Lessons on Diversity and Activism from George Takei

For the first time in years I went on a bona fide date. Travis and I got tickets to see George Takei speak on diversity at Butler University, so we dressed up on one of the coldest nights of February and headed out of the house to celebrate a late Valentine’s Day date.

Takei SaluteWe knew the talk was going to be on diversity, and we knew that gay rights would be part of the talk. The rest? Well, it’s Takei, so we were ready for anything.

Takei opened up the talk with talking about his childhood starting with the day he and his family were taken away from their home in California, classified as “enemy, non-combatants”, and locked behind a barbed wirefence of a Japanese-American internment camp. He talked about how the living conditions were awful, but to his 5-year-old brain it wasn’t all that bad. After all, when he got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, he had to run to the latrine outside their barracks — but at least the soldiers lit the way with a search light as they followed his movements from one location to another.

Things were not so lucky for his parents. They lost everything. Their jobs, their life savings. They were even stripped of their dignity — starting with the label of enemy and non-combatant. They were Americans, born and raised there, but because of a Japanese face, they were called “enemy” and thrown away in a prison “just in case”.

Later, when the war efforts needed warm bodies at the front, the government came back around to the Japanese. They gave them a loyalty questionnaire designed to test their intentions. One question, number 28, was the most offensive.

Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

It implies that they, as American citizens, had any allegiance to the Japanese emperor in the first place. So, if they answered yes, it would imply that they were treacherous beforehand. If they said no because they weren’t forswearing anything because it didn’t exist, then they got sent to another camp for “treacherous” people.

Takei’s father said no. 

Heart Mountain Internment Camp

Heart Mountain Internment Camp

Those that said yes were trained as the 442nd Infantry Regiment and shipped off to some of the most bloody places of fighting. They fought more ferociously to regain their honour. They fought to regain the honour of their family. And finally, they fought to prove to the United States government and the people who now feared the Japanese face that they were wrong to do so. They fought to prove their loyalty to a country that feared them for no reason. They did feats of valour that few could — or would — and many died.

Thankfully, these men were recognised for their deeds. They were honoured with medals and recognition for their sacrifices.

Silence filled the auditorium as Takei’s baritone told us the stories of the Japanese Americans and what they endured. You could tell many missed this section of their history books by the uncomfortable stillness broken by the occasional shifting to ease their discomfort of hearing a past they didn’t really think to consider.

Takei continued to tell us how his father, while upset with the fallibility of human nature, still believed in the power of democracy. He was not angry at the government in general, just the men that would make the heinous decision. His father was the pivotal figure in Takei’s life. With this belief that democracy is as good as the people who make it, he showed Takei the system and how the game works. With that, Takei became the passionate activist he is known for today.

Takei stands up for what he believes in, and he encourages others to do the same. 

During the rest of the presentation Takei explained how being passionate enough about your beliefs to stand up for them and be an engaged citizen can turn the tables. It can make the difference with compassionate discourse and consistent bravery to stand up for it. He encouraged the entire audience to stand up for their beliefs, whatever they are, and keep that dialogue going.

I am passionate about science. I am passionate about the availability of science to the common person, the average person, and the poor person. One should not have to have a lot of money in order to access the journals, nor should they have to learn to speak science as a second language. I also firmly believe in the possibilities for people to come to using science and making a career in it even if they choose to take an alternate path to get there.

I also believe that the working poor — those that make just enough money to not qualify for government aid, but not enough money to actually get by on — deserve more of a chance. They are showing that they have the tenacity and will to fight for what they want in life, but they have a complete uphill struggle. I believe that as a society and community we should make sure there are more hand holds for them to climb up with. Notice, these aren’t hand out or even a helping hand, but just an easier time of climbing up from the bottom of nothing. Even a safety net before they hit rock bottom would go a long way to helping those that are already helping themselves.

I’m willing to fight for these beliefs.

What beliefs are you fighting for?