In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, we present this vintage AFC researcher photo. (And by “vintage,” I mean “prior to the existence of Folklife Today.”) This photo shows the stage, film, and television actor George Takei, best known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek, who visited the AFC Reading Room on April 26, 2012. Takei was on Capitol Hill that day with his husband Brad, and thanks to some wheeling and dealing by AFC’s administrator at the time, Brock Thompson, they came to visit us while they were here.
The Takeis’ visit occurred during my shift on the reference desk, and I asked if George would like to see any items from AFC or Library of Congress collections. He told me he would be interested in any photographs pertaining to the Rohwer Relocation Camp in Arkansas, where he was interned as a child during World War II. We showed him some of the Library’s materials related to Rohwer, including some photos from the Prints and Photographs Division taken at a 1943 gathering at which Japanese American soldiers were invited to dance with the camp’s young women. The Library’s photos were taken at a camp in Mississippi to which Rohwer women were transported for the dance, but Takei remembered a similar event that occurred at Rohwer itself. He was a young child at the time, and was put to bed in another building before the party started, but it was a major event on the camp’s social calendar.
Takei was glad to see the photos after so many years, and told me he would use them as guidance for hairstyles and clothing in Allegiance, a musical about the experience of Japanese Americans in those trying times. (Takei is one of the creators and stars of Allegiance, which premiered in California a few weeks after his visit to AFC.)
As for AFC’s collections, we also showed Takei some of the Veterans History Project’s interviews with Japanese American World War II vets, including that of Norman Ikari, whose brother was interned with Takei and about eight thousand other Japanese Americans. Ikari’s collection is at this link.
The AFC staff was delighted to serve George Takei’s research needs, and to meet an American icon of great grace, wit, and wisdom. (And that voice!) We also appreciated Brad, who expertly managed his husband’s visit. Finally, we are grateful that George allowed us to discuss the details of his visit via our social media channels–as one of the biggest stars of Facebook, the Blogosphere, and the Whole Durn Internet, he understands the importance of spreading the word!