this is the crux of George’s very personal memoir; They Called us Enemy.
When reading a story with the gravitas of Japanese internment, the holocaust, or something of the same ilk, there are two ways a story could go. Both are equally accurate, but they have very different effects on the audience. Firstly, a writer can present facts and tragedies, much like a history book. Some historical graphic novels do this. Or, you can offer the history and story with a personal twist to it. A la Maus and now, They Called Us Enemy. I find the historical graphic memoir a very personal way to present someone’s history and a much more engaging read when paired with the graphic novel format.
They Called Us Enemy is the story of how a young George Takai and his family were given no notice, nor judicial recourse and taken and put into mandatory custody in Arkansas based on the color of their skin. George was locked in multiple detainment camps in Arkansas. All of their parent’s assets, including a home and dry cleaning business, were unduly ceased, and their bank accounts were frozen. They were isolated from society, told that they could not be loyal to anyone but the Emporer because of their racial bias. They were put into a small barrack in the hot Arkansas swampland and told to live. George recounts his early memories of him and his brother and young baby sister playing in the dirt. Of how his mother had tried to make this barrack a home and keep their family together and healthy. The thing I was taken within this story was that a story such as this could get maudlin. This is not at all. It is a truthful accounting of events as George lived them and how those events affected who he was then and who he became. It is hard to read because we as a country were so blind then, but George always tinges the story with hope. There is still hope. Hope for better things and by the better angels of man’s nature. It was uplifting, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it.
Graphically, this is simple. The pictures help tell a story but are not there to completely distract you from the importance and gravity of the words, much like icing on a cake.
I recommend this for a multitude of reasons. It is one of the best graphic novels I have read this year. It is on a topic that is seldom talked about but should be and because I am a fan of George Takai, and I want to know more about the exciting life that he has lived.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Hosato Takei is an American actor best known for his role in the TV series “Star Trek,” in which he played the helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the USS Enterprise. His baritone earned Takei recurring appearances as the announcer for “The Howard Stern Show” starting on January 9, 2006, after that show’s move to satellite radio.