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News | May 29, 2024

Walter Reed observes Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Bernard Little

Walter Reed observed Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month with dance, food, and words of inspiration during a program on May 23 in Clark Auditorium at the medical center.

"During May, we celebrate the traditions and contributions generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to American history and culture," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Anthony Genuino, master of ceremony for the program.

U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Alex Kim, a Korean American and a pastoral education student at Walter Reed, said the celebration was in the spirit of "Aloha," the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. He added that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have provided the world with "a rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and histories."

"From Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, to the multitude of Asian cultures, their contributions in every field [including] the arts, sciences, education, and most importantly, the foods and beyond, enrich our lives and deepen our understanding of [the Lord's] diverse creations. May they feel valued, respected, and celebrated for their unique heritage and the many ways they have contributed to the beauty and strength of our society," Kim added.

"Advancing Leaders Through Innovation" is this year's Department of Defense theme for Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The Walter Reed celebration included showing a brief DOD film highlighting a few trailblazers with those heritages.

The DOD film features Florence Finch, a Filipino American who aided the Filipino resistance in repelling the enemy by passing valuable intelligence to the Allies and risking her life to sabotage enemy operations during World War II.

The film also highlights Bruce Lee, the martial artist who inspired generations with his skills and philosophy of self-expression and cultural pride. He challenged stereotypes and advocated for better representation [of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders], paving the way for greater diversity in film and beyond.

The film also features Ellison Onizuka, NASA's first Asian American astronaut, and Kurt Chew-Een Lee, the first Asian American Marine Corps officer.

Following the video, the Tepua Hio Hio Polynesian Dance Company performed dances originating from the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Samoa. Tepua Hio Hio means "the flower that dances with the wind," and the company's vibrant and graceful dances captivated the Walter Reed audience. Some members joined the group for a hula to cap off their performance.

Having served two tours in Hawaii and spent several years of her childhood in Korea, U.S. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Melissa Austin, director of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, explained that she had many opportunities to travel around the Far East, which gave her an appreciation for the cultures and traditions of people from that region.

"Aside from the wonderful accomplishments and innovations we celebrate today…I was always struck by the welcoming warmth, wisdom, and embrace of life [of people of those heritages] that bring people together," Austin said. Commenting that these traits that are sometimes in short supply, she encouraged everyone to "embrace that warmth and human connection."

Following the program, event organizers served foods of Asian American and Pacific Islander influence.

Walter Reed's Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion office, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command-Bethesda, and Medical Readiness Brigade—National Capital Region sponsored the event.
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