He’s best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, but he’s also been a long-time, prominent, and outspoken advocate of the Asian American community as well as for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) community.
Takei is going to be in town this weekend for a couple of events coordinated by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii: local screenings of a new documentary film, “442 – Live With Honor, Die with Dignity,” and a keynote address at the JCCH on Sunday titled, “No Shame.”
Takei had a lot to say about both the 442nd film and JCCH event, and shared very strong opinions about the recent controversy surrounding HB444 and how it compared to Proposition 8 in California. Meanwhile, Burt and I had a lot of questions for one of the world’s most famous geeks. We could only broadcast about half of our conversation today on KIPO. But I transcribed our entire interview below, to ensure every word of his wisdom could be enjoyed. So, enjoy!
Burt: George Takei, welcome to Bytemarks Cafe.
George Takei: It’s good to be talking with you.
Ryan: It’s an honor to have you on the show.
Burt: Since this is a science and tech show, we wanted to start off by asking you about the asteroid that’s been named after you. I guess back in 2007, you got an asteroid, 7307 Takei. On our show we usually talk about objects in space, exo-planets, asteroids, and even some named that were named Hawaiian names. But we’ve never had somebody on the show who had an asteroid or any object named after them. What’s it like to be a heavenly body?
George Takei: Yes, I’m a heavenly body now. This was totally unexpected. I got a telephone call about four or five years ago saying I should be expecting a call from Washington D.C. Sure enough, the call came through. It was a scientist from the International Astronomical Union and he told me that he had nominated my name to be considered for naming of an asteroid between Jupiter and Mars. And the International Astronomical Society had accepted that. So the news came totally unexpected out of the clear blue sky just like asteroids do.
Ryan: Obviously you have fans throughout the astronomy community, there is actually a difficult process…
George: Oh yes, there are a lot of Star Trek fans in all the scientific arenas, and certainly in the astronomical society. I feel very honored and very uniquely singled out.
Ryan: Congratulations, and I’m happy to say we’re not in any danger to be struck by 7301 Takei.
Burt: Were there any others characters on Star Trek that got objects named after them?
George Takei: I understand that Gene Roddenberry the man who created Star Trek has an asteroid named after him as well. As a matter of fact, Gene’s ashes are now spinning around in space. His wife sent his ashes to where his vision and his spirit really resides. So he’s up there as well.
Burt: It’s quite a honor to have you on this show. As an Asian American on Star Trek, do you think you’ve had some influence on Asian American kids getting into science?
George Takei: As a matter of fact, I think many young people, not just Asian Americans, decided to go into science to study astronomy, astrophysics and so forth because of the inspiration they got from Star Trek. What I’ve heard most often from Asian American young people is that they for the first time felt proud of an Asian image on television. Up until then, most Asian American images were that of buffoons or servants or the enemy.
Ryan: Or kung fu bad guys. I certainly remember watching the reruns of Star Trek, at one in the morning locally here, and it certainly had an impact. I was proud to be a nerd as a geek and as this radio show proves, it’s something that has continued into adulthood.
George Takei: The nerds and the geeks are going to rule the world. In fact, they are ruling the world now. The people at the heads of Microsoft, Google, are all nerds and geeks, proudly.
Ryan: Watch out. Well, we’re very excited to hear that you’ll be coming out to Hawaii. And we wanted to know a little bit about those events. There are at least a couple coming in to place. What have you got planned?
George Takei: There’s a documentary film that’s been made by a filmmaker from Japan of all places on the heroics of the 442nd, titled “Live with Honor, Die with Dignity.” And I was privileged to be one of those interviewed for that documentary, so that’s going to be opening Friday in Honolulu, and they’ve asked me to be there for the very first screening at 9 a.m. on Friday to share some words and my thoughts about the heroism of the 442nd. I’m there for that. And then on Sunday, midday at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, I’ll be delivering the keynote speech called “No Shame” on the issue of equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people. So it’s a broad coverage of both history and the future.
Ryan: I think it’s fantastic that you’re involved on both of these projects.
George Takei: Well, in Hawaii I think the issue of equality for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people is particularly pertinent because your governor, Linda Lingle, just recently vetoed an civil unions bill. Civil Unions is really second-class marriage, and it’s really a shameful act on her part I think. In California, our California Supreme Court, ruled that equality marriage is a fundamental constitutional right. And some of the more reactionary people put a ballot measure on the ballot in 2008, and it won. This was called Proposition 8, and it won by a sliver of 52 percent, which was challenged. And just earlier this month, Judge Vaughn Walker, ruled similarly to our Supreme Court, it overthrew Proposition 8. And those people that are defending it appealed to the Circuit Court which is the next court up. The interesting here is that the governor of our state Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Attorney General Jerry Brown have both refused to defend Proposition 8. So that’s become a question of whether these people defending Proposition 8 are in a position to appeal to the appellate court. and a decision on that should be coming down in about three weeks. So it’s really a shame your governor had to veto a second-class marriage bill, called civil unions, it really is a retrogressive act on her part.
