Daughter of WWII Concentration Camp Detainee Becomes First Asian American Female Episcopal Bishop

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A 61-year-old woman, whose family suffered during World War II due to their Japanese ancestry, became the first Asian American woman consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church earlier this year. 

Historic ordination: Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama, ordained as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon on Jan. 30 in Portland, was elected out of four candidates during an online convention, according to Oregon Live.

  • A graduate of the University of Oregon, Akiyama once considered pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology but was eventually drawn to the priesthood.
  • She graduated from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif. In 1989, she became the first Japanese American woman in the Episcopal church to be ordained to the priesthood.
  • Akiyama previously served as the vicar at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Kapaau, Hawaii, and dean of Waiolaihui’ia School for Formation.
  • The new bishop acknowledged that her consecration came at a critical time, saying she intends to seek unity through “hearty and heartfelt conversations where we listen to each other.”

A bitter past: Akiyama grew up fully aware of what her father and grandparents went through after they were imprisoned in a concentration camp in Idaho following an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942.

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  • Roughly 110,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and forced into concentration camps.
  • During their incarceration, the family’s home and orchard in Hood River, Ore., were reportedly looted by neighbors.
  • Akiyama’s family were only able to start rebuilding their lives upon their release from the prison camp.
  • As a child, Akiyama would experience racial prejudice in elementary school from boys who yelled racist language at her and friends who did not invite her to birthday parties, reported Nichi Bei.
  • Akiyama’s past gave her a unique perspective on approaching her role as bishop: become a “place and voice” for the marginalized.

Featured Image via 11th Bishop of Oregon Search and Transition (left), Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Portland (right)

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