Actor George Takei — Cmdr. Sulu from the old “Star Trek” franchise who on Tuesday at Vroman’s Bookstore is releasing “They Called Us Enemy,” a graphic novel based on his family’s experience of being rounded up and shipped off to a detention camp — could not have scheduled a more apropos time to launch his book.
The Los Angeles native said such “camps” were actually prisons that contained lookout towers manned by sentries armed with machine guns. His family’s “detention center” was located in a town in Arkansas, where they were forced to stay for four years.
Much as it was for Takei in his youth, the immediate future for four young children presently growing up in Mississippi is anything but certain. With her father, Andres Gomez-Jorge, taken from her last week by ICE agents, 11-year-old Magdalena, her mom and three younger siblings may not be able to afford to live where they are. If Andres doesn’t come back, and indications are he may not, or if Magdalena’s mom, Juana, doesn’t find work, the little girl’s family may be forced to head to Guatemala, something CNN reports no one in the family really wants to do.
This is one form of family separation. Similar kinds are occurring at the country’s southern border, where children taken from their parents are driven to detention centers, much like the ones used to intern Japanese Americans imprisoned following Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, launching America’s involvement in World War II in 1941.
While Magdalena may be safe for now, hundreds of other children her age and younger are being separated from their parents, some occupying cages set up by the US government.
As of Tuesday, CNN reports Magdalena’s father — along with nearly 400 workers at food processing plants in that part of the state — was among those who had not returned home after 680 people were whisked away by federal immigration officials on suspicion of being in the US without proper documentation.
“I feel very powerless. I don’t have a job, only my husband works. I’m thinking, what am I going to do?” Juana, Magdalena’s mother, told CNN. She told reporters that her husband and she came here more than a decade ago. All the kids were born here. Andres, she said, “didn’t come here to rob anybody. He came here to work. It is out of necessity.”
For 82-year-old Takei, who was 5 at the time that he and his family were taken into custody by US troops, the parallels between what’s happening at the southern border in particular and around the country in general and the devastation wrought upon his family and other Japanese Americans are inescapable.
In fact, his hope is to reach young people, his intended audience for the graphic novel, with the lessons learned from his experiences as a youngster in the early 1940s.
“With ‘Enemy,’ my hope is we’re going to get young people to get this information and grow up knowing this story,” Takei said in a recent interview with PW Arts Editor Carl Kozlowski (For more on Carl’s interview with Takei, please see page 10).
“I’m always shocked when I’m in conversation with people I consider well-read, and they’re shocked and can’t believe such a thing happened in the US,” said Takei. “Because we have adults who don’t know this history and this outrage is going on on the southern border, we’ve got to get Americans outraged at this endless cycle of cruelty to minorities.”
Takei is also acting in and consulting on a World Wat II drama about the internment, “The Terror: Infamy,” airing Mondays on AMC.
“I had an infant baby sister, a brother who was 4, and I was 5 when we were locked up because we looked the same as those who bombed. This country vilified us and made the decision we were potential spies, saboteurs and needed to be locked up,” Takei told Carl.
“For us, due process and trials disappeared. I remember when soldiers stomped into our orchard and banged on our front door and literally were ordered out of our home in Los Angeles. My father gave my brother little packages to carry and had big suitcases and my mom came out with my baby sister on one arm, a huge duffel bag in the other and tears streaming down her cheeks. I’ll never forget that memory.”
With all that said, one has to wonder: Have we turned from being a nation of human rights into one of inhumane wrongs?
Magdalena’s mother told reporters this week that she hasn’t slept since her husband was detained.
“I don’t know where he is,” she told CNN. “We don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”