George Takei came to Edmonton last week to give a talk as part of a speaker series that our public library (EPL) has been running. The talk itself was primarily a reflection on several chapters of his life, including being sent to a internment camp after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour–this period actually began with his family living in a barnyard horse stall while the camps were being constructed.
He then went on to weave his personal story of challenge and triumph, living most of his life feeling like he had to hide his sexuality, with the larger swaths of American social change, including the eventual recognition of same-sex marriage.
Having said that, he did manage to weave in a several lighter moments of laughter–some of the Q&A also got him into Star Trek trivia, and talking about connecting with people over social media.
Some of the themes were quite timely because the day before George spoke, the Canadian Prime Minister had offered a historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community in Canada.
After the talk was over, I had the good fortune of attending a smaller reception; since the line to speak to him wasn’t too long, I decided that I couldn’t pass up the chance—but what to ask?
As it got closer to my turn, it suddenly dawned on me to ask if he spoke Japanese at all. When I asked my question in English, he responded in Japanese, asking if I could speak Japanese—- when I did, we had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes.
In an interesting bit of serendipity, the woman behind me had also been to Japan and she too took the opportunity to speak with George in Japanese– when it was over, we got to chatting, and her father said “this is so interesting– I’d only ever really heard my daughter’s Japan story, so it was interesting to hear some of yours as well”.
Afterwards, it struck me that there was something quite poetic about his choice of words: “my Japan story”. But it’s true, though, isn’t it? When we learn another language, we really are penning our own ‘______ story’ in the context of that language and culture.
Anyway– a very neat experience for sure!