By Chloe Chappell
Last Tuesday, the University Center for International Studies hosted Star Trek actor George Takei as part of International Week at the University of Pittsburgh.
Takei spoke about his life experience, which includes being an inmate in a Japanese internment camp, his career as an actor, and his participation in several movements including the LGBTQIA+ movement.
Takei began his speech with his story of being a child during World War II. When Takei was five years old his parents finished packing as George and his brother watched military personnel walk up to his door grasping rifles with shiny bayonets. His family was forced at gunpoint to leave their home.
As a result of the military removing them from their home before the internment camps were finished being built, they were forced to spend several months in horse stalls at a stable before being taken to to the finished facilities. Takei spent much of his childhood in Camp Rohwer in the swamps of Arkansas and in windy North California at Camp Tule Lake.
At the conclusion of the war, prisoners were given a one-way train ticket to a location of their choosing and $25 — a small, meaningless amount of money compared to what was lost. George Takei and his family returned to Los Angeles, his struggles far from over.
There were still many racial biases against Japanese-Americans after the end of the Second World War, which made it hard for Japanese-Americans to find employment or get become financially stable.
Takei’s father, like many others, struggled to find how to support his family despite his diligent and desperate efforts. He opened an employment agency, ran a dry cleaning business, and ran a grocery store as a series of miscellaneous jobs before going into real estate.
Takei’s father took him to volunteer for the presidential campaign of Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, explaining that citizenship was a choice. Just living was not citizenship, it was “paper status”. Takei’s father explained to Takei, citizenship is getting involved and fighting for what is right.
An important topic of the talk was based in civil rights. Takei paid a large amount of time to talking about his life as a homosexual male. During most of Takei’s lifetime being a homosexual was not only socially unacceptable, but in certain places, illegal. Takei kept it a secret for much of his life, going on double dates with his friends and taking a female friend to social gatherings related to his acting career.
Takei finished with the story of how he and his partner, after finally coming out as gay, married at the Japanese American National Museum and have continued to be activists for the movement ever since.
Takei has made a name for himself post-acting by staying vocal and prominent in social politics. Therefore it is no surprise that at the conclusion of Takei’s talk at Soldiers and Sailors Hall, he held a question and answer session where he advised students to get involved in the political process and to engage with their community.
Takei’s life story is a poignant and valuable look into the nature of biases — whether based on race, sexuality, or otherwise.