Good stories always stand on their own, but some stories resonate even more if they are particularly timely. Actor and activist George Takei’s graphic memoir of his experience during World War 2 is one of those stories, given the disgraceful events happening in America right now at our Southern border.
They Called Us Enemy tells the story of Takei’s childhood as one of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were taken from their homes and forced into concentration camps. He was 5 years old when his family was first relocated. His parents tried to protect him from the reality of what was going on, so in his young mind this started out as an adventure.
Through his experience, we see what life was like in the camps and the different ways it affected people. Among many disturbing things, he reveals how children internalized what was going on around them, no matter how hard adults tried to shield them. They acted out “Japs vs. Americans,” shouted “die Japanese cowards” and fought for a turn to play the Americans. What damage did this do to the young people in these camps? What does this say about the damage being done today to children being held at our nation’s borders?
Obviously, it was no better for the adults. The harsh living conditions, constant questioning of their loyalties and repeatedly being set against one another made for a bleak existence.
Takei’s story covers that time through current day, reflecting back on the grave injustice done, the generational impact and how some of the same things are occurring again. Harmony Becker’s black and white, manga influenced art does a masterful job of communicating Takei’s innocence without downplaying the horrors around him. Unlike many families, Takei’s was willing to talk about it when he was older, helping him fully understand the bigger picture of what he and Japanese Americans suffered through. This led to Takei’s vocal social justice activism, which continues to this day.
This difficult, inspiring story is a good reminder that if we aren’t vigilant, the worst of history will repeat itself.