On May 21, the Fort McPherson U.S. Army Garrison hosted an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month luncheon at The Commons at Fort McPherson to celebrate the contributions of these Americans to the nation.

The event featured dancers from the Georgia Dance Academy (GDA) performing traditional Asian dances. Frederick Tung, a Robert T. Thompson professor of law and business at Emory University School of Law, served as guest speaker. Before eating, attendees witnessed several dances of Asian origins.

Kinna Sayanam, founder, director and instructor of GDA, said she learned the dances in Thailand while living in a refugee camp. A native of Laos, she moved to Thailand to escape persecution. At 7 years old, she started dancing with others in her community, learning about and maintaining the culture that she left behind.

"I love to dance and am passionate about dancing," she said, adding she believed the dances fit well in with the diversity theme of the event. "We are very excited to be able to perform for the Army."

Sayanam also helped show the culture through costumes worn while performing, which included dresses from Laos, Cambodian and Thailand, as well as clothes from the Hmong people, an ethnic group in China and Southeast Asia.

Yi Yang, an English as a second language school teacher in Gwinnett County, said the dances are one way to preserve the culture. Yang, who is a second generation American, said she enrolled her two daughters, Mimi and Monique Khang, both 15, into GDA to learn more about the culture of their grandparents.

"I'm a dancer myself. It is a way to keep up with our culture," she said, adding she hopes her daughters continue to pass on the culture to their children. "Everyone should keep their culture," Yang said, adding that others need to appreciate others and diversity.

Tung touched on these issues in his speech, saying he remembered his culture yet was also thankful for America, which allowed his Family the opportunities to make something of their lives. Tung spoke of his grandfather, who was a general in the Nationalist Army of China. When the country fell to communism in 1949, his grandfather sent Tung's father away. A war refugee, Tung's father eventually made his way to America.

"My Family's story is an 'only in American story,'" he said. "In the United States you can make it."

For Tung, his opportunity came from the legal profession. He mentioned, however, that just as the Chinese army was an opportunity for his grandfather, the Army is a good opportunity for growth for all.

"The military offers opportunities and nurtures leaders and diversity," Tung said.

For protecting the nation and allowing these opportunities to take place, Sayanam said she was glad to be able to give back.

"We're very excited to be here and perform for the Army," she said. "They protect us and it's good to be able to do something in return."

Page last updated Tue June 1st, 2010 at 11:55