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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei | Thoughts

 Published in: 2019   ||   Format: ebook   ||   Location: US

One line review: Decades before George Takei would grace our screens as the very capable Sulu, his family was one of several thousands to be interned in a camp right after the Pearl Harbor bombing.

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George Takei is best known for his portrayal of Sulu in The Original Series of Star Trek. However he has a different (real-life) story to share in They Called Us Enemy. On December 7, 1941, when he was four years old, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and that set in motion a series of events, many of which were going to directly impact him and his family. A few months later, President Roosevelt issued an executive order, giving regional military commanders the right to designate military areas from which any or all persons could be excluded. This order was used primarily along the West Coast states to forcibly remove persons of Japanese origin from their homes and move them to internment camps. And so, George's parents had to leave with him and his siblings, and start their many-day journey to a camp in Arkansas, where they meet several hundred other Japanese American families and try to forge a decent life. 

Reading a book like this at a time when anti-Asian American feelings are running high feels very haunting. It makes you feel that nothing has changed, despite the passage of time, despite the many lessons to learn from these historic events. I guess things are not "that bad" today, at least no one is getting interned. But we know very well from the past four years that the US has barred entry to people based on their place of origin, that people are being targeted disproportionately by law enforcement by virtue of the color of their skin, and that people are having their voting rights questioned based on their political leanings and financial situation. 

In this book, George Takei talks about the many sacrifices that his family made and everything they lost due to the internment. But he makes it clear that many Japanese American families suffered similar to his family. I've often asked what it means to be American - is it the color of your skin? is it the way you speak? your knowledge of American History? the first to settle here? the second or the third? Or is it just a piece of paper? Takei tries to explore these questions in this book and it's clear that this is a painful exercise because there are many out there saying loudly that he and his family are not welcome here. 

Ironically, when things reach a stage that they are able to leave, even that turns out to be a difficult decision to make because it's been made clear many times that it is not "safe" for Japanese Americans outside the camps. Still, this departure does not come easily. Initially, they are expected to swear their allegiance to the US government - hinting at an assumption that they were not even loyal to begin with. Some people responded with answering 'No', not because they weren't loyal but because they didn't think it was a just question. Takei's parents were in this category and as a result, were moved to a higher security prison.

As with books like Maus, Persepolis, March, The Best We Could Do, and Boxers and Saints, war and struggle make for a very poignant and moving graphic book. Seeing the events of this book from the perspective of the then-four year old shows their innocence against the worries that burden the adults. While a good part of the book is focused on Takei's family's experiences in camp, he provides a thorough history lesson as to how things got to where they did. What's astonishing is that it is years before any kind of apology is issued. Takei does not stop with the Japanese internment and its immediate repercussions - he spans all the way to the past few years (ICE detention centers, travel bans on Muslims, etc). I couldn't help thinking that if this book were written post-pandemic, the recent Asian American hate would have been featured as well, and we'd be back right at square zero, having never learned from history.