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    DC Guard Soldiers reflect on Asian American Pacific Islander heritage

    DC Guard Soldiers reflect on Asian American Pacific Islander heritage

    Photo By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Enriquez | U.S. Army Capt. Justin Hou, 260th Regional Training Institute, District of Columbia...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Andrew Enriquez 

    DC National Guard

    Washington, D.C. -- The history of service by Asian American Pacific Islanders in the U.S. military has been documented back to the Civil War, when historians say 58 of the estimated 200 ethnically Chinese people living in the eastern U.S. served in the military. Though an 1862 act of Congress authorized the naturalization of honorably discharged foreign veterans, those of Chinese descent were denied the right to U.S. citizenship, including Edward Day Cohota, a Shanghai-born man who served 30 years in the U.S. Army.

    American perspectives have since changed. In 2008, a House resolution was passed commemorating the service of Asian Americans like Cohota during the Civil War. Fostering an appreciation and understanding of the diverse people and cultures that constitute the U.S. population has become more of a priority. The District of Columbia National Guard joins other federal organizations in celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May.

    “America as a whole, we came from [an] immigration background,” U.S. Army Capt. Justin Hou said. “The Army is a very diverse organization and to understand culturally and be able to work with everyone who’s different plays a big role within our organization and our country.”

    Hou personally relates to the American immigration story. Born in Shanghai, he moved with his parents to the U.S. at the age of seven, speaking no English. Now assigned to the 260th Regional Training Institute, an ROTC graduate and master’s degree holder, he also serves as State Resilience and Yellow Ribbon programs coordinator at the D.C. Armory.

    Hou believes his service in the National Guard presents an example to Asian Americans who might face familial expectations that prevent them from joining the military.

    “I think growing up, it’s always taught in the Asian community that you can’t play basketball or do this and that, that you always have to study and stay in school,” Hou said. “But not all the time do kids want to be what their parents want them to be. Some want to be pro athletes, some want to join the military, some want to go to the moon.”

    He sees Jonanthan Kim, the Korean-American Navy SEAL and NASA astronaut as an inspiration.

    “Do what you’re passionate about, do what you like, and move forward with it,” Hou says.

    Cultural expectations don’t end with education and career aspirations. Many cultures have deep rooted gender roles that today’s generations are beginning to change.

    U.S. Army Capt. Maryanne Harrell, D.C. National Guard Medical Detachment unit commander, says her military service counters certain traditional gender norms within her community.

    “It’s a huge impact in our community,” Harrell says. “The male is seen as the head of the family, the provider. Filipinos are very traditional in that aspect. However, with me being a female [and] being an officer, I think that’s huge in that it can influence other young Filipinos—especially my daughter—that ‘Hey, a female can do this!’ We are empowered, we can do anything we want to, it’s not just up to the male to be the provider or someone who can be as strong as a Soldier.”

    Harrell hails from a family of service members, including a father and two brothers who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. Due to her father’s active duty Army service, she was born and raised in Germany, where she didn’t meet many other Pacific Islander or Asian families. As a result, she’s gotten used to being perhaps the only woman of her background in some situations.

    “Sometimes it can feel forced when we do these [themed] observances in just one month,” Harrell said. “But if we have a potluck and I bring in pancit, people are like ‘Oh my god, you’re Filipino? I love pancit!’ Or people who’ve never even had it but want to try—now we’re bonding over food and I’m able to explain to them that we make pancit every year for special occasions such as birthdays because it symbolizes long life. So I think it’s very important to share culture not just in one month, but any time someone has a question about your culture or ethnicity.”

    Many Americans grew up learning family and cultural traditions from parents, grandparents and other relatives. But for those who immigrated to the U.S. later in life, the change in culture can be challenging.

    U.S. Army Spc. Viet Tran, a Motor Transport Specialist employed full time as an operations specialist in the D.C. National Guard’s Joint Operations Center, immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam at age 16. According to Tran, formal observations like Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month can help create unity with fellow service members.

    “I think it’s great to recognize where you come from and bring people together,” Tran said. “I know there are Asian people in the D.C. Guard, but I never really see them. To have a month like this where we can get together and recognize each other, meet each other, is nice.”

    Hou, Harrell, and Tran all said that their service in uniform as Asian American Pacific Islanders is unusual in their social circles, but they are happy to lead by example.

    “My little brother looks up to me,” Tran said. “He sees what I do and that I work hard for it and he only talks about wanting to do what I do when he grows up.”

    Ultimately, Hou said, diverse organizations are not merely an altruistic idea, but a pragmatic necessity. “Having a diverse organization is always beneficial to create innovative ideas, to think differently, to think strategically.”



    Date Taken: 05.27.2021
    Date Posted: 05.27.2021 09:52
    Story ID: 397550
    Location: DC, US

    Web Views: 134
    Downloads: 0