They Called Us Enemy by George Takai, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker, 208 pp, RL 5
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei,
Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott
illustrated by Harmony Becker
Purchased for my school library with grant funding
They Called Us Enemy is a stunning graphic memoir that is also an intensive look at a time in American history that is often overshadowed. Takei, an actor, author and social activist, tells the story of his childhood years spent in internment camps, maintaining the perspective of a young child who sometimes viewed this upheaval as an adventure while also informing readers of the inhumanities, brutalities, and degradations experienced by people, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, considered incapable of loyalty. Takei paints a poignant picture of his father and his tireless efforts to protect his family and also to help all the prisoners in Camp Rohwer, the easternmost of the ten relocations camps opened after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February of 1942. Takei also creates a moving tribute to his mother, born in Sacramento but sent to school in Japan to avoid school segregation, and her efforts to shelter her children and normalize the upheaval, racism and danger that they faced daily. In one especially sweet scene, Fumiko reveals that she has smuggled her sewing machine into camp with her so that she can make new clothes for her growing children.
They Called Us Enemy holds up heroes like Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker missionary who, despite death threats and being shot at, delivered books to camps in California, Utah, Idaho and New Mexico. Part of the Tule Lake Defense Committee, Takei's mother benefitted from the work of another hero, ACLU lawyer Wayne Collins who fought to keep prisoners who renounced their citizenship - believing this would protect their families - from being deported. Writing about the loyalty questionnaire that prisoners were forced to fill out, specifically questions 27 and 28, a questionnaire that caused the Takeis to be moved to a "maximum-security segregation camp for disloyals," Takei shares the history of the segregated "all-nissei" soldiers of the 442nd regimental combat team and their rescue of 211 men in the mountains of France on October 26, 1944. As Takei takes his story into the present day, he continues to include events that stem from Executive Order 9066, including the honoring the men of the 422nd with Congressional Medals of Honor, and reparations for survivors of the prison camps, with Takei used his $20,000 to help start the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. However, and sadly for our nation, he ends with the Supreme Court Ruling of June 26, 2018 that finally overturned the precent Korematsu v. United States (the shameful 1944 ruling that allowed the the forcible internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII) which came as the court (with Justice Sotomayor dissenting, noting similarities between the two cases) voted to uphold Trump's travel ban on citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries. Panels show immigrant children, separated from their parents, along with immigrants being denied entry into the United States.
They Called Us Enemy is a potent, powerful look at a dark time in American history, made more so by Takei's personal experience as a child and the social activism that has guided his adult life.