DVIDS – News – DC Guard soldiers reflect on the legacy of the Asian Pacific Islands

Washington, DC – The history of Asian-American Pacific Islanders’ service in the United States military has been documented until the Civil War, when historians say that 58 of the roughly 200 ethnically Chinese people living in the eastern states -United served in the army. Although an 1862 law of Congress allowed the naturalization of honorably released foreign veterans, those of Chinese descent were denied the right to U.S. citizenship, including Edward Day Cohota, a Shanghai-born man who served 30 years in the US military.

The American outlook has since changed. In 2008, a House resolution was passed to commemorate the service of Asian Americans as Cohota during the Civil War. Fostering an appreciation and understanding of the diverse people and cultures that make up the American population has become a higher priority. The District of Columbia National Guard joins other federal organizations in celebrating Pacific Island Asian-American Heritage Month each May.

“America as a whole, we come from [an] immigration history, ”said US Army Captain Justin Hou. “The military is a very diverse organization and understanding its culture and being able to work with all of those who are different plays an important role within our organization and our country.

Hou relates personally to the history of American immigration. Born in Shanghai, he moved with his parents to the United States at the age of seven, not speaking English. Now assigned to the 260th Regional Training Institute, a ROTC graduate and master’s degree holder, he is also the State Resilience and Yellow Ribbon Programs Coordinator at DC Armory.

Hou believes his service in the National Guard is an example for Asian Americans who may face family expectations that prevent them from joining the military.

“I think growing up the Asian community has always learned that you can’t play basketball or do this and that, that you still have to study and stay in school,” Hou said. “But kids don’t always want to be what their parents want them to be. Some want to be professional athletes, some want to join the military, some want to go to the moon. ”

He sees Jonanthan Kim, the Korean-American Navy SEAL and NASA astronaut as an inspiration.

“Do what you love, do what you love and move on,” says Hou.

Cultural expectations do not stop at educational and career aspirations. Many cultures have deep-rooted gender roles that today’s generations are starting to change.

U.S. Army Captain Maryanne Harrell, unit commander of the DC National Guard’s medical detachment, says her military service goes against some traditional gender norms within her community.

“It’s a huge impact in our community,” says Harrell. “The male is considered the head of the family, the provider. Filipinos are very traditional in this regard. However, with me being a woman [and] being an officer, I think it’s huge in that it can influence other young Filipinos – especially my daughter – that “Hey, a woman can do that! We are empowered, we can do whatever we want, it’s not just the male to be the provider or someone who can be as strong as a soldier.

Harrell came from a military family, including a father and two brothers who served or are serving in the United States military. Due to her father’s active military service, she was born and raised in Germany, where she did not meet many other Pacific Islander or Asian families. As a result, she got used to being perhaps the only woman in her midst in certain situations.

“Sometimes it can feel forced when we do these [themed] observances in just a month, ”said Harrell. “But if we have a potluck and I bring pancit, people are like, ‘Oh my god, are you Filipino? I love the pancit! Or people who haven’t even had one but want to try – now we’re bonded by food and I’m able to explain to them that we make pancit every year for special occasions like birthdays because it symbolizes the long life. So I think it’s very important to share the culture not just in a month, but anytime someone has a question about your culture or ethnicity. “

Many Americans grew up learning about family and cultural traditions from their parents, grandparents, and other relatives. But for those who immigrated to the United States later in life, culture change can be difficult.

US Army Spc. Viet Tran, an auto transport specialist employed full time as an operations specialist in the DC National Guard Joint Operations Center, immigrated to the United States from Vietnam at the age of 16. with other members of the service.

“I think it’s great to recognize where you’re from and bring people together,” Tran said. “I know there are Asians in the DC Guard, but I never really see them. To have a month like this where we can come together and recognize each other, meet each other, is good. “

Hou, Harrell and Tran have all said their uniformed service as Pacific Islanders of Asian descent is unusual in their social circles, but they are happy to lead by example.

“My little brother is looking at me,” Tran said. “He sees what I’m doing and that I’m working hard for it and he’s only talking about wanting to do what I do when he grows up.

Ultimately, Hou said, various organizations are not just an altruistic idea, but a pragmatic necessity. “Having a diverse organization is always beneficial for creating innovative ideas, for thinking differently, for thinking strategically.”

Date taken: 05/27/2021
Date posted: 05/27/2021 09:52
Story ID: 397550
Location: DC, United States

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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