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CMYK Goodreads Reviews

They Called Us EnemyThey Called Us Enemy by George Takei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hello avid readers,

Continuing our theme of injustices in America, this month’s book dates us back to 1941 during World War II. George Takei tells a mostly autobiographical accounting of Japanese internment in the United States in the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. In response, out of fear, then President Roosevelt signed order 9066 which indirectly labeled all Japanese in America, whether they were citizens or not, enemy aliens. Several detention camps were established stretching from Arkansas west of the Mississippi river all the way to California. Eventually, George’s family, along with 120,000 other people of Japanese descent would be detained unconstitutionally in these camps. George was only five when his family was forced out of their home, and nine when the camp he then found himself in closed and his family was ousted unceremoniously back out into the world with nothing more than a one way bus ticket for each of them.

I found it surprising that, for George, the time in camp wasn’t altogether unpleasant. From his child’s innocent perspective they were at first going on vacation. He enjoyed the rides on the train they took and his parents made every effort to preserve their children’s innocence in the face of such hardship as most of us have never experienced. During the winter they enjoyed snow for the first time in the easternmost detention camp. Santa visited them, and even though George recognized the fake Japanese santa as not being the real true santa he had seen at the mall, he didn’t spoil the event for his brother or the other children in camp.

George’s fathers’ story is one of dedication, perseverance, and forgiveness. He works hard to insulate his family from as much of the anguish as he can, bearing the burden himself as much as possible. He finds ways to contribute by becoming block manager in each camp in which they reside. After their imprisonment ends he talks to George of the good works President Roosevelt accomplished despite his obvious missteps at which the Takei family suffered directly. Personally I’m not sure his actions are easily forgiven. The government did attempt reparations however mild in the form of $20,000 sent to each of the surviving 60,000 detainees some 50 years later. Unfortunately George’s father didn’t live to see the country apologize, but George seemed to accept it wholeheartedly.

This book hinges on the themes of survival in the face of adversity, the tenacity of innocence, and the power of love both familial and tribal. The Japanese survived years of hardship by banding together and uplifting one another despite their harsh circumstances. Several times when the Takei family is faced with an utterly devastating decision they say they’ll do what’s best for their family. I admire that, his father was almost always level headed and that kept his family grounded.

There are things in this story that weren’t taught in US history class. We tend to gloss over or completely omit things that reflect negatively on ourselves. George himself could find nothing of his childhood incarceration when he was a teenager looking for more information. He had to rely on his father’s accounts for much of what he had endured. This story is a must read. It’s relevance reaches forward through the decades to this very moment in our current events. A law recently overturned by the Supreme court allowed the current president to detain Mexican immigrants and their children, called Dreamers. To think that the same mistakes that were made almost 80 years ago are being repeated now in our modern age is heinous. This book resonates with anyone who has ever been persecuted for any reason. To anyone who is living in fear of their rights being violated or stripped away I say read this book and have hope.


View all of Jonathan's reviews at MCPL Goodreads

More to Explore

Begin to explore more on this topic with the resources mentioned in episode 2 of the CMYK@MCPL podcast.

Behind the Fence Wire

Lewis, K. (2017). “Behind the Fence Wire.” Storyworks24(6), 4.

Abstract:  “The article presents an overview of the quality of life of 11-year-old Japanese American boy William Hiroshi Shishima inside the prison camp during World War II. The topics discussed include the decision of the American government to send thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps due to belief that they are threats to the country and the quality of lives that the said families had inside the camps.”

This article is available through the Explora database at Michigan City Public Library. Log in with your library card number to access the article through Explora.

Explore more of the databases available on our website at https://www.mclib.org/teens/homework-resources/.

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