(Left) The Hirano family, left to right, George, Hisa, and Yasbei. Colorado River Relocation Center, Poston, Arizona., 1942-1945 (Courtesy of The Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority).  (Upper right) Puyallup Assembly Center. Aerial photograph in Final report, Japanese evacuation from the West coast, 1942. Washington D.C. (Courtesy of the U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943, pg. 174.).  Pastor Karen Yokota speaks at The PNW Annual Conference Sessions in 2014.

By Pastor Karen Yokota Love | Photos by Jesse N. Love, Chrystal Marner, Wikipedia, et. al.

Note: This week, clergy and laity from the PNWUMC will be sharing letters in the style of Bishop Woodie White celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  Each letter will express some of the ideas, frustrations, questions and hopes from representatives in the PNW.  Follow these letters here at The PNW News Blog!

Dear The Rev. Dr. King,

Since I was a little girl, your words have inspired me. Martin Luther King Jr. was a household name. I am a fourth generation Japanese American and the daughter of parents who are teachers. My parents were very social justice-oriented and instilled in me that I should always be proud of who I am: my heritage, the color of my skin, and my inner spirit. I grew up in a Japanese American church that celebrated our culture — but also embraced a multicultural community of faith. We worked to intentionally engage in dialogue with our brothers and sisters within our immediate neighborhood and to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” You’ve significantly impacted the lives of so many people — you’ve given us hope and inspiration in a time of despair and doubt. And yet, I wonder what you would say now — 53 years later from the moment that you soulfully gave your “I Have a Dream Speech.”

The New Year will be a significant year of promise and it’s prayerfully on my heart and mind. In just a few weeks, February 19 will mark the 75th Anniversary from the time President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of around 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast, including California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona, except for those in government camps. The 120,000 included 90 percent of my own family. In fact, my father’s family was incarcerated at Tule Lake Concentration Camp, one of the 10 concentration camps built-in 1942. My father was born in this camp.

Members of the Camp Harmony Committee gather for a quick photo during The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Sessions in 2014.

We’ve made such progress in the past few decades with the encouragement of the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) to tell their stories of experience, strength, and hope while being incarcerated. We’ve made progress to share and educate people about this area of history that very little know about. Two-thirds of the incarcerated were citizens by birth and placed in American concentration camps because of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and the failure of political leadership. Through education over the decades, there is hope that this act will never happen again.

However, I grit my teeth today more than ever (even though my dentist keeps telling me to stop doing this). I continue to see and experience the growing increase of anti-Asian comments, racial slurs and racist comments across the board. Given the current political and social climate following the Presidential election, hate-based attacks are far more frequent. Perhaps now, more than ever, the Japanese American community must come together and work with all communities of color to educate and to preserve our freedom and rights.

Although there has been no mass incarceration (yet), the three causes of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II have been happening with increasing, frightening frequency to our Muslim brothers and sisters in our country. There is no doubt that we are closer to a repeat of what happened to our community during World War II than our nation has ever been before. It is quite obvious that many have failed to learn from our history.

Indeed, the racial profiling and the rhetoric that “Muslims can’t be trusted” and that “all Muslims are terrorists,” and even that all Muslims in the United States should be rounded up and incarcerated in refugee camps—even a “Muslim registry”—is exactly the same as what happened to my grandparents and my community 75 years ago.

Dr. King, because of that grave injustice inflicted upon the Japanese American community, we have a special responsibility to speak out and fight against such injustices. We must not allow them to happen again, to anyone.

Given all that, we should use this day to honor you to remember what happened to our community, the injustices that happen to different minority groups, people of color, our friends and allies, and to teach others about how it relates to today’s landscape. My hope is that we can continue to encourage people to share their stories without living in fear, to stand together to be in relationship and conversation with one another with the great hope of preventing further injustices being inflicted upon our American Muslim brothers and sisters and other communities.

My hope is that we actually talk to each other, in person, to build genuine relationships. I believe in every critical event, there is an opportunity for God to act creatively and reveal a deeper truth than what we so on the surface of things. God can also turn around critical incidents and seemingly hopeless situations in our lives and reveal light in darkness. We believe in a God of Hope and as the body of Christ, we must rise up and work together to bring forth the kin-dom of God here on Earth.

Peace and blessings,


Karen Yokota Love serves as the associate pastor of Puyallup United Methodist Church.

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