George Takei Visits Penn State, Delivers Speech About Democracy’s Nobility, Fallibility
Activist and actor George Takei spoke in the Eisenhower Auditorium at 8 p.m. last night to a packed house. The audience was eager to learn about his time in a Japanese internment camp and how he sees parallels in his experience to the experience of Muslim-Americans today.
“Democracy is capable of great nobility but also fallibility,” he said. “My father told me, ‘In democracy you cannot give up, you have to keep on keeping on.’”
The talk wound its way through his life, starting in his early memories of the horrible conditions his family and so many Japanese-Americans faced in the camps and the aftermath young children experienced. “From a two-bedroom house, with a front and back yard, we were moved into a narrow stall.”
Takei said the camps became normalized for him and his siblings — to the extent that his younger sister didn’t know why the family was leaving when they were freed. In class following their release, Takei’s teacher referred to him as “Jap-boy.” He says he supported gay rights with his checkbook for most of his life but always felt pain from wearing a cloak. The cloak was necessary, he thought, to protect his rising career in Hollywood following Star Trek’s success. Attending parties with a woman but leaving, dropping her off, and going to a gay bar afterwards was a stressful way to live. “Because of the career I was pursuing, I couldn’t come out,” he admitted.
Finally fed up with unfair treatment of his community, Takei talked to the press as a gay man for the first time in 2003 after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed same sex marriage. “There we were, sitting comfortably on the couch and I said, ‘I’ve had a good enough career, I think it’s time to fully be myself.”
Fallibility was a central theme of Takei’s talk– that of humans and the governments they run. He admitted he’s afraid that what’s happening to Muslim-Americans today may follow the same pattern of Japanese internment. A member of the Trump camp named Carl Higbie has him especially nervous because on Wednesday, Higbie stated Japanese interment camps were a precedent for a Muslim registry. “A whole faith group incarcerated because a sliver of millions of Muslims are terrorists is very dangerous,” Takei said. “If you take pride in your American citizenship, write to your congressmen.”
Another issue discussed in the broader realm of equality was white-washing and yellow face. Both are discriminatory acts— he explained white-washing an Asian character being replaced by a white character — take Dr. Strange for example. Yellow face is when a white character covers his/her face with yellow makeup to appear Asian. Takei disagrees adamantly with both. “Because of our history of stereotyping—the servant, the buffoon or the villain—when we are underrepresented, these sterotypes are often wrong. We have a history of yellow face and these stereotypes play into [discrimination].”
Takei said he “blasted” Arnold Schwarzenegger on national news on that day in 2003, finally free to be himself in front of everyone.
Takei was the final speaker in the Student Programming Associations “Distinguished Speaker” series. George Takei’s musical, Allegiance, will air on December 13 at 7:30 p.m. The musical is inspired by his own experience in the internment camps but is a “multigenerational tale with two love stories” according to the Washington Post.