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My father told me, “Don’t do anything that would bring shame to the family.” I was always mindful of that. When I told him I wanted to pursue a career as an actor, my father said, “Look at what you see on television at the movies, is that what you want to be doing? Do you want to make a life out of that?” And I said, “Daddy, I’m going to change it.”

It’s that image that created the perception that made it easier for the government to incarcerate a whole group of people. At that time, in comic books and radio dramas, we were depicted as cutthroat and coldhearted and cruel—unfeeling—or we were wily or suspicious or the buffoon. That was the general perception of Japanese Americans. We weren’t seen as Americans. If someone spoke without an accent, we were exotically Americanized foreigners.

My father knew the importance of the image of Asians in the media and how that shapes perceptions. We were complicit in it at that time: We went out there and rented our faces out and played cruel Japanese soldiers or bumbling Chinese waiters.


George Takei in an interview with Mother Jones discussing how media representation impacted cultural perceptions of Asian Americans in the United States during World War II, fueling racist attitudes that lead to the Japanese American internment.

Takei is premiering Allegiance: A New American Musical, at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego this month.  The show tells the story of a Japanese American family that experiences incarceration in a concentration camp in Wyoming during World War II, and also co-stars Lea Salonga and Telly Leung.

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