When it comes to how the world treats people of color, every country has a long resume of sins that they’d rather hide. America, most of all has a list that it likes to downplay no matter how serious the crime.
There are the crimes done to our own citizens, starting with the country’s original peoples, the Native Americans, and their eradication through the establishment of reservations and the Trail Of Tears. What is and still is one of the worst acts by the United States was the establishment of the Japanese Internment camps. Scars of that time stay with us even more now as we repeat the sins of the past with modern-day detainment camps holding refugees. George Takei, with a supremely talented team of contributors, has put together a penetrating narrative of that time and his experiences in They Called Us Enemy.
We meet George and his brother, as they are awakened by their father to get dressed. Soldiers soon show, rattling Executive Order 9066, sending thousands of Japanese Americans into internment camps. The heartbreak that comes across his mother’ face, becomes a memory of that day that he will never forget. Takei gives us his family history, how his parents met, and the discrimination they faced soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, similar to the harassment many Muslim Americans faced after 9/11. As after the order was executed, many Japanese American families were forced to sell many of their possessions for pennies on the dollar, as their properties were seized and bank accounts frozen leaving many of them still destitute.
Takei’s family were sent to a converted racetrack in Santa Anita, California, where the smell of manure still permeated the stalls. Eventually, his family would be moved another internment site, Camp Rowher, in Arkansas, far from everything his family knew and loved. He would get to know the other families that lived in his block of the camp, all from different backgrounds, jobs, and situations, but all were Japanese Americans. As their block needed a leader, his father stepped up, eventually finding common ground amongst the different leaders on the camp.
In January of 1943, their loyalty was challenged, as questionnaires were circulated, leaving many enraged. While some joined the Army with the 442nd Battalion, others were conscientious objectors and sent to Leavenworth. Due to his parents’ answers to the questionnaire, they were relocated to an even harsher internment camp in Tule Lake, California. Tensions between the guards and the internees increased daily.
The graphic novel explores his memories of these times and the impact upon not only himself, but the hate he witnesses, and the discovery of his identity.
Overall, the graphic novel is a sobering and relatable memoir of an American family, and the tragedy Japanese Americans faced during that time. The story by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott is heartfelt, melancholic, and true to life. The art by Harmony Becker is gorgeous. Altogether, a story you will not soon forget nor should ever.
Story: George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott
Art: Harmony Becker
Story: 10 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.7 Recommendation: Buy