By George…

As Chizu Omori notes in her column (on page 9), the Japanese American wartime concentration camp experience has in fact been in the mainstream news for much of the year, most notably through the Nov. 8 Broadway debut of actor and activist George Takei’s “Allegiance.” The musical presents a fictionalized account of Takei’s family incarceration experience in Rohwer, Ark. and Tule Lake, Calif.

Omori credits Takei’s musical for introducing the wartime incarceration story to a “wide, young audience.” Many Asian Americans have taken quasi-pilgrimages to Broadway to embrace the rarity of an Asian American-oriented musical, often posting photos of them and Takei on social media.

Indeed, for years now, Takei, who is known for playing Mr. Sulu on the “Star Trek” TV series and films, has used his celebrity status to speak out about against racism and raise awareness of the mass violation of Japanese Americans’ constitutional rights.

Earlier in the year, Takei helped halt the auctioning of hundreds of artifacts made by prisoners of the wartime camps. The New Jersey-based Rago Arts and Auctions Center’s auction was called off at the last-minute, following a nationwide grassroots campaign by Japanese Americans. The ad hoc committee’s efforts, which included a widespread social media campaign, spurred national media coverage. Takei stepped in to serve as an intermediary between the auction house and the Japanese American community, and ultimately helped the Japanese American National Museum acquire the artifacts, although the process has been disputed.

Whether it’s through his 9.3-plus million followers on Facebook, or 1.78 million followers on Twitter, Takei has become a social media phenomenon — able to reach the masses in an unprecedented fashion for an Asian American. The recently-released film on his life, “To Be Takei,” and “Allegiance” — as well as his appearances on Howard Stern’s radio program — have catapulted him to unprecedented visibility.

A tragedy of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 is that the $50 million education fund — designed to educate the public on the lessons of our wartime incarceration — had dwindled down to $5 million due to an unexpected rise in redress claimants. However, one can argue that Takei has helped to fill in some of that void, using his voice and experience to educate the country, if not the world, about the dangers of the deprivation of civil liberties in the face of war hysteria, racial prejudice and failure of political leadership.

Along with Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA), Takei lends authenticity when speaking about the wartime concentration camp experience, both having been imprisoned as children. For his undying efforts to edify an anxious nation in uncertain times, we are proud to name George Takei as our “Nikkei of the Year.”

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