Actor and activist Takei visits MD 

Alex Lautin and Sophie Rukin

“The first word that comes to mind is ‘gift.’ We were given a real gift to hear from George Takei,” Head of Middle Division (MD) Javaid Khan said about last week’s assembly. Last Thursday, Takei spoke to the MD about his novel, “They Called Us Enemy,” and the experiences he has faced as a gay Japanese American actor. 

During the assembly, Takei spoke about his life as an actor and an activist. He played Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek. He is a pioneer for Asian Americans on television, as well as for members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Over the summer, all MD students read his graphic memoir, “They Called Us Enemy.” “[The assembly] just made the story that everyone had the chance to read over the summer feel even more personal,” MD History Teacher Justin Baker-Rhett said. The memoir tells Takei’s experience as a young boy during World Wara II through to his experiences as an adult in the United States. 

The book was an extraordinary way to teach people about the struggles of Japanese Americans during World War II, Matilda Bau (7) said. Its format as a graphic novel was engaging since generally kids can relate better to pictures than long monologues, she said.

Takei spoke to the MD about his inspiration for writing his memoir. He had been looking for novels about Japanese Internment, but could not find anything. Many Japanese parents did not feel comfortable sharing information about the camps with their children, for it was a touchy and uncomfortable subject; however, Takei’s father did. 

Victoria Woo (8) said it was interesting to learn about what it was like in the internment camps during World War II, especially because it is a gap in history throughout the American education system. The assembly made her realize that many current students do not understand what it is like to be seen as an enemy, she said. 

During assemblies Khan wants every person to have their own unique takeaway. “I always tell students that my theory in assembly is the snowflake theory,” he said. “We’re going to drop a lot of ideas on you. And some of them may stick and some won’t. And that’s okay.” Khan’s theory is part of the reason why he tries to bring in a variety of speakers for assemblies — so that everyone gets to hear something that speaks to them.

Neeya Gupta (7) enjoyed learning about Takei’s activism for LGBTQ+ rights and about his career in relation to his sexuality, she said. Takei’s words were powerful and interesting to listen to, she said.

Baker-Rhett was struck by Takei’s emphasis on participation in civic life, specifically when Takei talked about the importance of action and engagement, he said.

Similarly, Music Department Chair Timothy Ho was struck by Takei’s message about getting involved in democracy so history does not repeat itself. Ho also had a more personal takeaway. “For me, it’s the larger idea of telling your story so that your truth is known,” he said.

Takei began the assembly by talking about the history of Pearl Harbor and the events that led to World War II. After providing context about Japanese internment, he transitioned to talking about his personal history. For example, Takei had to say the pledge of allegiance at his school in the internment camps every day, he said. 

As a child in the internment camps, Takei was young, naive, and unaware of how his parents suffered more than he did, he said. The experience of internment for his parents was “devastating” and “anguishing,” while young Takei had no clue what was going on, he said.

“Students are going to be setting the tone of what America is all about,” Takei said. His goal is to make America a nation of equality, he said.

The assembly was Takei’s first time speaking at a school in 18 months. It was special for Bau to see Takei speak in person since books sometimes lack feeling and emotion, she said. The assembly helped her to better see what Takei was trying to demonstrate.

The in-person assembly was thrilling to Khan. The room felt normal again, with the standing ovation and laughter, he said. “Zoom can not replicate that.”

Gupta said she learned a lot from the assembly, but overall she had one key takeaway. “I learned to just be who you are and in life to just work hard and push through the bad parts, because that’s what he [Takei] did,” Gupta said.