Book 16 of 52: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
As I plan this summer’s cross country road trip, I’m figuring out with National Park Service units (there are more than 400!) I want to see along the way. I read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (and her husband James D. Houston) as Book 22 of last year, which puts the Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, California on the list.
Actor and activist George Takei may be the most public face of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. They Called Us Enemy is the graphic novel version of his story. And while he was sent to different sites than Manzanar, these two books feel like companion reading.
Where Houston’s perspective is more of a child experiencing what she did, this graphic novel is from the perspective of an adult looking back at what happened, and the reverberations of that across his whole life, using a discussion Takei had with Kermit Roosevelt III at Hyde Park in 2017 as the starting point (fun fact: one of the first authors I ever profiled was Kermit, when he published his first book, In The Shadow of the Law).
I used “incarcerated” instead of “interned” because that’s what Takei uses, and this book shows how this why the word is apt. Teresa Watanabe wrote a powerful piece for the Los Angeles Times about why she says incarcerated, which is worth reading more than whatever I could say about it here.
Even if you know Takei’s story, I hope you’ll check this out, because in addition to shining a light on one of the worst things this country has done, it also shows the dangers of what happens when the U.S. Government decides that one kind of person — even if they’re American citizens, as many of these prisoners were — are lumped together and treated as “other.” You can see it happening right now to transgender people who are just trying to live their lives. The parallels are frightening. We can’t be quiet about this, including you, fellow straights. The rights of one kind of citizen being destroyed harms us all.
Nail polish: Nice Set of Pipes by OPI.
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