News: JBLM holds Asian-Pacific heritage celebration
Story by Sgt. Mark Miranda
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Hundreds of service members gathered at the McChord Field Collocated Club, May 17, for this year’s Asian-Pacific American heritage celebration.
Hosted by the 62nd Medical Brigade, the theme of this year’s event was “Striving for excellence in leadership, diversity and inclusion.”
“One of America’s greatest strengths is its diversity. It is one of the few countries in the world that is comprised essentially of folks who lived somewhere else before coming to the North American continent. That diversity provides America its strength, as well as one of its biggest challenges,” said Col. Theresa Schneider, commander of the 62nd Med. Bde.
“That challenge is: ‘How do you teach the children, the soldiers, the airmen, the DOD civilians, the Family members to understand that diversity, to appreciate that diversity, and to respect that diversity if you grow up in a part of America where you don’t encounter diversity?’ So within the Department of Defense one answer to that problem is to host monthly heritage celebrations such as the Asian-Pacific heritage celebration,” Schnieder said.
Event emcee, Chief Warrant Officer Richard Forrest, began the ceremony with a brief history lesson on Asian Pacific heritage celebration month, started in 1978 when Congress urged President Jimmy Carter to declare the week of May 4 as Asian American Heritage Week.
“The day is significant because it coincided with the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843, and with the completion of the first continental railroad built largely by Chinese laborers on May 10, 1869. In 1990, Congress pushed for the celebration to encompass the entire month of May,” Forrest said.
The Asia-Pacific Cultural Center, with the help of the JBLM Library and Museum, set up cultural displays in the lobby of the McChord Club.
The Northwest Korean Dancing Academy and Tiger Tae Kwon Do Academy provided entertainment.
A presentation with pictures of Asian and Pacific Islanders engaged in everyday life activities played on screens around the room throughout the observance.
This year’s guest speaker was Patsy Surh O’Connell, founder of the Asian Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, Wash.
“In 1996, we established non-profit organization called Asia Pacific Cultural Center, representing 47 Asian and Pacific region countries. A recent ‘National Geographic’ article indicated that we now have 4,000 languages in the world, but by the year 2100, nearly half of those languages will be gone. That means we are losing the cultural heritage around the world. As we live in modern society of new technology the Internet is a way of life; that does not mean that we have to lose our parent language that reflects our heritage as we assimilate into and adapt to a relatively new American culture,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell spoke of the importance of maintaining cultural identity.
“Many of today’s second and following generations don’t have a deep understanding of their parents’ homeland or have real value of their cultural roots. I always compare our cultural root to a tree. The tree that has only surface roots blows over easily in the winds, but deep anchoring roots will ensure that tree will not go down with even strong winds.”
In her speech, O’Connell gave a few brief statistics about future generations of Americans.
“The census indicated that by the year 2050 half of Americans born will be of mixed races, from several ethnicities and cultures. If what is good from each of our cultures of origin is shared, understood and made a part of each individual’s daily living, I believe we’ll be of stronger character and best prepared to withstand any kind of adversity that comes our way.
“It is our generation’s responsibility to keep alive what is good from our cultural heritage. The mission of the APCC is bridging communities and generations through arts, culture and education and business. It’s important to understand that we are all one and that we can celebrate our sameness while we respect each others’ differences,” O’Connell said.
After an awards presentation to honor guests of the celebration, the event concluded with a food sampling that offered traditional Asian and Pacific Islander dishes.
“At its essence, the reason why we’re here is learning. To take an hour and to engage with people who may come from different backgrounds than you so that when you leave today you have a better appreciation, understanding of the soldiers, Airmen and [others] who you will work with in your career.
“It’s about bridging those cultural differences so that people have a better understanding and respect for what makes America great,” Schneider said.