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George Takei captivates virtual Huntington Beach Reads crowd

George Takei makes the "Live Long and Prosper" Vulcan salute during Monday's virtual question-and-answer session.
(Screencap by Matt Szabo)

George Takei started off Monday’s virtual question-and-answer session with a bit of a joke.

Takei put his fingers together in the “Live Long and Prosper” sign, known as the Vulcan salute, before giving a nod to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Live long and prosper,” Takei said, before moving his hand closer to the screen. “And in this quarantine, stand back, stand back, stand back!”

Takei was engaging throughout the 70-minute session, hosted by Huntington Beach Reads One Book (HB Reads) in partnership with Huntington Beach Union High School District Libraries.

The actor, best known as Sulu on the original television series “Star Trek,” has turned into a social justice activist as he’s grown older. Now 84, he released “They Called Us Enemy,” a graphic autobiographical novel, in 2019.

The book, which was selected by HB Reads as its 2021 Book Selection, tells the story of Takei and his family’s time in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. It was co-written by Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, with art from Harmony Becker.

“We were not the enemy,” Takei said Monday. “We were Americans. I was born right here, as was my mother. My father grew up in the United States, in San Francisco, but he was born in Japan. The government behaved in an absolutely irrational way, and it wasn’t until I became a teenager that my father was able to explain to me why that cruel and irrational imprisonment happened.”

Hundreds of people tuned into the question-and-answer session, held via Zoom and moderated by Huntington Beach resident and communications consultant Jen Cullen Williams. It was also put on as part of Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is celebrated each May.

Takei was 5 years old when then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered people of Japanese descent on the West Coast rounded up and sent to one of 10 “relocation centers.” He and his family were ordered out of their two-bedroom Los Angeles home at gunpoint, he said. They were first sent to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia before being shipped to Arkansas and finally Tule Lake Relocation Center in Northern California, where they stayed before being released in 1946.

He previously published his autobiography “To The Stars” in 1994, but decided to delve deeper into his childhood imprisonment, he said. His family’s story is also loosely covered in the Broadway musical “Allegiance,” which Takei starred in when it debuted in 2015.

“I decided I wanted another way to reach a readership of young people, preteens and teens, because they’re the ones that are going to be the voters of tomorrow and hopefully movers and shakers,” Takei said. “When I was a teenager, I loved comic books. I was addicted to them. At that age, you’re absorbing in information through your pores. I thought that was the way to reach them, as a graphic memoir.”

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