News: Celebrating heritage: Service members celebrate first Marine Corps Base Hawaii Cultural Heritage Day
Story by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Lapi
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Lance Cpl. Tessa Bales, a fifth-generation Cherokee and motor transport operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, said she didn’t know what to expect of Cultural Heritage Day when she heard about it from her command. But to her surprise, she not only learned about her own heritage, but the heritage of others as well.
Service members aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii embraced different cultures and heritages during Cultural Heritage Day at Kahuna’s Ballroom, March 1.
The event, which will be held annually, highlights America’s diversity and various heritage backgrounds.
“I just heard that Cultural Heritage Day is a multicultural festival, and I didn’t know other Native Americans would be there,” said Bales, a native of Tulsa, Okla. “After I went, I thought it was great to see how the Marine Corps branched out to show the different backgrounds within the Corps. All the displays like the women’s Marine Chapter and African American diversity opened my eyes to how varied the Marine Corps and American culture is.”
After the opening ceremony, Cpl. Angelina Weatherspoon, an administrative specialist with Installation Personnel Administration Center, sang the national anthem, Cpl. Elijah McTeer, a tax center clerk with the Legal Services Center, sang an original song titled “I Can’t Give Up Now,” and Sgt. Johnny Walker, a logistics chief with Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting, recited Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The event focused on Native American heritage, women’s history, African American history, Asian Pacific American heritage, Holocaust remembrance and Hispanic history. The colorful displays highlighted the differences and common bonds Marines and sailors share as people and members of a uniformed service.
David Bevett, a substance abuse counselor at Schofield Barracks and traditional Native American dancer from Cherokee and Shawnee bloodlines, said it is important for the Marine Corps to promote these kinds of events.
“I have participated in this event with my fellow dancers every year, and being able to dance and show a different lifestyle is key for service members,” Bevett said, a native of Newark, N.J. “Even though we are different, all of us in and out of uniform are bona fide warriors. A warrior is a person who continually prepares mentally, physically and spiritually, and we remain flexible in our lives. We collectively give 100 percent, and this is what unites us.”
Bevett performed a traditional dance with other Native Americans including Abriel Johnny-Rodriguez, who is a “jingle dress” dancer.
“Jingle dress” is a Native American women’s tribal dance.
Bales said she has participated in tribal dances in her home state of Oklahoma.
“I was really happy to see Native Americans performing in Hawaii,” Bales said. “It’s good to see diversity brought to the Marine Corps. It teaches Marines about different cultures, since we are not the same. It’s important to respect.”
Sgt. Laura Simonton, an administrative assistant with the Base Inspector’s Office and a native of Cocoa, Fla., said she was moved by the displays and examples of various people who make up the Marine Corps culture.
“I think it’s good for Marines to hear history,” Simonton said. “Sgt. Walker, who gave the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech, inspired people because it makes them realize how lucky we are to have what others worked so hard for. Most people never get to hear that speech entirely, so I was glad he recited all of it. I’m the only woman in my family to enlist, and I think this event showcases our diverse backgrounds. People should be open to the differences we all have.”
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