FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 3, 2012) -- Brightly colored leis, paper lanterns and the sound of beating drums greeted patrons of Fort Rucker's Post Exchange Mall April 27 during the kickoff event for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

"It is great to see the community come together to celebrate and learn more about other cultures," said Susie Antonello, Army and Air Force Exchange Service visual merchandiser manager. About 350 people attended the event, which featured food samples, martial arts and dance demonstrations, examples of Korean writing and prizes.

Wendy Stark and her mother were among the people who came to the PX specifically for the kickoff event. As Wendy waited to have her name written in Korean, she said she became interested in Korean culture after she embraced Buddhism and met new friends from Korea.

Kimberly Lum attended the event as a part of Okinawa Kenjin Kai of Alabama -- an organization that works to preserve Okinawan traditions in America. The group also provides a way for older Okinawans living in America to stay in touch with each other and with people in their homeland.

"We were set up to educate younger generations about traditions and history," she said. "We try to keep Okinawan traditions alive in our Family so they don't forget where they came from."

Lum said her husband is second-generation Okinawan and the president of the organization's Alabama chapter. The two have a grandchild on the way and hope the Okinawan traditions will continue to be passed down.

Another attendee, Pranee Sullivan, also works to preserve her culture and traditions. She was born in Thailand, but now lives in Montgomery making and designing traditional Thai household items to sell to people in Alabama. Part of the proceeds from her sales supports The Friends of the Asian Elephants.

"Before I left Thailand, I looked to see what I could bring with me. I brought my culture," she said.

This sharing of cultures was one of the goals of the kickoff event. "This country is based on the coming together of diverse people. The Exchange is proud and honored to be a part of it," Antonello said. "These events have grown more each year. I can't wait to see what the future holds."

"We celebrate this month to give people knowledge about Asian customs," added Piyanuch Olsen, AAFES visual merchandiser.