George Takei, the Star Trek star who has since become a human rights activist and internet legend for his satirical, viral posts, got serious in an online interview Friday when asked about the plight of immigrant children from Mexico and Central America now attempting to gain entrance to the United States.
The 77-year-old former “Mr. Sulu,” knows something about what the nearly 60,000 kids who have reached the U.S.-Mexico border since last October are going through, as they meet with angry, even violent resistance from fearful Americans and are herded into detention centers by U.S. government agents.
Takei knows what it’s like because it happened to him.
George Takei, who was born and grew up in Los Angeles, California, and whose parents were also American citizens, was all of five years old when armed American soldiers showed up at his home and hauled the whole Takei family away.
“We were ordered out of our two-bedroom home here in Los Angeles,” Takei recalled in an interview with the entertainment news site Contact Music. “We were in the living room looking out the front window and I saw two American soldiers with bayoneted rifles come marching up our driveway. They stomped up the front porch and banged on the front door. My father answered it and literally at gunpoint they ordered us out.”
The dark episode in U.S. history, not often discussed today, took place in early 1942 shortly after the American entrance into World War II, just a couple of months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. government rounded up 127,000 Japanese-Americans and forced them into prison camps until the war ended.
Of the prisoners, 62 percent — or about 79,000, including George Takei — were full-fledged American citizens.
Though a small child at the time, Takei could recall the harrowing experience in detail earlier this year in an interview with the political site, Democracy Now!
“My father told us that we were going on a long vacation to a place called Arkansas. It was an adventure. I thought everyone took vacations by leaving home in a railroad car with sentries, armed soldiers at both ends of the car, sitting on wooden benches. And whenever we approached a town, we were forced to draw the curtains, the shade. We were not supposed to be seen by the people out there/ When we arrived at Rohwer, in the swamps of Arkansas, there were these barb wire fences and sentry towers.”
Takei says that the experience, which finally ended after three years in the prison camp, inspired him throughout his life to speak out whenever he felt the principles of American democracy were being violated.
And, Takei says, the traumatic experience gives him empathy for the children attempting to now enter the United States.
“They come from a terrifying place already. I mean Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world — kids being killed by gangsters,” George Takei says. “They are not immigrants, they are asylum seekers for their lives. They can’t be treated like immigrants.”