Friday, May 15, 2009

Quote of the Day: 5/15/2009

In honor of the New Star Trek movie, here is a LONG quote from George Takei's autobiography on the meaning of citizenship in America:

[George Takei and his family were interned in camps as were many Japanese and Japanese Americans in World War II. The following conversation took place many years later between Takei and his father, on his father's decision to apply for American citizenship]

"I didn't mean to interrupt him, but Daddy noticed me watching. He smiled, took off his glasses, and pinched the tension strain on the bridge of his nose. He gestured to a chair, so I sat down. "You look like you have something on your mind," he said. I knew it was late and he was tired, but I had to ask him what citizenship meant. This is how I remember his reply.

Daddy explained that citizenship is to be a member of a country or a city or a community; but more than that, to be a citizen is to subscribe to a set of values. When I asked why he wanted to be a member of this country when he didn't have to, he answered, "Citizenship is a choice. Some people are born with it but never do anything about it. That's not real citizenship. That's only paper status. You have to consciously decide to give it meaning. Your mama felt so strongly about her citizenship and what it stood for that when it was violated, she acted [renounced her citizenship]. She made her citizenship meaningful and made a strong statement. And because she values it, she's fighting hard to get her citizenship back.

"For me, there was a great struggle to make my citizenship possible, by people who wanted to give me that choice, by people who believe in America's best ideals. America is where I've lived most of my life. You kids are Americans. My future is here - in this country. Now that I have the choice, my decision is to become an American citizen."

"But America has treated us so badly," I persisted. "There's no justice in this country. What made you decide to become a citizen of a country like this?" Daddy closed his book and pondered. "America is a strange country," he began. "Despite everything, it's still a nation of ideals. Yes, justice here is neither blind nor fair. It only reflects the society. But this is an open society where people who want to can become a part of it. The system here is called participatory democracy, where the important thing is to participate. If people like me aren't willing to take a chance and participate, America stays that much farther from its ideals... My choice is to help America be what it claims it is."

That night, as I listened to Daddy's fatigued but resolute voice, my understanding of the meaning of American citizenship became as solid as the book lying on his desk. By the light of the lamp shining on that well-used American history book, America and its ideals were eloquently explained to me by an immigrant, a wartime "enemy alien," a concentration camp internee, the husband of a renunciant of her American citizenship -- my father."

George Takei, To the Stars: The autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu. NY: Pocket Books, 1994, p. 107-8.

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