News: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Daniel Schroeder
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Over the years, millions of immigrants have settled in the United States making America a land rich with traditions, culture, and history. As the fighting force of the country, the military is comprised of almost every culture that America has to offer. As a small part of that fighting force, the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade contains backgrounds from across the world within its ranks; some of its soldiers are from the Pacific Islands.
Ceremonies recognizing the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. are held during the month of May as part of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. This month was chosen to commemorate the anniversaries of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.
“The Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is special to me because Americans decided to have this month to recognize our people,” said Sgt. 1st Class Saunoa Tupea, fire support non-commissioned officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 25th CAB, and a native from the island of American Samoa. “I am happy that I got to share part of my background with the men and women of other countries here on Kandahar Airfield.”
During this year’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month observance, the CAB received a 120-pound pig for a luau feast with the showcase of island dances. The pig was donated by the Makaha Cultural Learning Center with assistance from the Native Hawaiian Liaison Office. Part of the luau tradition is to properly prepare the animal, bury it and allow it to slow roast.
“We used onions, some vegetables, and various seasonings to enhance the taste of the meat,” said the American Samoa native. “Out here, we used tin foil and cardboard to cover the pig for roasting instead of the traditional banana leaves. The pig usually cooks for about two hours; instead, we had to cook it for six to eight hours in the umu, which is Samoan for oven.”
Along with the feast for this year’s observance, the 25th CAB also performed several dances from all over the Pacific Islands. soldiers across Task Force Wings volunteered to demonstrate the dances from their background.
“The dances allow me to express the beauty of the people, land, and culture and to honor my heritage,” said 1st Lt. Jessica Jacinto, the executive officer for Company E, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th CAB, and a native from Kaumakani, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. “Through dance there is a connection with the ‘aina, the earth, my heritage, and the place I call home, Hawaii. Through learning and performing cultural dance of Hawaii, I move towards reconnecting and rediscovering the importance of the Akua, ancestors, family, community, and my culture.”
Dances are a way of rediscovering the importance of Hawaiian cultural richness in the stories and chants passed down. Ancient Hawaiians had no written language; they expressed the history, stories, and aspects of life through the hula.
Hula dances and chants convey Hawaiian genealogy, mythology and prayers. The dances build on both ancient and present history regarding their cultural identity with every dance connecting to the past. Each movement in hula has a specific meaning and every expression of the dancer’s hands is significant. The chants, songs and dance tell stories of the Hawaiian’s relationship with nature. Movement of a dancer’s body can represent many different things such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze, wave in the ocean, or a feeling of emotion. The songs and chants that accompany the movements aid in telling the dancer’s story.
“Dancing provides a visual ‘voice’ in which to express myself as an Asian-Pacific Islander,” said the Kaumakani native. “My favorite dance is the Hula because it is a living tradition that continues to grow and evolve. It keeps the old ways and traditional culture alive.”
The soldiers who participated in the Asian-Pacific American Heritage performance had the opportunity to present a part of their culture and traditions for others from different backgrounds while practicing their heritage in a deployed environment.
“I am glad that I was able to participate and help pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to America’s, the military’s and the Army’s history and are vital to their future success,” said Jacinto. “I feel like our dance performance provided a visual image and experience that shared messages to the viewers and also helped to make them aware of different Asian Pacific cultures. The dancing helped to interest people in the Hawaiian culture and provided a path for Hawaiian people to return to their roots."