FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Attendees can travel across the world without leaving the state during the Asian/Pacific American Heritage month kickoff event from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. April 27 at the post exchange food court.

The month aims to celebrate the cultural traditions, ancestry, native languages, and unique experiences represented among more than 56 ethnic groups from Asia and the Pacific Islands, according to Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Castillo, 110 Aviation Brigade Equal Opportunity adviser, who added that he is working tirelessly to find representation for as many ethnic groups as possible.

The event will feature samples of many ethnic groups and cultural traditions, he said.

"It is important to celebrate not only Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, but cultures in general because we, as a country and a society, are built from many different cultures and demographics," he said. "It is important to step back and observe the contributions each culture has made to this society. We are one society. We live under one flag in one country. Whether we are cognizant or not, everyone contributes in some shape, form or fashion and their ancestors have also contributed to the development of this country."

The event will feature cultural songs, dance performances, an educational expo by the Fort Rucker Education Center and traditional food sampling.

The event will also feature Chinese calligraphy and painting demonstrations at event that will provide an opportunity for attendees to participate.

"There will be representatives there from the Confucius Institute of Troy University. They will also donate some food for the event as well as provide the lion head and the dragon for the traditional dance. We will provide the dancers," Castillo said.

According to Castillo, this is the first year Soldiers will take the stage for the dragon dance.

"We sent some Soldiers up [to the Confucius Institute at Troy University] to learn how to manipulate the dragon," he said. "This is the first year we've used Soldiers to perform that dance. They usually bring dancers from the institute to perform the dance, but they wanted to get the Soldiers more involved."

According to Castillo, involvement in the event will provide knowledge and exposure to new cultures and, in turn, help to erase the unknown and build a bridge to understanding those cultures.

"I also think it is important to be aware of the struggles they have endured to get to where we are today," he said. "This country has come a long way since way back when and we continue to strive to move forward. I feel that it is important to this so that we erase the unknown. People tend to fear the unknown."

Castillo added that the first step toward understanding cultures different from one's own is knowledge, and heritage celebration month events provide a perfect opportunity to introduce new minds to new experiences.

"You will hear a lot of people out in society who are doing the same thing we are doing," he said. "They stress diversity and the need to embrace our differences. I differ in opinion. I think we should embrace our commonalities first, get to know each other, see what we have in common, build that rapport and build that bridge first. We can then talk about our differences and embrace those differences after we embrace the commonalities."

Erasing fear of the unknown by sharing commonalities provides a much easier transition into accepting the new or different, according to Castillo.

"The Army, the military as a whole, does a great job of supporting these events and bringing Soldiers together to learn about different cultures," he said. "These events demonstrate that we are of one race, in my opinion -- the human race. I think it is important to send a reminder about that because I think we tend to forget. Some of us are Hispanic. Some of us are African American, but, at the end of the day, we are essentially the same."

Additional Asian-Pacific American Heritage month events include an observance ceremony May 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Corvias Building on Andrews Avenue, a tour of the Confucius Institute at Troy University May 11 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and an Asian/Pacific American Heritage story time event at the Center Library May 18 from 10:15-11 a.m.

All events are free and open to the public, except the Confucius Institute tour.

The tour is free and only open to military I.D. card holders and family members. Registration is currently open and limited to 30 guests. Attendees must bring money for lunch. The tour will include the Chinese History Center, the Asian Arts Park and a traditional tea ceremony. Individuals interested in the tour should call (334) 255-2669 for information on how to register.

The story time event will feature a book reading, arts and crafts, and other fun events designed for patrons of all ages to enjoy.

For more information, call 255-2669.