Asian Pacific Islanders lauded
Samoan Dancers demonstrate several Samoan and Hawaiian dances during the Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration May 21 in Red Cloud Garrison's Commanding General's Mess. - U.S. Army photo by Jim Cunningham

RED CLOUD GARRISON, South Korea - The Commanding General's Mess filled wall to wall May 21with the curious and those waiting to learn about the contributions Asians and Pacific Islanders have made to America.

The celebration not only highlighted the contributions made by those whose heritage harkens to the Pacific Rim, but featured folk arts and classical arts performed by both Asians and Pacific Islanders. Red Cloud Garrison Equal Employment Officer, Rosita Aguigui, was the featured keynote speaker.

"Asian Pacific Americans are multicultural," Aguigui said. "They come from the far east, South East Asia, the subcontinents and the Pacific Islands. There are 45 distinct ethnic groups and 28 languages contained in those areas."

Aguigui said the reason the nation celebrates Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is because congressional representatives from New York and California introduced a bill in Congress in 1977 to declare the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. The bill was signed by then President of the United States Jimmy Carter in October 1978 designating it an annual celebration. In May 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. She continued to mention this year's theme is "diverse leadership for a diverse workforce."

Two significant benchmarks for the month of May can be cited as the first Japanese immigrants to the United States arriving May 7, 1843 and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad with significant help from Chinese immigrants, Aguigui said.

"This year, May 2010, also marks the 10th anniversary of the White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders," Aguigui said. "Executive Order 13216 was established by President Bill Clinton in November 2001 to improve the quality of life for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders through greater access to federal programs and services. President Barack Obama signed Executive Order Oct. 14, 2009 to re-establish that White House initiative."

Aguigui pointed out Asian-Americans who immigrated in the 19th century suffered much the same indignities European immigrants suffered when immigrating to the east coast of America. Harsh conditions and grueling interrogations by government immigration officials were among the many cited.

She also stated that immigration laws a hundred years or more ago were racially prejudiced and caused much hardship and injustice and deplorable living conditions, and the fact most immigrants took jobs as railroad workers, miners and farm workers.

"Asian Pacific Americans have made significant contributions to our military, politics, science, and technology," she said. "We have also made contributions to education, business, law, and the arts in our society."

She revealed that Asian Pacific Americans represent 6 percent of the 2nd Infantry Division. Aguigui went on to mention many Asian Pacific Americans who have attained high rank in the American armed services and in politics.

"The term 'mono-minority' was coined in 1966," she said, "at the height of the civil rights movement, how Asian and Pacific Islanders have come to be defined as the 'good minority,' because they advance through quiet diligence in study and work and by not making waves. Asian-American women today have the highest life expectancy of 85.8 years. This is higher than any other ethnic group in the United States."

She also revealed Asian Pacific Americans are among the highest educated in the United States and among the highest income groups.

Page last updated Thu June 10th, 2010 at 00:00