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Feature Stories

NEWS | May 24, 2017

US Army Central hosts “gathering” in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Leticia Hopkins U.S. Army Central

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. – U.S. Army Central’s equal opportunity directorate invited guests to a “family gathering” during an observance for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at Patton Hall May 24.

“In the Asian culture, and like any culture, family is very important, so you share a piece of your family when you invite someone into your home,” said Col. Roy Banzon, USARCENT command inspector general. “I think that is the intent of the heritage month celebration … I’m really inviting you into my home.”

Banzon added when people can taste, see and participate in other cultures, it helps them to learn. Hopefully, resulting in them having more of an appreciation for other cultures and decreasing stereotypes, hatred, and prejudice.

Once the gathering’s events started, three other elements of these Asian Americans’ and Pacific Islanders’ cultures became apparent—education, sacrifice and Americanism.

Brig. Gen. Viet X. Luong, USARCENT chief of staff, spoke to the audience about his experiences with all three of those elements. Luong’s speech provided guests with some insight into the circumstances, as well as, emotional and traumatic period prior to his family fleeing to the United States from Vietnam. It also addressed some of the opportunities and sacrifices he and his family encountered after they arrived in the United States.

In the final days of the Vietnam War, it became evident that North Vietnam was going to win the war. The United States worked adamantly to evacuate people from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. At the same time, North Vietnamese troops rapidly advanced toward the capital, eventually resulting in the fall of Saigon.

According to Luong, his father held an important role as a South Vietnamese military officer during the Vietnam War. As the war’s ending approached, ensuring the family’s safety became more crucial. That’s when, with the United States’ help, Luong’s father decided and prepared to escape with his family.

Luong added long and chaotic days created obstacles and jeopardized the plan. But those obstacles didn’t stop the mission, a helicopter transporting the family successfully landed on a U.S. Naval ship with each family member safely aboard. At that moment, Luong’s father told the future first U.S. Army Vietnamese-born general officer he was now safe because he was under the United States’ protection.

That day started a new chapter in their lives, as they journeyed to become American citizens, which would entitle them to numerous privileges and opportunities. Education was one of those privileges afforded to the family that they valued.

Luong said his family valued and emphasized the importance of education and its impact on future successes. It was important to his parents that he and his sisters were educated. A value that he and his wife passed on to and ensured with their children. So with their parents’ expectations in one hand and the educational opportunities afforded to them as Americans in the other, Luong and his sisters were able to achieve their educational goals and go on to succeed in other areas of their lives.

Luong added they set out to make their parents proud and to succeed. With sacrifices made by his parents and two older sisters, and each of their own hard work, he and his sisters earned scholarships to pay for and attend various colleges and universities. Upon graduating, they went on to become attorneys, biologists and media producers.

“I want to tell how I went from a penniless refugee to where I am now” said Luong. “I owe a debt to this country. I am American by choice not by birth. I’ve chosen to protect this country and preserve our way of life.”

Like Luong and Banzon, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have chosen to serve this country; to highlight some of those contributions, guests watched a video of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The team was activated in February 1943 and was composed entirely of Japanese-descent Americans who wanted to and were ready to serve. Despite many being feared and resented after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, being sent to live in internment camps and being barred from enlisting to serve this country, they still chose to serve when the opportunity arose. Once the ban was lifted, they adopted the motto “Go for broke” and went out to serve and protect America; they offered their lives to show their loyalty.

“It’s [about] being an American; it’s not [about] being Asian American,” said Banzon. “The most important piece of the American culture is that you can come from anywhere, but you have to kind of understand that being an American is more important than possibly where you came from.”

And while being American is something all of the various ethnicities that make up America share, these months celebrate what each culture adds to the melting pot. In this case, the gathering showed guests that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders brought the values they place on family, education and sacrifice. Although the gathering had serious tones, it was a gathering to celebrate. So to round things out and show guests some of the fun sides of their culture, humor and entertainment, which included dancing and music, were provided as well.

Guests watched a performance of a traditional Filipino dance, the Tinikling, performed by several USARCENT children and had the opportunity to see a few traditional garments. The traditional Filipino dance was taught to and practiced by the children over a two-month period. The children later presented leis to a few of the guests. The children showed their irresistible charm when they improvised a dance lesson and were able to get guests to volunteer, participate and learn the dance.

Michelle Banzon, one of the dancers and Banzon’s daughter, said it was a wonderful opportunity to show some of the Filipino culture and have people who aren’t Filipino participate.

“Dance is humongous in the Philippines,” said Michelle. “Music just brings people together and is another way to show emotions. Each culture has something special about them. We were able to show a small piece of the Philippines.”

And since a family gathering wouldn’t be complete without food, USARCENT family members also made traditional foods for guests to enjoy. Marlyn, Banzon’s wife, and Leticia Banzon, Banzon’s mother, along with Sgt. Maritess Bell, USARCENT chaplain assistant; Lillian Camacho, wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Camacho, USARCENT inspector general sergeant major; Lt. Col. Riley Matthews, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion commander; and Kimberly Luong, Luong’s wife, provided guests with traditional dishes and desserts: lechon, lumpia, chicken kelaguen, bibingka, pancit, Yangzhou fried rice and Filipino cuisine (a fried vegetable mix).

Albeit this group was proud and happy to share the cultures of the countries they descended from, but they were even more proud to be Americans first. A privilege they enjoy, while remaining aware that the opportunities they enjoy also come with sacrifices.

In closing, Luong told guests they shouldn’t take anything for granted and that “we live in the best country in the world.

“Please take this time to celebrate this country and who we are as Americans.”