Asian Pacific Americans celebrated at Fort Belvoir observance
May 18, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 17, 2012) -- The commanding general of the Northern Regional Medical Command spoke about hard work and bravery during Fort Belvoir's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month observance May 15.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Caravalho, Chinese and Puerto Rican American, shared his experiences growing up in Hawaii and the source of his career success with servicemembers and civilians in the Fort Belvoir Community Center.
"My parents sacrificed life's luxuries to give their five children a good education as their investment for us," said Caravalho. "This investment in me gave me lifelong opportunities."
Fort Belvoir, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command and the Northern Regional Medical Command Equal Opportunity Offices co-hosted the celebration of Asian Pacific history and culture.
Attendees partook in the festivities by performing impromptu hula dancing and shouting warrior chants with Hawaiian Entertainment Company Polynesian dance professionals.
Caravalho, keynote speaker, commenced the festivities.
The Hawaiian native grew up in a diverse population of ethnicities such as Korean, Japanese, Pilipino and Portuguese.
Caravalho didn't consider himself any different than his peers as his parent's emphasized qualities such as respect, discipline and hard work.
"Growing up I knew my job was to study hard," Caravalho said.
The hard work paid off as Caravalho graduated magna cum laude from Gonzaga University with a bachelor of arts in mathematics in 1979. The brigadier general then received his medical doctorate at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences School of Medicine in 1983.
After numerous promotions and awards, Caravalho eventually became the second commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command's NRMC in July 2011.
Master Sgt. Matthew Baller, NRMC EOO advisor, said Caravalho's success makes him a good example of the theme for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion."
According to the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, the theme focuses on President Barack Obama's 2011 executive order 13583, Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce.
The order directed federal government departments and agencies to develop and implement a more comprehensive focus on diversity and inclusion in human resources strategies.
"He's a standing representation that with hard work, regardless of your background, you can succeed," said Baller who believes Caravalho's presence inspired NRMC senior leaders to attend the observance. "To have the senior leaders present set the tone for today."
Caravalho said his success "demonstrates that the Army is a true meritocracy that embraces diversity."
To conclude his speech, Caravalho shared the story of an Asian Pacific American who Caravalho called a real American hero.
Pfc. Anthony T. Kaho'ohanohano sacrificed his life in combat on September 1951 when Kaho'ohanohano solo counter-attacked enemy Soldiers in Chupa-ri, Korea. The private's heroic stand inspired his comrades to launch a counterattack that completely repulsed the enemy.
President Barack Obama awarded Kaho'ohanohano with the Congressional Medal of Honor in April 2011.
"Anytime you talk about a medal of honor winner, there is no better striving for excellence," said Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. John Strycula referring to the theme for Asisan Pacific American Heritage Month.
The Hawaiian Entertainment Company engaged the crowd after the general's speech. Four dancers and a cultural narrator shared Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural customs including the historical significance of dance, songs and clothing.
One custom is derived from an old Samoan Island tradition where 16-year-old boys performed a dance routine that involved spinning a machete burning fire at both ends of the knife. Boys were considered men if they could control the spinning machete and withstand the flame heat and blade sharpness.
A dancer performed this ritual while the audience watched and he even placed the fire on his mouth.
The outfits the performers wore throughout the performances contained elements from nature such as wood from trees, bird feathers, coconut and pearl shells.
"We had to rely on the elements of nature for our clothing and our jewelry," said Paki Allen, Hawaiian Entertainment Company cultural narrator said.
Baller called the display a learning experience for attendees.
"We have such a unique culture and we come from such a beautiful place," Allen said. "We like to share our singing, dancing and culture with others."
According to the Library of Congress, Asian Pacific American Heritage month originated in 1977 when U.S. House Representatives Frank Horton, Norman Mineta, Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced two separate bills requesting President Jimmy Carter to proclaim the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. Carter signed a joint resolution designating the annual celebration in 1978.
President George H.W. Bush extended the celebration to the entire month of May in 1990.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese citizens to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
"I'm very pleased to see our culture recognized for our contributions in helping American become what it is today," Allen said.