“As an innocent five-year old, I didn’t fully realize what was going on, I just thought it was nice they lit the way for me to pee.”
Actor and champion of social justice George Takei delivered an animated speech about his life October 26 at Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado Boulder campus.
Takei spoke about his life growing up Los Angeles, and how at the age of five his family was forced into an internment camp due to Executive order 9066, signed in early 1942. Thousands of Japanese and Italian Americans were sent to various internment camps all across the United States.
“We were sent to some of the most desolate places across this country” Takei said. “We were sent places like the blistering heat of Arizona, the sweltering swamps of Arkansas, the freezing cold plains of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho.”
After this time in the camps, eventually the Takeis were let go. Growing up, Takei was a vociferous reader, and he read about history and civics. This included learning about American democracy and how it was presented as a people’s democracy. People can do great things, Takei remembered, but he also learned that great people in history can make horrific mistakes, as they did with the internment camps.
Takei also knew from an early age that he felt a certain way that he couldn’t quite verbalize while growing up.
“I felt something was wrong with me, I knew I was different,” Takei said. “It was a very lonely feeling, a tortuous feeling.”
As his acting career started to get going, Takei felt that he was living a double life, one that was uncomfortable and difficult to navigate while continuing to act.
“My first time going to a gay bar, it was a very friendly place, a warm place, where there was camaraderie and I felt comfortable there,” Takei said.
A number of years passed and Takei continued to go to this gay bar, all the while his career continued to grow and more fame and fortune came his way. He noticed that his life began to repeat a similar path, one that he had earlier as a child.
“It was so unfair, how we were simply enjoying each other’s company and having a beer-and we were being criminalized for being us!” Takei said.
Takei recognized that this discrimination was eerily similar to the internment camps that he and his family had been forced into years before. Still, Takei remained silent because he loved his career, and was terrified of what would happen should he decide to publicly speak out about what was happening.
Fast forward to the 2000s, where Takei was financially speaking through his checkbook, donating funds to causes related to LGBTQ issues. It all came to a head when in 2008, Proposition 8 was passed by voters in California. The governor of California at that time, Arnold Schwarzenagger, made Takei and his partner raging when the outcome of the proposition was reported.
“The hypocrisy of that man, as he cheated on wife, Maria Shriver-that led to the first time I spoke out as a gay man,” Takei said,which was met by the entire auditorium thunderously applauding.
Takei ended his speech with reiterating once again that people in power are also fallible human beings. A standing ovation met him twice, once at the end of his speech, and again at the end of the question and answer session. There are more quotes that could be shared from the Q&A session, but they might just have to be shared in another article on another day.