It was chilling enough to learn that President-elect Donald Trump’s team was discussing the idea of a registry for Muslim immigrants. The news grew even more alarming when Carl Higbie, a Trump surrogate, defended the notion by citing the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Takei’s speech, which he shared on Twitter on Thursday, offers both a sober warning and a stirring call to stand up for American ideals:
In his 2014 presentation, Takei spoke of being taken to a prison camp in Arkansas when he was only 5 years old. It was just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it didn’t matter to authorities that he, his mother and his siblings were all born in the U.S.
The actor recalled tears streaming down his mother’s face as they were removed from their California home. He remembered the barbed wire at the camp and the guards pointing machine guns at them. He spoke of “grotesquely abnormal” living conditions and being treated like criminals.
But despite the unfair treatment, he, his family and more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans endured. Takei explained why he continues to love a country that once betrayed him by sharing his father’s words.
“He told me that our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as the people are,” Takei recalled his father saying years after their imprisonment.
“He told me that American democracy is vitally dependent on good people, who cherish the ideals of our system and actively engage in the process of making our democracy work.”
Our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are. George Takei, recalling his father's wise words
Takei also spoke of the young Japanese-Americans who volunteered for the military after Pearl Harbor, but were denied the chance and categorized as “enemy non-alien.”
“It was outrageous to be called an enemy when you’re volunteering to fight for your country,” Takei said. “They even took the word ‘citizen’ away from us and imprisoned them for a whole year.”
That decision was later reversed. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an infantry regiment made up almost entirely of Japanese-Americans, would become one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. history.
Takei shared what President Harry Truman said to the 442nd after the war: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice ― and you have won.”
As Trump, who used anti-Muslim rhetoric during his campaign, appoints white nationalists (see: Steven Bannon) to the White House, it is as important as ever to recognize the value that people of all races and religions bring to the United States.
Those young men and women who seven decades ago defended the country that had imprisoned them “are my heroes,” Takei said.
“They clung to their belief in the shining ideals of this country,” he said. “And they proved that being an American is not just for some people, that race is not how we define being an American.”
Perhaps the president-elect could take a moment to listen to Takei, too.