Grace First staff

Here are the Grace First Presbyterian Church's two pastors with a group of interns from 2019. From left, they are Rev. Jonas Hayes, Senior Pastor; Tatiana Navarrette; William Blocker; Vivian Gordiano; Gavin Pua; and Rev. Marion Park.

"It's personal."

That's Associate Pastor Marion Park's response to the shootings in Georgia, where six Asian American women and two others were killed. It's also her response to the hate letter received last week by an elderly Asian American widow living in Seal Beach's Leisure World.

In fact, she said, it sums up her whole ministry at Grace First Presbyterian Church in east Long Beach. Grace First was deliberately formed in 2003 to promote diversity in its congregation. The church with the giant cross at Los Coyotes Diagonal and Studebaker Road was formed by joining Grace Presbyterian in Long Beach and Lakewood Presbyterian Church.

"Grace was predominantly Japanese, while Lakewood was mainly white," Park said of the merger. "Diversity is our heritage, it's who we are.

"We are a welcoming community," she added. "In any way we can, we extend the hand of welcome — which isn't easy in these days of COVID."

Grace First recently unveiled a new logo and redesigned website to further emphasize its diversity, according to Stan DeWitt, the church's minister of music. The website now has pages focusing specifically on ethnicities represented in the congregation.

Park and her parents immigrated to the United States from Korea when she was 9 years old. Her father was a minister, and she attended Princeton Theological Seminary, and has been associate pastor at Grace First since 2002.

And, she said, she's faced discrimination due to her heritage most of that time.

"Any person who looks like me will face discrimination," Park said. "Look at our Japanese Americans' experience with the internment camps. That's going to effect your psyche.

"It's been tough lately," she added. "There's lots of emotion, of rage because of the violence, because of what's being done to our seniors… It's really close to home. My parents live in Georgia now. It's kind of personal."

Last week, a letter arrived at the home of a recently widowed 82-year-old Korean American living in Leisure World, saying the death of her husband "makes it one less Asian to deal with in Leisure World." That case is being investigated by the Seal Beach Police Department.

In Long Beach, there has been no reported hate crime against Asian Americans in the last year, according to Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Karen Owens.

"Our department has not seen an increase in hate crimes in general," Owens wrote in an email. "Hate crimes are categorized based on the suspect’s perceived or actual characteristics of the victim (disability, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.)
 
"We had 18 reported hate crimes in 2020 and have one reported hate crime YTD in 2021, none of which were anti-Asian," she added.
 
Owens said the LBPD has reached out to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to share resources and talk about what to do if experiencing a hate crime. Reports should be made by calling (562) 435-6711 or 9-1-1 for emergencies.
 
Park said that it is her job to address the issue before a crime occurs.
 
"I talk about it when I speak from the pulpit, when I'm teaching classes, anytime," Park said. "It's not just being a pastor. As a person of faith, we need to be on the side of the weak and the vulnerable. (Regarding victims), we need to mention them by name. We need to acknowledge them as a person.
 
"We all come from somewhere, you know?" she added. "Right now, we (Asian Americans) have this sense of being ‘the other.’ That's hard to overcome."
 
Grace First Presbyterian Church is at 3955 N. Studebaker Rd. For more information, go to gracefirst.org.
 
 
 

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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