FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 26, 2012) -- Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is an annual push to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Asian and Pacific Islander people in the United States, but this year will specifically recognize their growing role in American history.

The theme for this year's observance is "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion," according to Sgt. 1st Class Paula Bair, 1st Aviation Brigade equal opportunity adviser. A kickoff event, sponsored by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, will be held at the Post Exchange mall, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 27.

It is important for people to know about their own culture, but many know little about the people they fight beside or work beside, explained Bair. "The more we know about someone's culture and where they came from, the less likely we are to stereotype and make judgments."

The goal is to honor people of this culture and to bring education and awareness to other cultures to promote inclusion within American society, she added.

The kickoff event will include food samples, martial arts and dance demonstrations, examples of Korean writing, and prizes, according to Apple Olsen, AAFES visual merchandiser. Master Shifu and Po from Kung Fu Panda are also on the list of featured guests.

Olsen said she thought the highlight of the kickoff event would be the Gumdo demonstration by Young Rogers and Ron Niles. Both are high Gumdo masters and are certified by Korean and other international martial arts organizations.

The displays and demonstrations at the kickoff will represent the "diverse cultures within this ethnic group of people," explained Bair.

Other events planned for the month include a soccer tournament for ages 3-5 May 12 and ethnic lunches served at the on-post dining facilities May 23, she added.

"The goal of this month is to recognize the significance of Asian-Pacific Americans … and to let people learn and enjoy the rich culture of Asian-Pacific heritage," Olsen said.

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month honors people whose ancestry originates from a long list of countries including the entire Asian continent, the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States in May of 1843 and to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May of 1869, Olsen said.