Nos Llamaron Enemigo (They Called Us Enemy Spanish Edition) by George Takei (Author), Justin Eisinger (Author), Steven Scott (Author), Harmony Becker (Artist)
I’m so glad that I got a chance to review this graphic novel. It had been on my radar since Jonathan H. Liu talked about it, it was in the New York Time’s best seller list, and it has just won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature.
George Takei was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp when he was 4 years old. This novel gives his personal perspective of the life of a young boy during World War II.
In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. George Takei spent his childhood there, behind barbed wire.
They did so because they thought that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, each Japanese-American countenance harbored a potential enemy. The exact phrase used was, that because they couldn’t fathom what they were thinking behind their impassive faces, they were “non-assimilable.” In Spanish, the word they chose is Inasumible, which has a different definition but conveys the same feeling: one of deep mistrust based on race and cultural generalization.
Does that sound familiar to you? If it does, it is because we are talking a lot about race lately. I think it’s a great decision to present this book in Spanish as well, since the story of Japanese internment camps spawned to all Latin American-Japanese communities as well. Did you know that the American Government also requested other countries to seize all economic assets and confiscate everything the Japanese immigrants had, in order to be imprisoned in the US? I know for a fact that the Bolivian government complied, sending innocent immigrants to North America as part of the collaboration effort. Some of these Bolivian Japanese decided to remain in the United States, some came back, and some returned to Japan, completely penniless.
People like Herbet Nicholson taught that this was unjust, and he helped by bringing books for the children, facing not only backlash but active shooting from people who disagreed with his willingness to set right a wrong.
The focuses of the novel are George’s parents: his mother’s hard choices, and, specially, his father’s faith in democracy. The love for democracy is very present in the TED talk George Takei gave, giving the account that sparked this graphic novel. I think it’s the most valuable lesson behind this account, something I admire of North American laws and litigation system. Wayne Collins and Theodore Thamba are named in the book, and the Korematsu case is also mentioned.
“Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle”. Barack Obama, 2015
This quote ends the book, and it encompasses many things within it: how the Japanese internment camps were a mistake based solely on race and fear; how the faith in democracy and the willingness to talk about different issues made George Takei an activist; and, also, how sometimes the same mistakes can be repeated, over and over again, if we don’t learn the lessons from past injustices.
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Publish Date: June 23, 2020
Dimensions: 6.5 X 0.7 X 8.9 inches | 1.1 pounds
BISAC Categories: Nonfiction – Biography & Memoir Personal Memoirs LGBT
Featured image by Harmony Becker, all images belong to IDW Publishing