NEW YORK ― George Takei walks into the room and you’d swear he has a halo of Twitter birds floating overhead. The social media activist and actor had arrived to receive a social justice award at The Opportunity Agenda’s 2017 Creative Change Awards in Midtown Manhattan.
HuffPost Asian Voices talked to Takei (in the video above) about a number of issues he’s been outspoken about, including immigration, LGBTQ rights, North Korea and his New York noodle rec. He also shared personal stories about living on Skid Row and finding solidarity and acceptance as the only Asian-American in a Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles ― it’s that America that gives him hope.
The interview below has been condensed. Watch the full clip above.
On Trump’s first 100 days
Well, I think every day of his tenure so far, and I think it’s going to be abbreviated, has been a disaster — one chaos after another disaster.
Well, I think every day of his tenure so far, and I think it’s going to be abbreviated, has been a disaster — one chaos after another disaster. He twice tried to sign an executive order, and we Japanese-Americans know about those executive orders, where he tries to discriminate and characterize a whole group of people as being one thing.
We had an executive order 75 years ago in 1942, February of 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order characterizing all Japanese-Americans as the enemy. We were rounded up at gunpoint and put into barbed-wire American prison camps. I grew up four years of my life in one of those camps, two of those camps, as a matter of fact. And this President Donald Trump again attempted something like that. We’ve learned from our historic past. And we have a changed America today.
On Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The top man in the Justice Department doesn’t understand our federal justice system.
The change that’s happened from 75 years ago to today is dramatic because this time, when those executive orders were signed, thousands of people ― massive numbers of people ― rushed to the airports to protest and resist that executive order. And we had a court system now who put a stay on that.
Our attorney general, Sessions, made that statement about “a judge on an island in the Pacific” ― the top man in the Justice Department doesn’t understand our federal justice system, so we have that kind of administration.
It is not a joke to those people who are being affected by it. And we will resist, seriously, not as a joke.
Takei on his tweet comparing Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
What is the essential quality of those two men? They both have access to dangerous power. One more dangerous than the other. The United States is certainly a much more armed nation than North Korea. They are both very volatile people, unpredictable and prone to taking damaging actions. I think there is a parallel there. And it should not be looked at as simply a joke. We have an unpredictable president.
On moving to L.A.’s Skid Row after living in a prison camp
That was the only place we could find housing. We spent about two or three months on Skid Row, and that was, to us kids, even more horrifying than being behind barbed-wire fences because imprisonment is routine.
My baby sister, who wasn’t even a year old, all that she knew of life was behind barbed wire. Coming into the chaos of Skid Row was terrifying. When that derelict collapsed in front of us and barfed, she said, ‘Mama, let’s go back home,’ meaning behind a barbed-wire fence, because coming back home to Los Angeles was so terrifying.
My sister was 9 months old [in 1942]. So four years of her life were spent behind those barbed-wire fences.
The government took everything we owned away from us and imprisoned us for four years. So we were impoverished.
On facing racial discrimination
So that’s what we came home to ― Skid Row and teachers who called you a Jap.
I went to school, and the teacher, the teacher, called me the “Jap boy” constantly. If I had the courage to raise my hand when I had a question, she always ignored me and looked the other way. So I knew she hated me and I hated her right back. But, you know, she’s a teacher, and what had I done to her to get her enmity? But then as an adult, I think back maybe she had a husband in the Pacific or a son in the Pacific.
So that’s what we came home to ― Skid Row and teachers who called you a Jap.
On finding acceptance in a Mexican-American neighborhood
After Skid Row, we moved into the all Mexican-American neighborhood of Los Angeles ― the only Asian-American family, much less the only Japanese-American family among Mexican-Americans. And they embraced us. They welcomed us. Our neighbor, Mrs. Gonzales, and my mother became very good friends. My mother learned how to cook Mexican, and she was the best tacos and enchiladas cook in all of East L.A., as far as I’m concerned.
I walked home from school with my Mexican-American friends, and sometimes they would invite me into their mother’s kitchen, and I’d be greeted with the warm scent of fresh tortillas that she had made. And she’d take a ladle of frijoles, beans, and spread it on the tortilla and roll it up, and we’d have our after-school snack.
On the repeal of LGBTQ rights worldwide
The transgender issue -- the bathroom now is the battleground.
The transgender issue — the bathroom now is the battleground. These people have now passed a law that still is to be dealt with, where people have to go to the bathroom of their birth certificate.
It’s a fake issue created by politicians who want to create an issue. It really was not an issue until they made it that.
Here domestically, we have that battle to fight. But we’ve been reading about what’s been happening in Chechnya. And we live in a global society now. We are all interconnected whether in the United States or in Chechnya. Gay men are being rounded up and tied to a chair and interrogated for their friends, other gays, and they are tortured, and a few have even died under those circumstances of torture.
So we have made great progress, but we still have a long ways to go. So we live in a global society, and so we have to act like global people. So when we see something like that in Chechnya, we will respond to that. We have to throw a spotlight on it and respond to it.
On the LGBTQ rights movement as an earlier resistance
We have made enormous advances from the time LGBT people were criminalized. You know, just being in a gay bar when I was in my 20s was a criminal act.
On the optimistic side first, we have made enormous advances from the time LGBT people were criminalized. You know, just being in a gay bar when I was in my 20s was a criminal act. Police raided gay bars and put them in paddy wagons, took them to police stations, fingerprinted them, photographed them and put their names on a list. We were criminals simply for being gays. Not unlike being of Japanese ancestry. They put us in these barbed-wire prison camps. We’ve made great advances from that time now. In 2008, we got marriage equality in California, and I was able to marry my longtime love and partner of 21 years at that time, Brad.
At the beginning of the LGBT movement, most people didn’t think of LGBT issues, but when activists started speaking out on it, more people started thinking about it and then making discoveries ― their own son or daughter might be gay, or their brother or their sister. So it became difficult to make it us and them.
It’s the connections that are important that lead the way to humanizing an issue.
And, finally, Takei on his noodle recommendation
We came upon a fantastic ― not a ramen restaurant but an udon restaurant. First of all, it’s very classy looking, beautiful, kind of modern Tokyo sort of setting. It’s called TsuruTonTan.