Dancers uplift Fort Irwin Asian Pacific American Heritage celebration
May 31, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif.- Two Pacific Islander dance groups brought a sense of cultural jubilation to the High Desert as they performed at Fort Irwin and the National Training Center's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration on Tuesday.
The First Samoan Pentecostal Church of Barstow Youth Group took the first steps as members sang the National Anthem and then shared their faith and culture in a series of dances that had Reggie's buoyed with the joy of dancers lost in the sounds of the ukelele and other island sounds.
While the First Samoan Pentecostal group stuck to maroon and white, the Samoa Mo Samao dance group comprised of Fort Irwin Soldiers, family members and other members of the Fort Irwin community lit up the room with splashes of color.
Performing dances from a variety of Pacific Island cultures, Samoa Mo Samoa dancers swiveled their hips, deftly moved their arms and feet as multiple generations united to display the strong family ties that are deeply rooted in the Samoan culture.
After the dancing concluded with Fort Irwin and National Training Center command sergeant major Command Sgt. Major Nathan Buckner joining in the festivities, the keynote speaker Gregory Matsumoto challenged the entire audience as he spoke about his own experiences as a Japanese American.
Matsumoto's father fought with the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was the only all-Japanese American unit, during World War II, which was the most decorated American unit in the war.
"Today I want my awareness to become your benefit," he said after telling a story about how he was at a conference in Japan, when he realized he was a man without a country of his own.
Those who spoke English at the conference didn't think he spoke English, so they avoided him and the Japanese could tell he wasn't one of them, so they avoided him as well, he said.
"Both groups judged me without even knowing me," he said. "At that moment, I realized that it was up to me to create my identity and to show who I am. It was up to me to either shine in the sun or shrink into the shadows."
From that experience, Matsumoto offered two challenges to the audience.
"I challenge you to demonstrate your courage and confront your own stereotypes. We all have stereotypes," he said. "To be willing and acknowledge our perceived notions, the thoughts that have been taught to us by others and taking charge of our own minds, so I challenge you to challenge yourself."
That means seeing the person for who they are instead of seeing the person one wants to create, he said.
The other challenge was aimed at Asian Pacific Islanders as Matsumoto encouraged them to step out of the shadows.
"I challenge you to show yourselves. Don't hide behind any cultural modesty. Demonstrate your ability and skills," he said. "Allow everyone to be able to see everything that you have to offer. Empower yourselves. Take the bull by the horns."
It is each person's responsibility to allow themselves to shine and to be a contributor to the greatest military in the world, he said.
As he closed Matsumoto recalled words from his father, "He used to say, 'Give it everything that you have. Go for broke!"