Comics History

Read They Called Us Enemy

Read They Called Us Enemy

A graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself.

Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

Part memoir, part history, part tribute to his father — I think the storytelling approach worked well, using the personal and individual to tell the greater story, and tie this piece of history together to the present. George Takei credits his father with guiding him into advocacy, which has also been powerful. Things were even worse than I realized — we read a book about Manzanar in elementary school but I think I was too young to totally understand, and we glossed over Japanese internment later in school. It’s helpful to have the pieces assembled in a story to follow along the timeline and explain how people reacted to different things. A powerful story to read now, when fear of “the other” has surged out of the shadows. I really liked the art style and use of halftone shading.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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