VICENZA, Italy – Christine Swanson, a community volunteer at U.S. Army Garrison Italy, smiles when thinking back to her life in Hawaii and the spirit often found there.
Mostly she thinks of the wonderful people she knew who would always lend a helping hand, and who treated everyone like family.
“The Aloha Spirit is just it,” Swanson said. “It’s being kind, positive and helping others.”
During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, military posts worldwide recognize community members who serve with Army pride. That includes recognition of their greatness to the world over, said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Barea, USAG Italy’s military equal opportunity advisor.
“What a joy it is to celebrate this month with so many different families, civilians, Soldiers, and leaders from this Asian community,” Barea said.
For Swanson, the Aloha Spirit has been serving a purpose at USAG Italy and elsewhere. While posted to military communities overseas, Swanson has had differing experiences when it comes to acceptance and understanding of her culture.
Born in Hawaii, Swanson is of Korean, Chinese and Spanish descent. Her husband is American-Vietnamese. Swanson encountered challenges when she moved from Hawaii to a much different island country, the United Kingdom.
“Moving from Hawaii to the U.K. was a total culture shock. Beyond just the weather, but driving on the opposite side of the road, and attempting to find ingredients to cook food I was used to,” she said, adding that Chinese New Year celebrations in London helped her feel connected to her roots.
“People were not as open as I was used to,” Swanson said. “Many people in the towns outside the city were curious about my origins because Asians were not popular at the time.”
After the U.K., Swanson’s family moved to Grafenwoehr, Germany, where they felt welcomed. The community was accustomed to diversity with so many Americans calling that place home over the years. They built a beautiful friendship with their German neighbors, often exchanging traditional food and learning about each other’s cultures.
Things changed when the Coronavirus became a global pandemic. She moved to Vicenza amid the COVID-19 lockdown. Off post, people made assumptions about her heritage.
“On more than one occasion someone called me ‘Chinese,’ whether it was because I did not park correctly, or I inadvertently did something that was not correct to them,” Swanson said. “They just assumed I was Chinese.”
Throughout any challenge, Swanson maintains her Aloha Spirit. In fact, this week she spent a whole day cooking Asian food for Soldiers and served them in traditional dress at the USO.