A standing-room-only crowd of U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville employees gathered to celebrate and learn about Asian-American Pacific Islander heritage during a cultural presentation May 9.
Attendees were treated to stories, dancing, drumming and authentic Asian cuisine as a part of the event sponsored by Huntsville Center’s Special Emphasis Program of the Equal Employment Office.
The event was designed to “…celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, as we reflect on the many ways they have enriched our Nation,” according to a Huntsville Center EEO release.
The theme for this year’s AAIP Heritage Month was “Unite Our Voices by Speaking Together".
Keynote speaker, Mr. Stacey K. Hirata, chief, Installation Support Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Headquarters, said the theme reminds us of America’s true strength, noting the Asian American/ Pacific Islanders make up 56 ethnic groups who speak 100 languages.
“It encourages all of us to join together to overcome misconceptions and stereotypes,” Hirata said. “Celebrate the diversity that has made each of us an American and strengthened our nation.”
Hirata, a second generation American, shared the story of the late U.S. Senator from Hawaii Daniel Inouye who was instrumental in helping him find a path to success. Aside from approving Hirata’s appointment to the U.S. Army Military Academy, Inouye served as hero and role model.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Inouye and other Asian Americans of Japanese ancestry attempted to volunteer to fight for the U.S. in World War II but were rejected by a racially biased assessment as security risks.
Inouye and his friends persisted and were eventually allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1943. The future senator would go on to personally acquit himself with recognized acts of valor while serving in the most decorated unit of its size in the American Army: the racially segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Hirata’s remarks were preceded and followed by a cultural demonstration of traditional Korean fan dancers and drummers. The colorfully clad single fan dancers shared joyful dances performed for centuries before kings.
Lively Korean Nanta drumming filled the Huntsville Center cafeteria and served as a powerful percussive counter to the delicate delight of the fan dancers.
At the event’s conclusion, all were invited to pick up plates and enjoy a wide sampling of Asian foods. Long lines of attendees waiting their turn to dine attested to the popularity of the eatery offerings.
In his closing remarks, Col John Hurley, commander, Huntsville Center, asked his team to be mindful of the opportunity to participate in Special Emphasis Programs throughout the year.
“A lot of places to work and organizations to be a part of today just squeeze every ounce of time out of you,” Hurley said. “Stop to reflect on the importance of things like this.”