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Review: They Called Us Enemy

4/5 stars

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker (2019)

In this graphic novel, actor and social activist George Takei (known for his role as Sulu in the original Star Trek series) paints an emotional picture of his four years living in a Japanese internment camp from 1942-46.


In 1942 Takei was four years old. In February of that year, just two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an order that deemed every person in the U.S. of Japanese descent an "enemy of the state." As such, 127,000 Japanese-Americans, most of whom were living on the west coast, were relocated to one of ten internment camps. Takei recalls the day they came for his family (parents, brother, and baby sister), ordering them to pack up whatever they could carry and board a train. The family was first taken to a "converted" horse stables to live, before being sent to a camp in a swampland area of Arkansas, and then another camp in California.


Most striking to me was the fact that Takei has fond memories of that time - as a young boy, he didn't always understand what was happening, or his parents' feelings of fear and anxiety. Instead, he and his brother did what little kids do - they found things to play with, ran around with other kids their age, marveled at their first site of snow, etc. And while Takei often felt like the family was on an adventure, he also recalls the pain and sadness of losing everything, and the difficulties of living in the camps.


I knew about the internment camps, but learned a lot more about the way they came about, what they were like to live in, and the difficult choices the internees were faced with. Takei also compares his experiences with more current conditions of immigrant families being caged at the border. I haven't read a lot of graphic novels, but I've enjoyed the ones I have read (like Persepolis). This book is a quick read, because it is, of course, a lot of illustrations, but also poignant and thoughtful.

UP NEXT: Continuing to read the Shades of Magic series, but also re-reading all of the Visual Studies Workshop's In This Moment chapbooks, so I may write about those!


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