Last night, we got to hear the actor and activist George Takei speak at the Touhill. Mr. Takei first came to prominence in the sixties through his role on the TV series Star Trek. He played the character Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu. As Takei explained, Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek creator, had a social agenda when he created Star Trek. Through the allegory of science fiction, Roddenberry wanted to discuss the real-world social issues that then were considered too controversial for television. Roddenberry envisioned the starship Enterprise as a surrogate for the planet Earth and its crew, all mankind. Among the crew were representatives from around world. Scotty was Europe, Chekov the communists, Uhura Africa and Sulu Asia. He chuckled at his pairing, since he had grown up in LA and only looked Asian.
Takei was five-years-old, living in LA, when in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor he, his family and 100,000 other Japanese-Americans were rounded up at gunpoint and sent east to be interned in concentration camps. He spent the remainder of the war, growing up behind barbwire in southern Arkansas. After the war, penniless, his family returned to LA, but then could only afford to live on Skid Row. With some bitterness, he recalled the smell of urine there, but then you could see chest swell with pride when he related that within just a few years the family was able to move to a house on Wilshire Blvd.
As an activist, George Takei is most famous for his involvement in the Gay Rights movement. To protect his acting career, he remained closeted for a long time. He dated girls in high school, but on double dates he was more interested in the other guy than either of the girls. He credited his ability to act for getting elected class president and making it through high school. When he did come out, he became very active in the LGTBQ community and his acting fame gave him an effective soapbox to champion the cause. In the Q&A afterwards, he introduced his life partner, his hubby, who was in the audience.
His talk was nice, but his performance during the Q&A was amazing. This week’s elections were an undercurrent throughout the evening that bubbled to the surface then. One questioner asked Takei for his thoughts about certain cavalier campaign comments on the use of nuclear weapons. He responded with some personal history. Before Pearl Harbor, but sensing the inevitability of war, his grandparents, his mother’s parents and her younger sister, his aunt, moved back to Japan. They were in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. His grandparents were spared by an intervening hill, but his aunt and her young child, a cousin that he never met, perished in the flames. To everybody’s underlying concerns, he offered some perspective. FDR is now considered to be one of our great leaders, but his internment order was awful. Our people’s democracy is a messy thing. It often leads to two-steps backwards for every step forward. Work for what you believe in and then, live long and prosper.