Ethnic observance kickoff highlights past, looks to future
May 9, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 9, 2013) -- Not a seat was available at the post exchange May 3 during the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month kickoff event where more than 350 people from many nationalities could be seen eating and conversing together while volunteers performed traditional dances and demonstrations.
The day celebrated the cultures, traditions and histories of Asian Americans and the Pacific Islanders in America who have helped defend and develop the United States, said Fort Rucker's garrison commander, Col. Stuart J. McRae.
"For decades, America's story has been tied to the Pacific. Generations of people have crossed the ocean seeking better lives and opportunities, weaving their rich heritage into our cultural tapestry. We want to honor and acknowledge the significant sacrifices and contributions made by AAPI among our ranks," he said.
There was a traditional Okinawa drum show, Hula dancing, Korean traditional dancers and musicians, singers, a Hangeul writer, a sashin performance, traditional Korean and Japanese martial art demonstrations and several food samplings at the event. Equal opportunity leaders were even dressed in Master Shifu and Po costumes.
"We helped shape this country, so I want people to learn how rich our culture is. It is important to remember that this is the land of immigrants," said Tiyanuch Apple Olsen, Army and Air Force Exchange Services visual merchandiser and event assistant coordinator.
Olsen said this year's event was a huge success and added that there is more to the event than eating foreign food and watching people dance.
"You find out a lot about the similarities between your ethnic group and another. Eventually you realize that you are more similar than you are different, and in that way we can work together as a team more effectively," said Master Sgt. Thomas Reid, chief equal opportunity adviser.
Sgt. 1st Class David Kintz, equal employment opportunity, agreed and went on to say that it also gives Soldiers and opportunity to get closer to other Soldiers in their rank.
"We can see how they live and celebrate and the food they eat. It lets Soldiers see the lifestyle of the battle buddy to their left or right," he said.
There has been significant racial prejudice against Asian Americans, and that is a blight on our country, said McRae. In spite of that, though, he said that these men and women sacrificed and persevered to build a better life for their children and all Americans.
Peter Hara, whose brother served in the 100th Battalion, 442nd Combat Regiment, attended the event and said that it meant a great deal to him that the Army hosts heritage events because it gives insight to all the sacrifices Asians have made for the country.
"When I was 7, my Family was placed in a relocation center. We had to leave everything behind, we only had what we could carry in a suitcase," he said, adding that the center was basically a concentration camp on American soil.
The relocation center housing was tarpaper barracks, where each Family had one room with one light, and each block, about 27 buildings, shared the bathroom area. The center was fenced in with armed sentries who stood watch around the clock and would shoot them if they tried to escape, Hara said.
"We ate in a dining facility and I remember there being no trees," continued Hara. "We lived there for three years and when we got back to our home in California everything was burned down."
Hara said that people didn't want Asians in the area because of the hostility and racism that followed World War II.
"I know what racism is and means in America. We couldn't eat at restaurants or go shopping. Eventually, people realized that most of those Asians who were interned never had any incidents being a traitor or intention to expatriate themselves. Everyone there was loyal to the U.S.; they were Americans," he said.
For the military to appreciate all the different nationalities that fill its ranks is priceless to Hara.
"When my brother was in 442nd Regiment, it was made up of Hawaiians and Japanese. His company is the most highly decorated infantry regiment in Army history -- that makes me so proud. They wanted to prove just how American they were," he said.
Other events will be held on post to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Both dining facilities will have an Asian-themed menu May 17. The price for lunch is $4.55. There will also be a bowling tournament May 23. The tournament is described as "friendly."
"We will be giving out prizes to people who answer AAPI heritage trivia questions as well as the best bowlers through the night," said Reid.