CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea - Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage was celebrated with song and dance at the Youth Gym here May 23.

The observance came one month after the announcement that the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will be presented posthumously to Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought against his World War II internment and challenged it before the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is also the centennial year of the first Japanese cherry blossom trees planted in Washington, D.C.

Prior to a lively dance performance, Spc. Kareen Medeiros, president and Area III coordinator for the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, touched on how Asians and Pacific Islanders came to be a part of the United States.

"It is an honor and a privilege to take you on a journey to our lands, our homes and to meet some of our people," she said . "Throughout history, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have had an impact on our world and society. Our ancestors came to America from places with names such as China, Samoa, Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii and Japan."

While they have become an integral part of the country, Asians and Pacific Islanders have kept their distinctive cultures, she noted.

"Our traditions are rich and our customs and beliefs are deeply rooted in our everyday life," Medeiros said. "Our love for arts, music and cultural awareness is sought after everywhere.
Asians and Pacific Islanders helped build our nation. We have fought bravely alongside American sons and daughters in their time of need. We have continued to contribute to American success every day. We are proud of our heritage, proud to be called Asian Pacific Americans."

Medeiros read from a presidential proclamation that addressed their contributions.

"Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have helped make America what it is today," she said. "Their histories recall bitter hardships and proud accomplishments, from the laborers who connected our coasts one-and-a-half centuries ago, to the patriots who fought overseas while their families were interned at home, from those who endured the harsh conditions of Angel Island, to the innovators and entrepreneurs who are driving our nation's economic growth in Silicon Valley."

The guest speaker was Maj. Cecilia Shaw, executive officer of the 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery. She is of Filipino heritage.

Shaw recalled when she first became aware of race, which came while buying crayons for Kindergarten.

"For the first time, I realized that I wasn't black, white, or brown," she said. "I was tan or apricot. My classmates asked me if I was Chinese, Japanese, the ones with the red dot, or if I knew karate and if my uncle was Bruce Lee. I went home and asked my mom what I was and got a lesson in geography. She said, 'Here is the map, then this is the sea, and these islands are the Philippines.'"

Shaw encouraged audience members to tackle at least one personal and professional goal this year.

"This could be BOSS involvement, college courses, a pilot's license or learning to use chopsticks," she said. "You can try to learn Korean culture, even if it's just trying the food, learning a phrase, or my personal advice, including your KATUSAs in the training and planning process."

But whatever goals one pursues or where one ends up, Shaw advised, "Be proud of diversity, your heritage and your history. It is what defines you."

Page last updated Wed May 23rd, 2012 at 00:00