By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)May 24, 2019
When all you have ever known is year-round tropical summer weather, even a South Carolina autumn can seem brutal, at least according to one Philippines native who spoke on the difficulties of leaving home and immigrating to a new country at the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Luncheon May 17.
The observance event, hosted at the NCO Club by the Leader Training Brigade and the United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy, marked the national commemoration of the impact of Asian Americans' and Pacific Islanders' cultures, traditions and histories on the country that is recognized each May.
"We celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and we reflect on the many ways they have enriched our nation," said Capt. Jason Cowles, who welcomed attendees. "American culture is filled with Asian cultural legacies," including horticultural techniques based on the Japanese system and Asian methods of achieving physical and spiritual wellbeing, including the practice of yoga and martial arts.
Their heritage is an "essential part of the American fabric," Cowles added, and their involvement in the culture, politics and social life of the country has "enriched our nation greatly."
Yet, when guest speaker Gina Castaneda, president of the Filipino-American Association of Greater Columbia, moved to South Carolina from Hawaii, where she moved to from her home country, she said she couldn't find her traditional way of life woven into the fabric of the state much at all.
Her experience isn't an uncommon one to military families, she said.
Though she is now a U.S. citizen, Castaneda was born at the Philippines' Clark Air Base, where her father was stationed in the Philippine Air Force.
One of the hardest parts of moving to the U.S. mainland for her husband's military training was missing her culture, especially her traditional food, and feeling out of place in the south.
"Things were definitely different here than it was in tropical Hawaii," Castedena said. With tropical weather, familiar food and similar surroundings, she said moving to the island was "a pleasant experience … it almost made me feel that I was still back home in the Philippines."
Everything changed when she relocated to South Carolina.
"I wasn't just freezing at 50 degrees during the fall time … I had other problems to deal with," Castedena said. "Things were quite challenging in the beginning."
She didn't have a place to buy her egg rolls or her beloved 20-pound bags of white rice.
"These may seem like minor concerns … but for me, these were basic necessities," Castedena added, and despite what her husband claimed, "they do not have everything in the Commissary."
In keeping with the theme of the luncheon -- "unite our mission by engaging each other" -- she said she overcame the obstacles presented by her new surroundings by venturing out of her comfort zone and getting to know people with different backgrounds.
"It begins by seeking out opportunities to make a meaningful connection," she said. Though it was challenging to talk to people who didn't share her Pacific Islander heritage, it was worth it.