Upstander Speaker Series features George Takei at SMU

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George Takei speaks at SMU as part of Upstander speaker Series hosted by Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Embrey Human Rights Program Photo credit: Allison Plake

Beloved actor, author and activist George Takei spoke to a packed house at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 2 as part of the Upstander Speaker Series hosted by the Dallas Holocaust Museum and SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

Dallas Holocaust Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins and Dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dr. Thomas DiPiero gave a thoughtful welcome and introduction to Takei. Director of Embrey Human Rights Program Dr. Rick Halperin was scheduled to deliver the introduction but was unable to attend.

“In the face of suffering we must decide if we will raise our voice and advocate for change or if we will remain silent and become complicit,” DiPiero said in his opening remarks. “George Takei has chosen to raise his voice.”

As Takei walked out on stage, he opened with his famous one-liner “Oh my,” as the crowd roared and applauded. Takei is famous for his role as Hikaru Sulu, in the television series “Star Trek.”

The lecture turned somber as Takei began to reminisce about his childhood experiences of living inside Camp Rohwer, a Japanese-American internment camp in Arkansas.

“This was a grotesquely abnormal time,” Takei said. “There is an irony in liberty and justice for all.”

Takei remarked on his vivid memories of the day he and his family were stripped from their Los Angeles home in April of 1942 when he was just five years old.

“The terrorizing sounds of when they ordered us out of our home are seared in my memory,” Takei said.

Takei was quick to acknowledge parallels between President Donald Trump’s recent executive order implementing a ‘Muslim ban’ on seven countries and that of Executive Order 9066, which was set in place by President Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“We were imprisoned in our homes,” Takei said. “Our funds were frozen and we were in a financial straitjacket.”

A strong supporter of LGBTQ rights, Takei shared with the audience his personal struggle with being gay while trying to maintain an acting career.

Prior to speaking at SMU, Takei was a guest on “Think, hosted by Krys Boyd of KERA where he poignantly shared his perspective on living life as a closeted gay man.

“There was this constant needle-prick anxiety that I would be exposed,” Takei said. “I hid who I really was in my acting career.”

His lecture ran over by 20 minutes, but that did not faze the crowd as they hung on to every word.

“When I heard the story of his family being interned by the U.S. government, I immediately thought back to what I heard on my trip to Poland and how we were not much better than the people we were fighting,” said Chance Wilhite, a former SMU student who travelled with the Embrey Human Rights Program in December 2016.

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