Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? Maybe so, but that’s a whole differerent galaxy far, far away from the United Federation of Planets. We’re talking Star Trek – the exciting and mostly diplomatic rendition of the future made famous by names like Kirk, Spock, and Picard. But don’t forget that guy who actually drove the Starship Enterprise, Hikaru Sulu. You know, the guy played by George Takei and currently, John Cho. Yeah that guy. What’s so special about him? Bet you didn’t know that he’s a Japanese Pilipino American.
Creator Gene Roddenberry had a vision of the future that was diverse; where opportunities were open to all types of races, cultures, and species. It portrayed what humanity might develop into if we only learned from the lessons of our past. Considering the original series took off (no pun intended) in the 1960’s, this was an extraordinary vision. Combining Asians, Russians, African Americans, Half-Vulcan Half-Human, Women, and Whites all on the same ship and television show made quite the impact during this heavily racist, sexist, and communist-fearing time in America’s history. Roddenberry’s intention was to create a progressive, almost radical show of the emerging sexualized counter-culture of the youth movement.
Hikaru Sulu was no exception. According to George Takei, Roddenberry wanted the character to represent all of Asia despite the violence and wars going on in that part of the world. Sulu’s character was born in San Francisco to Japanese and Pilipino parents. That would make him Japanese Pilipino American, but if you wanted to be more “Trek” specific he would be a “Federation Citizen of Japanese and Pilipino descent.” Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Rodenberry named Hikaru Sulu after the Sulu Sea, a large body of water in the southwestern area of the Philippines. Either way, Sulu embodies the strong presence of Asian Pacific Islanders in an optimistic view of the future. Who else could drive a gigantic spaceship a billion times the speed of light?
Perhaps it’s appropriate that we’re celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. While we can’t technically celebrate Hikaru Sulu as part of our heritage, it’s a reminder that people like him in the future will be celebrating our impact on them today. What will you do to contribute to our future’s heritage?