Ryan: We in Hawaii try to be as progressive as we can, and I assure you we’re certainly watching these issues very closely. Hawaii was one of the earlier testbeds for this; unfortunately we’ve not been as successful as perhaps other areas. I did want to ask you as well about the 442nd event, of course. My father was born in an internment camp and you spent a lot of your childhood in an internment camp as well. And that, I think, is part of the reason why you got involved with this particular project. How do you feel that your time in Tule Lake and the other internment camp shaped you as a person today.
George Takei: Rohwer in Arkansas. It was a defining experience in my life. At that time I was too young to really understand what was going on. But in my teenage years, I became very curious about why we had spent our wartime years behind those barbed wire fences. I studied up on it a lot, I had discussions with my father. My father was an extraordinary man, he was the one that suffered the pain of internment and the loss involved in that the most. And yet he was able to say to me that both the strength and the weakness of American democracy is in the fact that it’s a true people’s democracy, and it can be as great as people can be, and it is as fallible as people are. And when Pearl Harbor was bombed, this country was swept up by war hysteria. And the fallibility of Americans, their inability to draw a distinction between the Soldiers of imperial Japan and American citizens of Japanese ancestry prevailed, and we were summarily rounded up in the most unconstitutional way. There were no charges, no trial, no due process, and we were summarily imprisoned. And how that experience shaped me is that made me an activist on civil rights issues. I was involved in the civil rights movements in the 60s and 70s. I testified for the redress and reparations on the unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese Americans. And the big civil rights issue of our generation today is equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people. So in that sense the internment was a defining experience for me.
Burt: For the event at the Japanese Cultural Center, you’re doing a talk called “Embracing Change.” Can you give a sense as to what you want to convey in that talk?
George Takei: Well, the history of America is the history of making the ideals of democracy truer and more authentic. I was involved in the Civil Rights movement where African Americans were not equally treated. When we were incarcerated in the internment camp in Arkansas my father said he remembered seeing the two water fountains, or the two restrooms, one labeled white, and the other labeled colored. That was the quote-polite-closed-quote term of that time. And yes the water that came out of those two water fountains were the same, they quenched the thirst in the same way, but the refreshment that you got was totally different. It was segregation, it was there by prejudice and discrimination. And that’s why I say your civil union is second class. You know, they had separate but equal education. And that’s what a CU is, it’s separate but equal. It’s still not the same. Why can’t they use the word marriage, because that’s what it is. And she couldn’t even accept that. It’s really a shameful one. And I know all this is going to change because the changes that democracy is going through. Our democracy is a dynamic democracy, and from the time of slavery to today, we have changed. And I know we will change when we get final equality for the LGBT community.
Ryan: I think It’ll be a difficult journey but hopefully and most certainly inevitable. We’re almost out of time but I did want to ask you one quick and perhaps silly question. Your connection to Hawaii goes way back. In the early 60s you were on “Hawaiian Eye,” and you also had a guest shot on the original “Hawaii Five-0” in the 1970s. Now they’re filming here in Hawaii a CBS reboot of that show. I’m wondering if you’re looking forward to it and if they’ve given you a call yet.
George Takei: Well they’ve got some interesting actors, and a wonderful actor in Daniel Dae Kim. He did Shakespeare here in Los Angeles, he played Prospero in The Tempest, and he was wonderful in it, and of course he’s been a regular presence in LOST. And so I’m looking forward to that series. I’m looking forward ultimately, though, for a series where an Asian American is the lead. There have been many popular cops and robber TV series localed in Hawaii. But it’s always had a white leading man. And Asians were like third banana, fourth bananas, on those series. But the fact is, in Hawaii, Asians are, if not the majority, almost the majority. And the Asians are the movers and shakers. Asians have been governor, although you have a Caucasian woman as a governor now. Asians are still senators, political leaders, police chiefs, police men, gang lords. And yet the mover and shaker of TV crime cops and robber shows are always white. So when we finally see the reality of Hawaii reflected with an Asian American in the lead on a Hawaii-localed series, that’s when I’ll really stand up and applaud.
Ryan: Well, I’ll be with you there. Perhaps they’ll cast you as the governor.
Burt: I enjoyed the role you played in “Heroes,” and look forward to your guest appearance on Big Bang Theory.
Ryan: But in any case, George Takei is a well known actor and activitst with a wonderful voice. He’ll be in Honolulu for a couple of events, on the 10th of September, that’s a Friday, he’ll be doing a presentation with a film, “442nd: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity,” at the Consolidated Ward Theaters. Then two days later, on the 12th of September at the Manoa Grand Ballroom of the Japanese Cultural Center, he’ll be giving a presentation titled “Embracing Change.”
Burt: Thanks george for joining us. It’s been a pleasure.
George Takei: It’s been mine. Live long and prosper.
Ryan: Thank you very much.
The documentary film “442: Live With Honor, Die With Dignity” will begin screening at Ward Stadium 16 on Friday. Check listings for showtimes. George Takei’s keynote, “No Shame,” will be presented at the Manoa Grand Ballroom at JCCH on Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.