They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott
Art by Harmony Becker
Non-Fiction | Graphic Novel | History | Memoir
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Released July 16th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
There are parts of American history that the people in power would like for you to forget, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is one of those. I wasn’t taught about this in high school, even while discussing World War II, and it wasn’t until college that I found out about the prejudice and hate that Americans of Japanese descent had to live through following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
Hopefully, George Takei is a name that is already familiar to you. You’ll definitely know him if you’re a Star Trek fan as I am, as he played Hikaru Sulu in The Original Series.
George Takei was born to Japanese-American parents in southern California in 1937. In 1942, when George was just four-years-old, his family was one of many rounded up unfairly and sent to an internment camp. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s memoir of his family’s experience living in three different internment camps, one as far away as Arkansas.
Told as a graphic novel with wonderful, simple art done by Harmony Becker, this is a heartbreaking book to read. It’s hard to imagine a level of hate and fear so great that America would support internment camps for people of a particular ancestry.
As I mentioned before, I was not taught about this period of our history in school, which is offensive to the people who had to live through it. Takei’s book is accessible for all ages, and I sincerely hope that it makes its way into schools all over the country.
As hard to read as this real-life account was, it was also inspiring at times. I was incredibly impressed at how Takei’s parents tried as hard as they could to make their children’s lives normal. His father worked to make conditions better in the camp for everyone while his mother tried to make their new “home” more liveable. All of the families who were sent to these camps lost so much – their homes, possessions, jobs, and links to the outside world.
In many cases, these families were given little to no warning that they were about to be forced to leave their homes behind.
One of the most difficult moments in the book came when the people living in the internment camps discovered that America had dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Takei family had relatives living in Hiroshima, who died that day. They were locked up with their grief, along with other families grieving for their relatives as well, with no way to fight back. They weren’t allowed to travel and were unable to properly mourn for their loved ones in Japan. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror that so many people had to experience.
Towards the end of the book, Takei writes about how little he realized was happening when he was young and learning about it through his father afterward. The anger he felt when he thought they hadn’t done enough to prevent it to a greater understanding is all portrayed honestly here. Takei also discusses the racism and prejudice that ran rampant in Hollywood when he got started as an actor, and how Star Trek was the role of a lifetime for him.
I cannot urge you enough to read this graphic novel. It’s too easy to forget the horrors that governments and angry citizens can lay down on people, and it’s something that we should never forget. Donate this book to schools, share it with others, read it yourself – let’s not forget what happened to the Japanese-American population during World War II, and let’s prevent it from ever happening again.