June 1, 2012

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month brings Airmen, civilians, cultures together

by Airman 1st Class Grace Lee
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Samahang Bayanihan Dance Group, representing the Samahang Bayanihan Organization of Arizona, performs for the audience during the Asian-Pacific American Heritage luncheon at Club Five-Six May 23. The group performed HolaHola Ka’a Hawaiian Dance which represents a long and relaxing ride.

There are many commemorative months that are celebrated every year, but on May 23 Airmen and civilians came together to celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month over food and entertainment at Club Five Six on Luke Air Force Base.

Asian-Pacific American Heritage is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The term Asian-Pacific includes all of the Asian continent and Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

Similar to how other commemorative months originated, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month started out as a congressional bill and wasn’t always a month-long celebration. In 1992, President George Bush signed an extension making the weeklong celebration into a monthlong celebration. Then, it was signed into law for May to be designated as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

The month of May was chosen to recognize the first Japanese, who immigrated to the U.S. May 6, 1843. It also marks the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad; the majority of the workers who built the railroad were Chinese immigrants.

Because of those who paved the way through their own sacrifices, people of Asian-Pacific background have a month where they can celebrate and educate people about their diverse cultures.

For Alma DeGarriz, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron unit programs coordinator, Asian-Pacific Heritage Month is more than breaking bread.

“It makes people more aware of different cultures,” DeGarriz said. “It also benefits the local community and gives them the opportunity to show their support through dance.”

During the event, four dance groups from the local area voluntarily performed for the celebration. The groups who danced were the Mabuhay, the Dudus Chamorritas, a dance team from Arathi School of Dance and the Samahang Bayanihan dance group.

“My favorite performance was from the Arathi School of Dance,” said Airman 1st Class Steven Kylebrown, 56th Medical Support Squadron medical logistics. “I liked how the hand movements seem to tell a story.”

To Kylebrown, attending the luncheon also gave him the opportunity to learn what each dance meant.

“It was interesting to know each dance had its own meaning and history behind it,” Kylebrown said.

While the performers danced, attendees were served eggrolls, fried wonton, fried rice with eggs and vegetables, huli huli chicken, kailua pork, spring rolls, chow mein noodles and for dessert pineapple upside down cake.

Toward the end of the commemoration, guest speaker Dina Steinberg, Banner Estrella Medical Center human resources officer, spoke about how one shouldn’t evaluate someone based on their appearance or name.

Steinberg expressed her definition of diversity by focusing more on the individual and less on gender, religion and race.

“We should celebrate and honor people based on their uniqueness,” Steinberg said. “What separates every individual on this earth is .1 percent of their DNA, thus no one person is alike.”

Since no one person is alike, Steinberg likes to look upon what each person brings to the table.

“It’s more about each individual’s thoughts, education and life experience, which makes them different from one another,” Steinberg said. “And today, I want to honor and celebrate them.”

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