By Mark Iacampo, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria-HohenfelsMay 15, 2014
HOHENFELS, Germany -- The Hohenfels Military Community celebrated the culture, traditions and history of Asian-Pacific Americans with music, cultural dancing, and lots of food at their Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month event, recently.
Dozens of dancers performed a multitude of traditional dances reflecting the cultures of such places as Hawaii, Samoa, Polynesia and the Philippines.
"Each move, from the pointing of a toe to the waving of a finger tells part of a story," said events MC, Reggie Meno.
Asian-Pacific includes the entire Asian continent, as well as the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. This celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States occurs in May to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the Trans Atlantic Railroad by a predominately Chinese immigrant workforce, on May 10, 1869.
"We preserve our heritage and culture by doing celebrations like these," said Leann Beglau, a teacher at Hohenfels Elementary School. "I'm a land-locked North Dakota girl, and things like this help to create cultural awareness and diversity."
The event was organized by "Paradise Blend," a private organization that has injected this annual celebration with island intensity for the past three years.
"If it wasn't for the Potasi family, this event would not happen," said Master Sgt. Ulysses Reed, Joint Multinational Readiness Center Equal Opportunity advisor.
Started in 2012 by Leilani Potasi and her husband, Sgt. First Class Faamagato Potasi, Paradise Blend began as a cultural dance troop, but has grown into a prominent organization at Hohenfels. The group has become almost as well known for their home-cooked lunch plates as for their dancing. The lunch plates are sold as a fundraising project, and this year the group donated funds to the American Cancer Society, as well as large amounts of school supplies to the Hohenfels Elementary School.
"We wanted to give back to the community, just as every other organization," Lelilani said. "But we are unique. We are sharing our culture with the whole community. It is not just Asians and Pacific Islanders. This organization is open to whoever wants to join."
Even the name "Paradise Blend" is a reflection of this philosophy.
"It's a blend of every different culture from every different ethnicity," said member Cristina Salvador. "Anybody can join so we can share our different cultures and backgrounds with one another."
The group has become so popular that they were even recruited to perform at Asian Pacific Islander celebrations at U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach and USAG Bavaria's Tower Barracks last year.
Despite the music, dancing and delicious food, which even included an island-style roast pig, there was an underlying sadness to this year's festivities as the group said farewell to the Potasi family, who PCS to a new duty station next month.
Salvador said preparing for shows, running fundraisers, and creating outfits for the dancers took a lot of hard work, sacrifice, long hours, and seemingly endless nights.
"And the Potasi's did all that," she said. "After all the nights we spent with one another, all of us dancers became as one family, which was Mrs. Potasi's vision."
Command Sgt. Major Kenneth McKoy called Paradise Blend one of the cornerstones of the Strong Team initiative at Hohenfels, designed to encourage community members to engage in positive and constructive activities that build a sense of family and belonging.
"This event today is a point of pride for Hohenfels," he said. "I expect to see a lot of you back here next year."