FORT CARSON, Colo. -- More than 330 Soldiers, Families and community members gathered Tuesday to celebrate the culture and heritage of Asian-Pacific Americans during the annual observance at the Elkhorn Conference Center.

Though the term Asian-Pacific Americans is broad, it encompasses the entire Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

"During the month of May our goal is to showcase and celebrate the cultures of Asian and Pacific Islanders," said Sgt. 1st Class William Shipman, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) equal opportunity adviser.

The month was selected to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in May of 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May 1869, which the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants, Shipman said.

This year's theme, "Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion," was chosen to focus on the Executive Order on Diversity and Inclusion signed by President Barack Obama Aug. 18, he said.

"So our goal today is to present to you just a few of the many Asian and Pacific Island cultures from all over the world with our speaker, our performers and our food samples," Shipman said.

Nestor Mercado, keynote speaker, said the estimated number of U.S. residents of Asian descent is 17.3 million and still growing, according to the 2010 census. He said the accomplishments of Asian-Pacific Americans have been an integral part of the nation.

"I have always championed the interest of Asian-Pacific Americans, particularly in regards to their contributions to the American society," Mercado said.

Shipman said events such as the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month observance are good ways for Americans to celebrate the many cultures that comprise the nation.