I am a librarian now, but for the last year and a half I had the opportunity to put my Women’s History degree to use and teach some History 1301 and 1302 classes. One topic I was constantly searching for added readings or movies on was Executive Order 9066, which gave the green light for the forced relocation and imprisonment of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the United States during World War II.
Oh, how I wish I’d had this book for supplementary material!
They Called Us Enemy is co-written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, and gorgeously illustrated by Harmony Becker. It focuses on Takei’s childhood experiences, when his family was sent to live at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas. Later, his parents refused to mark “yes” on a survey declaring that they were wiling to serve in the US armed forces and disavow the Japanese emperor. As “no-nos,” his parents were treated as enemies of the state, and the family was sent to a higher security camp, Tule Lake in California. It was particularly sobering to realize that his parents were about my age when all of this was happening; they lost everything and were forced into an uncertain future with very young children in tow.
The book is beautifully rendered in black and white; I loved all of the different techniques that Harmony Becker used for shading.
So much of the book reflects Takei’s good memories of everything. The narrative jumps back and forth from the present to the past, and he points out that his parents worked as hard as they could to keep the kids happy and make everything as normal as possible. It wasn’t until later, in his teen and early adult years, that the outrage truly hits him. He keeps putting himself in his parents’ shoes, imagining the anger, depression, and fear that his parents — and countless others in the camps — tried to hide from their children.
It’s a timely book. Though it’s mostly set during the WWII years, it also jumps to the present, acknowledging the strides that Japanese Americans have made in the decades since, but also touching on the ways that this country continues to imprison and disenfranchise people; the border crisis is briefly touched on, as is the Muslim ban.
It’s a powerful book that everyone should read.