May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to honor citizens of our country whose families went to America from halfway around the world and became integral members of American society.

The origins of this month began in 1978 when President Carter proclaimed the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Week. In May 1990, President George H.W. Bush expanded it to a month-long commemoration and renamed it Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

This year's theme, "Lighting the Past, Present and Future," acknowledges the many nations and ethnicities that Asian-Pacific Americans represent and their roles in society that have helped strengthen American fellowship, encourage prosperity and enliven spirit.

The United States, it has often been noted, is a nation composed almost entirely of descendants of immigrants. We call ourselves Americans, but at the same time, we are proud of our roots - proud of where our parents, our grandparents and our great grandparents came from.

Our Nation's rich cultural diversity reflects our Constitution's core vision of freedom and justice for all. Throughout our history, Asian-Pacific Americans have made great contributions to America's heritage and prosperity.

Moreover, Asian-Pacific Americans in the U.S. military have been engaged in a very real and dangerous service to combat terrorism, and especially to protect new, fragile democracies that are emerging in Afghanistan and Iraq. Asian-Pacific Americans have made lasting contributions to America's wartime efforts since World War II.

One of the most famous is the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the "Go for Broke" outfit of Japanese-Americans who fought valiantly in Europe during World War II. It was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service. In total, 14,000 men served with the unit, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and an unprecedented eight Presidential Unit Citations. It's quite an inspiring story.

Here at Yongsan, we are in a unique situation in which we can witness and experience Korean culture right outside our gates. For example, the first weekend in May, Seoul had one of its biggest cultural events of the year. The Lotus Lantern Festival was an extravaganza of thousands of glowing lanterns and endless lines of festive displays and floats held to mark the birthday of Buddha. It was a chance for us to learn about Korea's ancient Buddhist heritage. If you didn't make it, mark it on your calendar for next year, along with taking advantage of the many other cultural experiences a tour to Korea offers.

During this month, we proudly celebrate Asian-Pacific Americans, one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, for their remarkable role in our Nation's development. More than 15 million Americans claim Asian or Pacific ancestry. They make our culture more vibrant, and America is a better place for that.

Come out Saturday, May 30 to the Yongsan Asian-Pacific American Heritage Festival. The 65th Medical Brigade is hosting the event at the parking lot across from Collier Field House and Field No. 12 . The festival will feature cultural tents and foods, entertainment and games for children. For information, call 737-3110.

During the festival, we will celebrate Asian and Pacific Islanders here in Yongsan with Soldiers, families and civilians of Korean, Chinese, Philippines, Guam and Samoan culture. If you attend, you'll enjoy food samplings, dancing, music, singing, martial arts demonstrations, face painting and other activities for kids and adults, along with displays of Asian-Pacific Islander products.

One highlight of the festival will be food sampling of traditional foods, such as pancit, lumpia, adobo (chicken, pork, shrimp), and bibingka (cassava, sweet rice). See you there!

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