George’s father was born in Yamanashi, Japan, and immigrated to the US when he was around 10 years old. His mother was born in California after her parents emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan. In 1942, shortly before George turned 5 years old, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. As a result, George and his family — along with roughly 120,000 Japanese people (most of whom were born in the US) — were forcibly sent to a Japanese incarceration camp.
Before War World II began, George’s maternal grandparents returned to Hiroshima with his mother’s younger siblings. Though his grandparents survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, his aunt and her 5-year-old son were killed. After the war ended, George and his family were released from the camp and ended up living on Skid Row in Los Angeles for five years.
“Our bank accounts were taken, our home was taken, our business was gone, and the only place where we could find housing was on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, which to us kids — I mean, I was 8 by then — was as traumatic as the day that the soldiers came and took us away,” George told CBC.
In 1960, George earned his bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and a few years later, he was cast as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. When talking about his success as an actor and platform, George said, “It’s my responsibility, as an American who went through and was shaped by my childhood incarceration, to do what I can to bring our democracy closer to the ideals that it holds dear.”