The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Equal Opportunity Team held a Facebook video premiere event May 20, 2021, in observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
Given the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, units have had to consider the safest way to organize and virtually honor the people and the culture that is the fabric of our democracy. The pre-recorded video opened with remarks from U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and Fort Detrick Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley. He emphasized the importance of finding creative ways to continue with observance month activities, especially in the current social environment.
“Each observance serves as a powerful reminder that it is our diversity that strengthens our organization, our Army, and our nation,” Talley said. “We must rise above division and seek opportunities to celebrate our country’s diversity and strive for unity.”
The history of AAPIHM dates back to 1978, when Congress established Asian and Pacific American Heritage Week. The first ten days of May were chosen to commemorate the holiday due to two monumental events in American history in that period. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and it was May 10, 1869, that the transcontinental railroad was completed, where the contributions of Chinese workers were vital to the completion. The recognition week remained until 1992 when Congress expanded the observance to a month-long celebration.
The Federal Asian Pacific American Council identified the 2021 AAPIHM theme of, Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service for 2021, which is also represented by the hibiscus flower.
“The hibiscus is important to a lot of people of Asian descent, and the theme draws a continuous parallel between the flower and leadership,” said Staff Sgt. Jessica Prewitt, WRAIR Alternate-Equal Opportunity Leader. “The flower develops, evolves, and reproduces, and that’s what we do as leaders too then and today.”
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., with approximately 5.2 million, with 9.7 percent who are veterans, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau survey. The commemoration video featured detailed background on a few focal Americans who wore the uniform, including the first Asian American officer in the Marines Maj. Kurt Chew-Een Lee to the first woman to rise to the top enlisted position in the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass.
“We wanted to recognize Americans from the different branches and recognize the barriers they had to go through in service to our country,” Prewitt said. “Diversity is what makes us unique, where you come from, working side-by-side, being able to understand the culture builds cohesion.”
The video was crafted inside of the Inouye Building at WRAIR, which was named after Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii in 2001. Inouye was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, becoming the first—and to date, only—senator to receive both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month concludes May 31, but the contributions continue year-round. See the full video at https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=486406742637102