What Asian Pacific American Heritage Month means to me

by Tech. Sgt. Catherine Gaco-Escalera
86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron

Every year, Asian Americans and non-Asians celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by attending APAH gatherings or festivals organized each May by Asian American community organizations.

 During these celebrations, attendees have the opportunity to taste the different foods from various Asian countries, watch cultural performances and learn more about Asian American history and culture.

These celebrations are educational, fun and highly recommended. At the same time, we should keep in mind what it is we’re really celebrating. In other words, what does it mean to be proud of one’s Asian American heritage?

Celebrating my Asian Pacific American heritage means a lot to me. First, I am proud that I am a first generation Filipino-American. My parents were born and raised in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1963. I was born in Oakland, Calif., and grew up as a Navy brat. We spoke English at home but ate Filipino food every day. When I was 11 I joined a Filipino folk dance group. It was my first time to see Filipino cultural dances.

I feel very fortunate to have two sets of cultures to enjoy – American and Filipino. Rather than divide my identity in half, these two sets of experiences double my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the world around me.

Second, I’m proud to share in the accomplishments of all Filipino Americans before me. That includes those who are well-known and famous who worked to shatter the stereotypes against us, like Filipino-American Maj. Gen. John R. D’Araujo Jr., the first Filipino-American to hold the rank of major general and the first to hold that position, and Sgt. LeRoy A. Mendonca, who was posthumously presented a Medal of Honor for gallantry in repulsing the enemy in Chichon, Korea. Other famous Filipino-Americans were Agapito Flores, who invented the fluorescent lamp we use today, and Eleanor “Connie” Conception Mariano, a Filipina doctor who was the youngest captain in the U.S. Navy and also the personal physician of U.S. President William Clinton.

And, of course, we cannot forget the everyday Filipino overseas worker who works tirelessly to improve their lives and build a future for their children.

Finally, I’m proud of my heritage where the people of the Philippines are known to be very hospitable and industrious. I find joy in sharing my Asian American Heritage with people of my community.

If there is one way to share the Filipino Culture, it is through dancing. To this day, it is my passion to teach Filipino folk dance and perform during APAH month. Not many people have had the opportunity to see Filipino folk dances. When they do, it is a joy and pleasure to see the smiles on their faces.

 I am proud to be an Asian American. May the legacy of all Asian Americans of the past and present serve to inspire us for generations to come and may the lives of all those before me serve to illustrate the diversity and beauty of what it means to be Asian American. Mabuhay!