By Kathy Eastwood (USMA Public Affairs)May 13, 2016
WEST POINT, NY (May 13, 2016) - West Point and the Equal Opportunity Office hosted the annual Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage observance May 4 at the West Point Club to recognize the contributions made by Asian and Pacific Islanders to America.
The month of May is designated as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese immigrants 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 Transcontinental Railroad was the first major railroad, ranging 1,907 miles, constructed in the United States. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Class of 2018 Cadet Eric Arzaga is from the Philippines and spoke to the audience about his country.
"In many areas of the Philippines, the buffalo is still used as a farm animal," Arzaga said. "The family home is generally an extended family. The Philippines do not have a native language; they have about 15 different languages, including English. I began to learn English in the second grade."
Arzaga said he has also lived in Hawaii where homelessness is a major problem and the ethnicity is mixed with Chinese, Caucasians and Samoans.
Class of 2016 Cadet Suhanraj Rajasegaran, who is from Malesia, said that, "I don't smell like curie, I smell good," when speaking about the stereotypes of Asians, like their names being too long. Rajasegaran is also Macha Indian.
"West Point is different than the Malaysian Military Academy (The Royal Military Academy of Malesia,) Rajasegaran said. "I remember not shaving one day at the RMA and a captain made me rub my chin on concrete. They also practice collective punishment. I learned here that you don't have to yell to get people to listen to you."
Paul Cheung, the Associated Press Director of Interactives and Digital News Production, who manages a global team of visual journalists, data journalists and researchers was the guest speaker. Cheung is also the Asian American Journalists Association National president.
"Asian-Americans have a complicated history," Cheung said. "The Chinese Exclusion law signed by President Chester Arthur May 6, 1882 prohibited immigration of Chinese laborers. The National Origin Act in 1924 prohibited virtually all Chinese immigration and in 1942, Japanese-Americans were relegated to internment camps."
Cheung also spoke about stereotypes.
"Asians are not a 'Model Minority,' which assumes that Asians have unlimited assets," Cheung said. "Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco, California, but many believe he was born in China. We are always considered foreign."
"In the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mickey Rooney, a white American, played the Japanese man I.Y. Yunioshi in the film," Cheung said.
Rooney had taped eyelids and buck teeth, a typical stereotype of Asians.
"The world you will be leading is very different from your parents," Cheung said. "American demographics will change. By the year 2060, there will no longer be a majority. To be great leaders, you must control your bias.
"Understand that diversity is about people, not a bunch of check boxes," he added.
Cheung, in speaking to the cadets, left them with one question.
"I will leave you with this question and if you can answer it eloquently, you will be a great leader," Cheung said. "Why should anyone be led by you?"