George Hosato Takei was born 75 years ago, and I’m proud to be one of his diehard fans. Happy 75th birthday, Mr. Sulu! I still remember seeing Hikaru Sulu for the first time on Star Trek. He was so cool, calm and masterful, and he was the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise, taking the command ship of the United Federation of Planets where no one had gone before! But Takei has always forged new paths for himself and for several important human rights causes. He is instantly recognizable worldwide as the pilot of the Constitution Class starship with the registry NCC-1701.
His crucial role as an Asian-American on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise was one of the first regular roles of Asian-Americans on television. He went on to stack up more than 40 feature films and hundreds of television guest-starring roles in his repertoire. Just being the only Asian American “on the bridge of the Enterprise” opened up the mainstream American television market with a hopeful example that beckoned for greater participation by Asian-Americans in larger, more dignified television roles in the 1960s. Up until that time, most Asian-American images portrayed on television were that of buffoons, kung-fu badasses, servants or the enemy.
But Star Trek was only the beginning of his ongoing mission to speak out for human rights. George has a keen, empathetic eye on the Nisei community in the United States that comes from personal experience. When George was five years old, the Takei family was taken away and moved to detention centers in California and Arkansas. He has long spoken out about the human rights violations of the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during World War II. George has been an ardent supporter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Human Rights Campaign. He is a Nisei Honorary Committee member of the Nisei Diploma Project and Former Chairman of the Japanese American National Museum. He stars in Allegiance, whose story about love, family and heroism during the Japanese-American internment will soon grace the New York stage.
George is a longtime outspoken advocate not only for the Asian-American community, but also for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered communities, such as speaking out against California’s Proposition 8. George Takei married longtime partner Brad Altman at the Democracy Forum of the Japanese American National Museum on September 14, 2008. I find that his life-long example of openness, acceptance and tolerance of others, regardless of what they look like (or who they love) is a sparkling example of the mindful, tolerant men and women we want our own kids to become. Oh, my, Hikaru Sulu — you have become so much greater than the cool, calm and masterful Asian American man who piloted the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek. Maybe that’s the other reason they named an asteroid after you. Jolly good show! On this, your birthday, George Takei, please continue to guide our ships on the right course of tolerance. May you live long and prosper, my friend.
[A version of this article was published on GeekDad on this date last year.]