Thursday, September 29, 2016

George Takei in Evansville - Recap

As promised, I have a lengthy recap of George Takei's appearance at The Victory Theatre in Evansville. It's long, but the presentation was lengthy, and well-worth the time.

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke thanked Evansville's Diversity Committee for bringing in George Takei as part of the Diversity Lecture Series. He said it's a thought-provoking series that tries to discuss diversity and inclusion in respectful, candid conversation. He introduced Takei as a social activist and a leading fighter for the LGBTQ community. He's the #1 most influential person on Facebook, with over 9.8 million followers.

Photo by Lynn Miller Pease
George Takei entered the stage with the familiar Vulcan salute. He said he was happy to be at the historic Victory Theatre. He loves theaters, and this was a historic movie house. He then said September was a wonderful time to be in Indiana because he understood the state was celebrating its Bicentennial. And, he said it was another anniversary in September. It was fifty years since Star Trek went on the air.

Star Trek has lived long and prospered, and Takei was happy to celebrate its anniversary. He loved the show, and is proud of it.

Fifty years ago, the cast gathered at the Desilu Theater. At the head of the table was Gene Roddenberry. He introduced everyone to the concept of Star Trek. The story takes place on the Starship Enterprise with one thousand people in the crew. It's a metaphor for Starship Earth, and its strength comes from its diversity, people coming together and working as a team.

Captain James T. Kirk, representing North America, was played by a Canadian. To represent Europe, they had a Scottish engineer, also played by a Canadian. Africa was represented by an African- American woman from Illinois, who was also French and Cheyenne. She was probably the most American member of the cast. A Californian, Takei, represented all of Asia. This was at the time of the Cold War between two powers, and a Russian was a trusted member of the crew. He was played by a man from Brooklyn, New York. Then, there was a member of another species entirely. The first officer, Spock, was played by Leonard Nimoy, a Bostonian. It was "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations". Star Trek represented a utopian view of the future in 1966 when the country was in turbulence.

George Takei said this wasn't the first time he lived through a period of turbulence. He lived through a little known episode. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. For Japanese-Americans, this represented a catastrophic change. Suddenly, they were viewed with suspicion, fear and hatred, just because they looked like the people who had bombed the country.

As with other young Americans, young Japanese-Americans quickly rushed to volunteer. But, they received a slap in the face, and were termed "enemy aliens". Some protested that term because they were Americans, and they were then called "enemy non-aliens". The government took away the word citizen. All Japanese-Americans had to be in their homes between 6 PM and 6 AM. Bank accounts were frozen, and they had no access to them. Then, on Feb. 19, 1942, the hysteria reached the White House. FDR signed a document saying all Japanese-Americans on the west coast, 120,000 of them, were to be rounded up, and imprisoned behind barbed wire in prison camps in some of the most desolate places in the United States.

On April 20, George celebrated his fifth birthday. Soon after, one day, his parents dressed the kids, and packed. George and his brother were sent to wait. They saw two soldiers, carrying rifles with bayonets come up the walk, and they banged on the door. The family was ordered out of their home at gunpoint. He said he'll never forget seeing his mother, with the baby in one arm, and a heavy suitcase in the other, standing there crying. The family was put on a truck, taken to the railway, and transported to the swamps of Arkansas.

The internment camp was surrounded by barbed wire. There were search lights, and guns pointed down at them. The search lights followed them the five-year-old George when he went to the latrine at night. As a five-year-old, he was happy that his way was lit to the latrine. His parents found it an embarrassing intrusion. He was too young to understand what was wrong when he learned to say "With liberty and justice for all".

Years later, the government needed to tap more manpower for the war. So, they devised a series of questions. Everyone over the age of seventeen had to answer the questionnaire. But, they found one question offensive. "Will you swear loyalty to the U.S. and forswear loyalty to the Emperor of Japan?" They said, we're Americans, and we've never even thought of the Emperor as our leader. It was a conflicting statement. If they said no, because of the last part, it meant they were not loyal to the U.S. They found it outrageous and enraging to say yes, that they had been loyal to the Emperor. Many remained bitter.

The young people left their families to fight for the U.S. Women became WACs. The young men were sent to a segregated, all Japanese-American unit, the 442nd, and sent to Europe. Their motto was "Go for Broke", and they were given the most dangerous missions and used as cannon fodder. They had the highest combat casualties. That unit was the single most decorated unit of the war, and it still stands as a record. When they returned, Harry Truman welcomed them back at the White House. But, those who insisted they wanted to fight as Americans, not as Japanese, were tried for draft evasion, found guilty, and sent to Leavenworth where they did hard labor. They were proud Americans, and Takei said he honors them.

When Takei's parents were given the questionnaire, they said the government had taken their business, their home, and their freedom. Now, they want their dignity as well. They answered no, and were sent to a segregation camp. There were 18,000 people sent to that camp at the Oregon border.

When the war was over, the gates were opened. The people had been impoverished. They were given a one-way ticket to wherever they wanted to go, and $25. Takei's family went back to L.A., where they ended up living on Skid Row downtown. Even then, it was sometimes a hostile environment. After five years, they saved enough to buy a home again.

As a teenager, George Takei read a lot, and he read a great deal of history. There's that statement, "All men are endowed with certain inalienable rights". He had long arguments with his father. There's no one more arrogant than an idealistic young teenager. He learned to understand American democracy from his father. Even after what he went through, he said American democracy is the people's democracy. It's created by fallible human beings who make mistakes. We're dependent on those who cherish ideas of democracy and ideals of democracy.

