George Takei, Political Prisoner

You may know him best as Helmsman Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek,” or as an author or activist or wildly popular r and widely quoted and retweeted internet commentator.

As a small boy, however, actor George Takei was a political prisoner.

And if not for the actions of one man, we might have never heard of George Takei.,

“I spent my boyhood behind the barbed wire fences of American internment camps.”

George Takei
Photo: Gage Skidmore

George Takei was a boy of four when the Japanese empire attacked Pearl Harbor and plunged America into World War Two. The U.S. government ordered Japanese-Americans into internment camps, and the Takei family of California was among those taken into custody.

“The problem America had was drawing that distinction between American citizens of Japanese ancestry and the Japanese nation, with which we were at war. Now, it didn’t happen with the German-Americans and the Italian-Americans, with whom we were also at war, because they didn’t look as different as Japanese-Americans did. So we were rounded up at gunpoint and forcibly taken to those camps.”

Two men saved George Takei, as he told me in 1994 — one was his father, whose guidance and belief in the ideals of the American system sustained him.

The other was a lawyer you’ve probably never heard of….

“My mother, in outrage, had renounced her American citizenship. She was born in Sacramento, California, she was an American citizen by virtue of her birth. But she was so outraged by the betrayal of America’s ideals by this country that she said, I am not a part of this. I’m not party to this. And we were in a camp where all this radical activity was going on. It was a very politically intense and coercive climate that led to my mother’s renunciation of her American citizenship.

“One man took on the case of these people that had renounced their American citizenship,a civil rights attorney named Wayne Collins. And I owe who I am today to this one man and his courage and his dedication to the ideals of the Constitution. If he hadn’t stepped in to fight for us, for my mother and her cause, we would have been on a boat headed for Japan in November of 1945.

Wayne Collins prevented that from happening. If he hadn’t, then I could be the same flesh and blood, I could be this me that you see in front of you, but I wouldn’t find my identity in in my name ‘George’ Takei. I probably wouldn’t be speaking with you in English.I probably wouldn’t hold the values and ideals and principles that I do. But for that man I am George Takei and who I am today.

Would you have been an actor, I asked?

I don’t think that might have changed. However, my surroundings, circumstances, conditions might have been quite different. Yeah, it’s tantalizing, isn’t it? If Wayne Collins had not stepped in, America or the world may have been saved this actor!

After the war, it was tough for the talented George Takei to find any acting roles that were not severely stereotypical roles. That is, until he had a meeting with Gene Roddenberry, who was casting for his new TV show called “Star Trek.”

“He called me George ‘tah-KIGH,’ which is not an uncommon mispronunciation of my name. I told him that is a legitimate Japanese word which translates into English as ‘expensive.’ He immediately decided, no, he didn’t want to call me Mr. ‘tah-KIGH,’ and I told him that the proper pronunciation of my name, George ‘tah-KAY,’ rhymes with ‘okay.’ And he enthusiastically agreed that Takei was okay, and it was definitely not going to be ‘tah-KIGH.'”

And to this day millions of people — even thosed who don’t remember “Star Trek” — still consider George Takei “okay.”

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