In the news lately are attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). The “Star Trek” community has risen to condemn such violence. Among actors and activists speaking up include George Takei (Hikaru Sulu from The Original Series). He’s raising awareness to help stop these attacks, referring to them as hate crimes.
Angry, Takei blames the former President, Trump, and his slurs against AAPI, such as calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” or “China virus.” He also chastises other – as he says – so-called leaders for not condemning such comments. On MSNBC, Takei said:
“[Biden is a contrast to the] has-been, gone president who continued to play to the ignorant and racists in America.”
Increase in Anti-Asian Violence
On March 16, 2021, Robert Aaron Long walked into three Atlanta-areas spas and shot eight people; six of those shot and killed were Asian women. But this isn’t an isolated incident. NBC reports anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150% in 2020. According to Time, these crimes rose 1,900% in New York City alone.
The rate of anti-AAPI violence is so alarming, President Biden recently addressed the nation to condemn these attacks. President Biden said,
“It’s wrong. It’s unAmerican. And it must stop.”
Takei’s assertion it has something to do with former President Trump may have merit; in recent studies, such as this one reported in the Washington Post, 50% of anti-Asian sentiments are associated with hashtags using “#Chinesevirus.” Russel Jeung, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and a professor at San Francisco State University in Asian American Studies is quoted in Time as saying:
“There’s a clear correlation between President Trump’s incendiary comments, his insistence on using the term ‘Chinese virus’ and the subsequent hate speech spread on social media and the hate violence directed towards us. It gives people license to attack us. The current spate of attacks on our elderly is part of how that rhetoric has impacted the broader population.”
NPR spoke with Dale Minami, a lawyer and former Asian-American studies professor at U.C. Berkley, about racism against Asians during times of hardship. Minami asserts the impact of COVID-19 – more than half a million dead, small businesses shuttered, unemployment – people are fearful and upset. In the interview, he wonders if they’re making the correlation between the pandemic and the Asian population, looking for someone to blame.
Sadly, Takei knows this trend first-hand. He’s been affected by this xenophobia.
Raised in an Internment Camp
According to IMDB, Takei was born on April 20, 1937 in Los Angeles, California as Hosato Takei. The Takei family were American citizens; his mother, his siblings, and he were all born in the U.S. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II (WWII), many Asian Americans were gathered up and placed in internment camps. Takei and his family were forcibly moved to Arkansas (Rohwer War Relocation Center) and then to Tule Lake in California. He wrote about his experiences in a graphic novel: They Called Us Enemy.
In the book and in interviews, Takei talks about how his family was classified as “enemy alien,” put behind barbed wire, made to sleep in horse stalls, and had searchlights used on them even as he and his siblings went to school. No one in his family was taken to court with the ability to defend themselves. During the war, there was also a movement to send Asian Americans out of the country. Takei’s mother was almost sent to Japan. Thankfully, the American Civil Liberties Union prevented her removal.
When the war ended in 1945, the Takei family was returned to Los Angeles, but without money or any means to support themselves. Takei said in his interview with NPR, his family had to sleep on the street. Even as their luck improved, they were in Skid Row.
“We were penniless. Everything had been taken from us and the hostility was intense. Our first home was on Skid Row in the lowest part of our city, living with derelicts, drunkards and crazy people. …My baby sister said, ‘Mama. Let’s go back home,’ because behind barbed wires was for us home.”
But the Takei family started again. Since then, George Takei’s plea has been to help fellow Americans remember what happened to him and his family. He never wants it to happen again.
Racism After WWII and in Hollywood
After WWII, the U.S. soon entered into war with North Korea and then Vietnam, which stirred bigotry anew. Takei went to school and was called “little Jap boy.”
Despite the racism against him, he persisted and graduated from UCLA, studied in Stratford-Upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Institute, and earned his master’s degree from UCLA. Even with all this education, Takei wanted to be an actor.
But as Takei emerged as a thespian, many of the Asian roles were stereotypical or worse. Asians were frequently depicted as cartoonish, servants, or villains in the 1950s and 60s, and those roles are frequently played by Caucasians. Seen through today’s lens, examples of this poor perception could include Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu, Mickey Rooney as the buffoonish neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and even Jerry Lewis in one of his comedy routines.
Those roles were so worrisome, Takei’s father warned him about going into acting. Takei told his father, “I’m going to change [the perception of Asian Americans].”
The Importance of ‘Star Trek’
In 1965, when a role for “Star Trek” came around, Takei was thrilled. An Asian man was featured as a hero and competent officer who just happened to be an Asian American. The creator, Roddenberry, wanted an Asian actor to play the part.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Takei told Tulsaworld:
“So, when Gene painted that picture, that he wanted me to represent Asia as a future society, as the best of Asia, it was exciting.”
Perhaps Takei wasn’t able to fully explore all the parts of Sulu he wanted, but he was and is considered a pioneer for Asian-Americans in television and film. In this 2011 interview with the Archive of American Television, Takei talks about how much Sulu has meant to the Asian community.
“In so many ways Gene Roddenberry did what he set out to do. He inspired people.”
Gene Roddenberry created a world of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (IDIC) – the Vulcan creed. It’s why “Star Trek” has been ahead of its time many times.
The Importance of George Takei, Democracy, and People
“Star Trek” fans know Takei as an activist, calling on injustice when he sees it. Not only has he pushed boundaries for Asian-Americans, but he’s also spoken up for the LGBTQ community.
Takei hopes to see change, including more people working together. He tells Democracy Now, it’s important for “good people” to be involved in democracy — people need to be informed and act on information.
It’s why he’s also encouraged that so many young people are volunteering to help AAPI, including escorting the elderly to grocery stores, gyms, and more.
Everyone can help. There are various resources, including ways to report crime, donate, and educational resources to peruse. Joining in to help our global community, including AAPI, may be the best way we all “live long and prosper.” People can embody the spirit of “Star Trek” themselves.
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