News: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration
Story by Sgt. Mark Kauffman
FORT BLISS, Texas – Soldiers, family members and retirees of all races gathered at Freedom Crossing to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, May 24, 2012.
In 1978, Congress passed a joint congressional resolution to commemorate Asian American Heritage Week in the first week of May because of two important anniversaries. One was the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in May, 1843 and the other was the completion of the transcontinental railroad in May, 1869. The railroads were built by many Chinese laborers. In 1990, Congress extended the recognition from a week to the whole month of May.
APAHM was set aside to recognize the cultures, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
“We have been having focus group meetings since January 2012 planning the events,” said Cher Poehlein, Relocation Readiness Manager at Army Community Service here. “Fortunately this has been a collective effort with many of the Asian Pacific Americans of El Paso, the 1AD Combat Aviation Brigade, and Freedom Crossing.
The celebration kicked off at 11:30 with an opening statement by Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War Veteran who lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. She was awarded the Purple Heart for the combat injuries. In 2006, President Obama appointed her Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.
“Asian Pacific-Americans have made countless contributions in many aspects of American life, including, but not limited to the arts, sciences, government, education, sports, business and the military service,” said Duckworth.
Throughout the day, the festivities included Asian food tasting, a fashion show displaying the colorful clothes worn by Asians and Pacific Islanders and hula dancing lessons.
Observers watched demonstrations from three different and unique styles of martial arts from different Asian countries. Kung Fu is from China, Tae Kwon Do is the Korean style of martial arts and Judo is the Japanese style of martial arts.
The highlight of the event was the different styles of Pacific island’s hula dancing demonstrated mostly by the Samoan community who came out in full force to support the event. Each Pacific island has a dance that is uniquely their own.
“Most of the dancers knew the Samoan dances but it took them two months of hard work to learn the different dances from the other islands,” said Fetineia’i Tauanuu. “The hands and hips tell a story when performing a dance.”
For more than three hours, the Pacific Islanders entertained the crowd with different styles of hula dancing and ended the night with the traditional Samoan “fire dance” that brought admiration from the crowd.