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George Takei Inspires Audience with Life Experiences


Zareena Hussain--The Tech
George Takei answers questions as a small mob of fans surrounds him. Takei spoke in Kresge Auditorium on Monday might at an event entitled, "Beyond Star Trek: An Evening with George Takei."

By Zareena Hussain
Staff Reporter

Looking at the young faces, George Takei, better known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek television series, said, "Those of you that were born after Star Trek was canceled, I see you as living evidence that there is life after cancellation."

MIT students and Boston area residents alike gathered in Kresge Auditorium Monday night to see the writer, actor, and community activist speak at an event entitled, "Beyond Star Trek: An evening with George Takei."

This was the kickoff to Takei's stay as an artist in residence at the Institute from Oct. 20-23.

The evening began by entertaining the audience with a montage of selected scenes from Star Trek featuring George Takei as Mr. Sulu as well as some of his other film work.

Later, the evening moved beyond his involvement with Star Trek to his own experience as an Asian American actor and his imprisonment as a child in the Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Takei credits three of his heroes

Takei introduced himself to the audience as someone different and separate from his Star Trek persona by sharing with the audience the three most influential people in his own life.

Takei first spoke about his father who served as an inspiration to him for his actions in coping with internment in the camps.

"I learned about the importance of keeping a sense of community intact from what my father did behind the outrage of barbed wire fence," he said.

Takei also praised Wayne Collins, an Irish American civil rights attorney who worked to prevent his mother from being deported.

"He didn't have to do it. He was an Irish American," Takei said. "I never met Wayne Collins, but I am who I am because of Wayne Collins."

Lastly, Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, profoundly affected Takei's way of thinking by bringing "substance to a medium like television and [getting] it to succeed," he said. Rodenberry "used the starship Enterprise as a metaphor for starship Earth."

Afterward, Takei fielded questions in a 20-minute question and answer session. Replying to a question about why Germans and Italians were not also placed in the internment camps during World War II, Takei said one of the reasons was that Asian Americans are visually distinct.

"Germans and Italians look like the rest of America," Takei said. Asian Americans are seen not as citizens but as "extraordinarily Americanized foreigners."

Talk enjoyed by students

Many students appreciated Takei's appearance at MIT.

"It's always refreshing to see someone who has made it," said Carleton Tsui G.

"Asian Americans don't really have a lot of role models," said Tani Chen G. Takei serves as an example that an Asian American need not be limited to certain professional fields, such as medicine and law, he said.

One of the driving forces to bringing Takei to MIT was Professor of Linguistics Shigeru Miyagawa, housemaster of East Campus.

Miyagawa worked with Takei on "Star Festival," an interactive novel narrated by Takei and featuring Miyagawa's own life experiences. Miyagawa looks to Takei as one of the few Asian American role models he had during his childhood in Alabama, he said.

"It struck me that he should come to MIT to share his experience," Miyagawa said.

Takei made two additional public appearances. He attended the preview of "Star Festival" on Tuesday, and he also participated in a panel discussion on "Racism in the Arts" on Wednesday.

As an informal part of his visit, Takei visited classes in Foundations of Theater Practice (21M.611), Theater and Cultural Diversity in the United States (21M.621), and Introduction to Japanese Culture (21F.864). He also met with students from East Campus.

Takei's residency was sponsored by the MIT Office of the Arts, Foreign Languages and Literature Section within the School of Humanities and Social Science, and the Graduate School.