Pitt International Week: George Takei

Post by Mara Wearden, ASC Student Ambassador Intern

“Star Trek is about acceptance, and the strength of the Starship Enterprise is that it embraces diversity in all its forms.” – George Takei

Born in 1937, Japanese-American actor, director, author, and activist, George Takei is a household name.  Many may know him from his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, but many others, of the younger generations, may know him from his social media presence.  As of February 2017, this 80-year-old’s Facebook page, on which he frequently shares photos with original humorous commentary, has over 10 million likes!

The University of Pittsburgh was fortunate enough to host George Takei on Tuesday, October 17, as a part of the university’s International Week.  Soldiers and Sailors Hall was packed, full of Pitt students, faculty, staff, families, and members of the Pittsburgh community, eager to hear Mr. Takei speak.  The event commenced with opening remarks from UCIS Director Dr. Ariel Armony, as he spoke about the importance of International Week and this year’s theme of “Displacement”, whether that be out-of-country displacement, or domestic displacement.

Mr. Takei then took the stage to talk about his own experience with domestic displacement.  When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Takei was just shy of five-years-old.  His Japanese-American family, though all born in the United States, were taken by armed soldiers and forced to into an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, where they lived until the war ended.  Takei talked about his vivid memories of his time in the internment camp, and then his anger and resentment towards the US government after being released.  As he matured into a young adult, he struggled with the concept of the Pledge of Allegiance’s final phrase “with liberty and justice for all”, knowing that his family received neither liberty nor justice.  “It was an egregious violation of the American Constitution.  We were innocent American citizens, and we were imprisoned simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.  It shows us just how fragile our Constitution is.”  While George struggled with these concepts, his father continuously reminded him that the beauty and flaw of democracy is that it is run by the people.  All people make mistakes, and for democracy to work, one has to believe in the general good of people, and that with time and activism, those mistakes will be resolved.

As Takei began his acting career, he was continuously faced with the internal conflict of coming out as gay in the Hollywood community.  Ultimately, Takei took his father’s advice, and realized that if people in a democracy do not stand up and fight for things that they believe are not just, then nothing will ever change.

Today, Takei is married to his husband of 9 years, Brad Altman, and lives in Los Angeles, where he has been deemed the “funniest guy on Facebook”.  Not only are his social media posts humorous, they also promote political activism and the standing up for what you believe in.  George says it best that “Our democracy is dependent on people who passionately cherish the ideals of a democracy.  Every man is created equal with an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s a wonderful idea, [but] it takes people who cherish that idea to be actively involved in the process.”

Thank you Mr. Takei for being an incredible part of Pitt’s International Week 2017!