When Adlai Stevenson was running for President, Takei's father took him to his local headquarters to volunteer. There were passionate, idealistic people dedicated to getting him elected to the presidency. Then, Takei became active in other political races. He went on to be involved with the Civil Rights Movement. He march with Martin Luther King, Jr. He met him, shook his hand, and didn't wash that hand for four days. When Vietnam came along, he was involved with the peace movement. The entertainment industry had a movement for peace and justice. He testified at the Congressional Commission hearings about his family's internment. In 1988, Reagan, on behalf of the U.S. government, apologized for their actions. It was a poignant moment because Takei's father had died in 1979, not knowing the government would apologize.

George Takei said he was active in the social justice movement, but silent on what meant the most to him. From about the age of ten, he knew he was different. While other boys were commenting about Sally and Monica being hot, he thought they were nice, but not hot. He felt more isolated and alone. But, he started dating his female friends. If he went on a double date, he would often be more interested in his buddy than his date. But, he was acting like part of the gang. In fact, he was popular enough to be elected student body president. But, his other side felt alone. Then, he discovered there were others like him.

If Takei was true to his other side, it would ruin his acting career. He maintained a double life. When he discovered gay bars, he found they were warm and friendly. He found a camaraderie there. But, an older man warned him than the gay bars were sometimes raided by the police. They would fingerprint and photograph the men they arrested, and put names on a list. The gay men were criminalized. It was no different than his childhood. People were just gathering in a bar, and were criminalized. So, when he went to the bars, he would look for the exit, and hang out near it so he could get out.

Then, in 1969, there was news from New York. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village had been raided, but people stood their ground, throwing bottles and chairs at the police. The fiercest resisters were the drag queens who threw high-heeled shoes. The police retreated. They called for reinforcements. But, the people in the bar also called their friends. They threw everything at the police, and there were riots for five days straight. That was the beginning of the gay movement. And, George remained silent.

By this time, George had a special person in his life. And he remained quiet. He lost friends during the AIDs crisis. And he was silent. He and his partner, Brad, wrote checks to support the movement. Then, in 2003, the judiciary in Massachusetts made marriage equality constitutional, the first state to do so. In 2005, the state legislature voted on marriage equality. It was the first state to try to adopt it because of the people's vote. It needed one more signature, that of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, another movie star who ran as a friend of gays and lesbians. But, he vetoed the bill because of the influence of right-wing Republicans.

Brad and George were at home watching it all on TV when the young people vented their rage. They discussed it. George had had a long career. It was time to be "activist me". He came out. He spoke to the press as a gay American and blasted Arnold Schwarzenegger. From then on he became active. He lobbied in Sacramento and D.C. He spoke at rallies. The world began to change. In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality. A judge, knowing Brad and George had been together for 21 years, said you've reached the age of equality. Let's get you hitched up. They've now been together for 29 years, and just celebrated their eighth marriage anniversary. Takei then introduced Brad, who was in the audience. The highlight came in 2015 when the Supreme Court made marriage equality legal from coast to coast.

People who have ideals should participate actively in the process. That makes democracy work. Takei's father taught him to look back at history. The founders wrote that all men were created equal. But, there were no rights for women. But, women were determined, and they and their male allies fought for equal treatment. Now, there are women CEOs, and a woman astronaut who led a team of astronauts. By November 8, he said he's betting we'll have a woman president.

Our forefathers said nothing about slaves. Now, there are descendants of slaves walking in the halls of Congress, and others are at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The people's democracy is dependent on those who engage in the process. We're in the process of extending justice and equality to more and more people. Now, George Takei is proud to stand and say, "I am an American."


Grace Koshida said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grace Koshida said...

Thanks, Lesa, for posting your excellent summary of the George Takei interview. This resonates with me in so many ways. I was/am a Trekkie, and grew up watching the original Star Trek series. I was fascinated to see a multi-cultural crew, including a helmsman of Japanese origin, working together without prejudice. Since I am of Japanese-Canadian descent, I am well aware of how Japanese-Americans (and Canadians) were treated as enemy aliens by their government during WWII. How George and his family lived those years in an internment camp and after they relocated to LA clearly shaped his interest in history, democracy and social justice issues. And the chronology of George's double life, and how he was finally able to come out as a Gay American. This sounds like an incredible event that you attended. I wish he could come up here to Ontario and give a similar lecture! (Sorry for the repost - I fixed some typos from an earlier version. Should drink more coffee before posting!).

Lesa said...

Don't be sorry at all, Grace. Americans (including me) don't know anything about Canadian history and how people were treated there during WWII. I appreciate your comments, and your comparisons between the two countries. Thank you!

Reine said...


We lived near the site of Manzanar in the Mojave desert when my husband was an aerospace engineer. We would have to drive by occasionally. All seemed surreal there. It was very isolated. You can't imagine unless you go there and see nothing but the great distance between anywhere else and where you are. And it is very hot. Our last week in the area the temps averaged 114F.

You might think the living quarters and other buildings were taken down and destroyed. My husband's boy scout troop met in one of the old quonset huts from Manzanar. When we moved into our house on the other side of the Sierra, I was shocked to learn that the great playhouse for the children at our new home, the tall 3-story playhouse with a view of Kern Valley and Lake Isabella, had been a guard tower from Manzanar. The children never played in it. We didn't stop them from playing there. I don't think they understood what it was for originally, but they were never attracted to it.

Lesa said...

Just inhumane what we do to each other, isn't it, Reine? Can you imagine the places we put fellow human beings in this country, and, for that matter, elsewhere? Just unimaginable.