Actor George Takei talks about being interned
Actor George Takei, best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the “Star Trek” TV and movie series, was interned with his family during World War II.
What camps were you sent to?
We were forced out of our homes in Los Angeles. The first camp my family was sent to was Camp Rohwer in the swamps of Arkansas. The second camp we were transferred to was in northern California near the Oregon border, a camp called Tule Lake. It was a dry lake bed, always cold and windy. We were in Rohwer for a year and Tule Lake for three years, totaling four years — the entire duration of World War II.
What were the living conditions like at the camps?
All 10 camps were in the most godforsaken parts of the country — the blistering hot desert of Arizona, the sultry swamps of Arkansas, the cold, windswept high plains of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. Skimpy, tar paper covered army barracks with no plumbing, one latrine to a block, one laundry room, one mess hall, one mass shower — all communal. Each family had one wood-burning potbellied stove for heat. It was all very primitive.
How did you feel about the reparations paid to the internees by the government in the ’90s?
President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, and the first reparation check signed by President George H.W. Bush was cut in 1991, which went to the oldest survivor of the internment, a 101-year-old lady. I got my check in 1992, and I donated it all to the Japanese American National Museum. My father, who suffered the pain of the internment most, had passed away by the time of the signing of the bill. He died never knowing the government apologized, and my mother, his widow, received only her reparations check. Nothing was paid for my father.
Has this event affected your outlook on life?
The internment has forever shaped my life. I am an activist for justice and equality. I speak at universities and other institutions on the internment. We built the museum because I consider it my mission as an American to make our democracy a better, more just democracy. We developed the musical “Allegiance” to tell this story in music and drama.
What do you hope the audience will take away from “Allegiance”?
The story of the internment is still little known in our country. I hope the audience will leave the theater with a better understanding of the fragility of our democracy and the importance of all Americans to work to make our system a better, more just America.
Why should American citizens learn about this event?
Americans need to know about the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry because the internment happened to innocent American citizens without charges or trial. It was a terrible violation of the United States Constitution. We need to know our history — good and bad — in order to keep this kind of outrage from being inflicted on other Americans.