After visiting with University of California, Santa Barbara students at the MultiCultural Center for a talk directed by Asian-American Studies Professor Lisa Park, Star Trek star and savvy septuagenarian George Takei took the stage at the Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara as a part of the university’s Arts & Lectures series. There, he presented his show Where No Story Has Gone Before, which led listeners through Takei’s personal history as a Japanese-American and concluded with a call for activism in today’s charged political climate.
A natural orator, Takei opened the night with his signature, suave exclamation of, “Oh myyy,” which instantly had segments of the audience on their feet with applause. While many know him from his groundbreaking role as Hikaru Sulu in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek television series, his role as helmsman took a backseat to his role as an activist and American citizen who endured some of the most turbulent times in our country’s history.
Takei’s story began with recollections of his childhood when, at five years old, he and his family were held at gunpoint and forced into internment as a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. February 19th is the Day of Remembrance for all those Japanese Americans wrongfully imprisoned in internment camps during World War II, and Takei made certain to highlight that fact in his speech.
After four years of internment with his family, Takei recounted their move to the barrio in East Los Angeles where “the best enchiladas and tacos in all of L.A. were made by my mother, Mrs. Takei.” In his teenage years Takei realized his desire to fight for democracy. He detailed his involvement with volunteer campaigns, many of which didn’t turn out as he had hoped.
“In a people’s democracy,” he insisted, “you never give up.”
Takei’s activism moved through the Civil Rights era, the Cold War, and Vietnam War periods all while beginning his acting career. He joked that the real beginning of his life as an actor was as a young adult hiding his homosexuality from his peers. Takei recalled a brief meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., and after shaking the man’s hand, his own hand “did not get washed for three days.”
Bringing his life story to our present day, he spoke of the Broadway musical Allegiance that he helped to create, as well as his current activism against the Trump administration. Takei believes we are always making progress as a society, even if it’s a slow progress, so long as we do not give up.
“The optimists will get things done,” Takei said. “They find the possibility to make things better. If you’re a pessimist, you’ve already lost.”
As his personal history concluded, Takei gracefully answered a series of audience questions both about his own story and his work on Star Trek. He spoke with good humor and remained to sign copies of his books following the talk. A testament to his impact both on- and off-screen, the massive Arlington audience gave Takei a standing ovation at the end of the evening. As is clear from his words and the response received, his legacy inspiring others through activism will live long and prosper.