The Samoa Congregation Church youth group, which includes many Soldiers and military family members, performs a dance May 20 at the Benning Conference Center.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Equal Opportunity Office hosted its most diverse observance of the year May 20 at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Luncheon. Honoring 28 Asian and 19 Pacific cultural groups, the luncheon featured music and dancing.

Chinese language students at Faith Middle School sang several Chinese songs. The Samoa Congregation Church youth group followed them with traditional island dances.

"We tried to get a piece from every island in the Pacific," said SGT Feliuai Tupuola, who joined the dance team after PCSing to Fort Benning in July.

Tupuola, who enlisted in 2004 from his home in Samoa, said the dance group is important because it allows them to preserve their heritage, especially for the children of retired Samoan Soldiers who have never seen their native island.

"They've never been back home, so we try to bring the culture (here) so we can share with everyone else," he said. "We're just trying to show what our culture is, (and) we're trying to see what the other cultures are."

Learning about other people's traditions and history matters because it helps individuals understand each other, particularly in the military where there is such diversity, said SSG Ieremia Masaga, also a member of the dance team and 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment.

"We take pride in where we're from," he said. "I think it's very important to share ... so they know where you're from, your background, the kind of people (by which) you were raised."

That mutual understanding can keep people from accidentally insulting a member of a different culture, Masaga said.

Guest speaker Jason Robertson dealt with similar misunderstandings during his youth in rural Alabama. Rescued from an orphanage in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Robertson was adopted by an American family. Although he faced discrimination from his peers because of his different background, Robertson grew to love the country that offered him so much opportunity.

He wanted to attend the luncheon, he said, to pay tribute to the veterans of the Vietnam War.

"Over 35 years ago, 58,000 men never came home, never saw the final results of their efforts, but today, you do," said Robertson, author of A Love Beyond Explaining: An Oprhan's Journey From Rice to Grits. "I lived a life I never would have lived if it weren't for the efforts of our men and women ... of all cultures."

When Robertson returned to Vietnam as an adult, his experiences there left an impression on him.

"I've gone back ... to visit those orphans who did not make it out - the ones in my orphanage that ... had to stay and fight because the North Vietnamese said if you're 10 and older, you're old enough to hold a gun," he said. "They get to ask me all these questions: 'What was it like growing up in America' What was it like having the opportunity'' I can say it was a blessing. In this country, the freedom that we have (is) to be diverse. The beauty of this (nation) is celebrating people's differences."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16