George Takei discusses internment, a life of activism

Actor George Takei.
Actor George Takei.
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Actor and activist George Takei delivered a petition with at least 317,450 signatures Monday night to the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, opposing President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, and the targeting of anyone based on their religion or national origin, the actor told KPCC. 

The delivery of Takei's petition follows a court decision last week not to reinstate Trump's travel ban.

Takei presented the petition at an event titled "Never Again" at Los Angeles City Hall. He hopes the effort will show his supporters' solidarity with the national Muslim community while raising awareness of the Japanese-American internment camps in America during WWII.

"We need to know our history, we need to learn the lesson of our history and that lesson is: Never again must we do something so unconstitutional, with no due process," he said.

When Takei was 5 years old, his family was detained in the post-Pearl Harbor Japanese internment camps. 

"We were innocent, without charge, without trial, we were put in American prison camps in the United States of America," he said. 

The experience has led to a life-long pursuit of activism for the actor, who shared his story with KPCC before delivering the petition. 

On being detained: 

When a surrogate of Donald Trump talks about a Muslim registry, again, I recognize that's the way it began with us. The government gathered a database. It was a registry, and then they came down with a curfew. All Japanese were ordered to be home by 7 p.m. and stay home until 6 a.m. in the morning. We were imprisoned in our homes at night. and then we discovered our bank accounts had been frozen. We couldn't get access to our life savings. So we were financially straight-jacketed. And then the soldiers came for us. 

On growing up as an activist:

When I became a teenager, I became a voracious reader with a particular interest in history and civics. I read about the shining ideals of our democracy, and I couldn't quite reconcile that with what I knew to be my childhood imprisonment. After dinner, I had many long and sometimes heated discussions with my father. Because I was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. And so I gave my father a hard time. I would organize my friends. and go downtown and demonstrate at the federal building.

On discussions about democracy with his father:

Through those long discussions and many discussions, I learned from my father, who was one who bore the weight the anguish and the loss and the pain of the internment the most. He said, 'Our democracy is a people's democracy. And that people's democracy can do great things,' he said. 'Those ideals that you're reading about were articulated by people — the founding fathers — but people are human beings who are fallable.' ...

In our people's democracy, both nobility and fallibility are woven in together, side by side. Our democracy is dependent on people who cherish those ideals and actively engage in a participatory democracy. 

The next Sunday afternoon [my father] took me down to the Adlai Stevenson for President campaign headquarters and I saw and understood how electoral politics worked.