Story and photos by Kerstin Lopez
Soldiers, Families and community members gathered at the Elkhorn Conference Center May 23 to celebrate the heritage of Asian-Pacific Americans.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Mati Ioapo, keynote speaker, said this year’s observance theme, “Leadership, Diversity, Empowerment and Beyond,” highlights the vibrant and diverse culture of Asian-Pacific Americans.
“From the early 1800s to the present, Asian-Pacific Americans have played a vital role in the development and prosperity of the United
States, and made lasting contributions in all elements of American society,” Ioapo said.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad May 10, 1869, since a majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants, Ioapo said.
“We should keep in mind what it is we are celebrating today. In other words, ‘what does it mean to be proud of one’s heritage?’” he said.
“For me, celebrating my Asian-Pacific American heritage means a lot of things. First, I am so proud that the history of my ancestors goes back 20 generations — twice as long as the United States has even existed. The point is that I feel very fortunate to have two sets of cultures to enjoy — Samoan and American. Rather than divide my identity in two, these sets of experiences double my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the world around me.
“Second, I’m proud to share in the accomplishments and achievements of Asian-Pacific Americans before me,” Ioapo said.
“Finally, I memorialize and pay tribute to Asian-Pacific American veterans who serve our nation with honor and distinction in times of war and peace. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice from World War I to the present.” Ioapo said his hope is that the Asian-Pacific American legacy will live on for generations to come.
“It is my prayer that the Asian-Pacific Americans here today will, throughout this month of May, take the theme of this celebration — Leadership, Diversity, Empowerment and Beyond — and apply and educate others on who we really are.”
Sgt. 1st Class William Shipman, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) equal opportunity adviser, said observances such as the Asian-Pacific American Heritage month are good ways for Americans to celebrate all the cultures that comprise the nation.
“One of the comments that I have heard over the last few years doing this job and teaching classes about culture is that we, as Americans, don’t have our own distinct culture and I don’t agree with that statement,” Shipman said. “I think that one of the things that makes this such a great nation is that we embrace every culture, and we do that in a lot of ways such as the celebration today.”