George Takei On His Family’s Internment Camp Experience And How It Inspired Broadway’s ‘Allegiance’ [Interview]
It’s rare that a Broadway play staged in the past can be so reflective of the cultural issues America faces currently, but George Takei’s Allegiance pulls that off effortlessly.
The Broadway play, which brings a fusion of big band Americana music with Japanese influences, is based on George Takei’s childhood. Takei was five-years-old when his family was shipped to an internment camp, caught in the thick after shock of the Pearl Harbor attacks. His parents were raised in America, as was George, but since they looked like enemy number one, they were stripped of their American identity and were treated as a threat by the nation they were so very proud of.
Allegiance tells the story within the internment camp and the oppressive nature that the government posed against its own people. The story focuses on a single family — the Kimuras, as their lives are turned upside down when they are moved out of their home and to a camp. While they’re there their loyalty is put into question along with their patriotism to the United States.
George Takei stars alongside Tony award winner Lea Salonga in this powerful musical that recently hit the stage.
The Star Trek actor sat down in AOL’s studio to tell his personal story and explain why Allegiance was his life’s mission.
How his family history lent a hand in Allegiance:
I was five-years-old at the time the soldiers came to our home to order us out. We were taken to the horse stables because the camps weren’t built yet. That was our temporary assembly center. Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and we Americans of Japanese ancestry look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. Mass war terror, racism and failed political leadership put us into those camps. The failure of political leadership is important right now because it’s the echo of 70 years ago here.
Back then California had an attorney general, the top of the state, and he was a good man, he knew the law, but he was an ambitious politician, and he saw that the single most popular issue was the “Get Rid of The Japs” movement, and he became an outspoken leader of the movement.
On the offensive nature of “weeding out” “trouble makers” of Japanese-Americans in the United States:
The origami flower (in the show) is made out of a loyalty questionnaire, which was an offensive piece of paper. The most offensive one was 28 – which was one sentence that had two conflicting ideas. It asked, “will you swear your loyalty to the United States of America, and will you foreswear your loyalty to the Emperor of Japan.” We’re Americans — and for the government to the assume we have a genetic inborn loyalty to the Emperor was outrageous.
My mother was born in Sacramento and my father was born in San Francisco, and I as a child didn’t have to respond to the questionnaire, but I was born in Los Angeles. If you answered no for the first part, you were saying no to the very same sentence. If you answered yes, then you’re confessing that you had been loyal to the emperor and you were willing to set that aside and pledge your loyalty to the United States. It was offensive.
The relevancy of Allegiance to current prejudices against Muslims:
The Republican campaign, they are mouthing the very same phrases and sentences with slight distinctions for our time that we heard back in the 40s. The broad brush for a character of people — all Syrians are supposed to be terrorists and that’s why we’re not going to accept any of them. That was the same exact way we were categorized. We were ALL the enemy. The more fastidious ones said we were “non-aliens” but we were not described as civilians.
Allegiance is a musical and not a play:
Telling the story of the interment of Japanese-Americans has been the mission of my life — since my 20s. I’ve been on speaking tours throughout the countries, and internationally as well, we founded the Japanese American National Museum to keep that story alive. I wrote an autobiography which I had thoughts of dramatizing. Musical theater has the power of hitting people so profoundly — particularly Japanese-Americans who are particularly rather contained and reticent, music and singing affords that character to externalize that thought musically.
On starting his social media presence for Allegiance:
I had a blog even before that primarily directed towards Sci-Fi geeks and nerds. When we started working on Allegiance, it’s a wonderful medium to build an audience, particularly when we have a subject matter that could be sobering. We had to educate the audience to the history. There’s so many people to this day that still don’t know that chapter of American history. It’s a wonderful way to raise the awareness of that chapter, and then once that level has been reached, we introduced the fact that we have a musical [about] it. By the time we were ready to open we had a whole nation that were enthusiastic about Allegiance.