Initiated originally as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week" in May 1979, the observance was extended in 1990 to include the entire month of May each year, currently proclaimed as "Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month." May was chosen as the commemoration month due to the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, as a majority of workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Opening the celebration, Army Col. Ryan Bailey welcomed the attendees and participants, and his words of gratitude set the stage for a moving tribute.
"This celebration honors the diverse ethnic groups that span from Asia to the Pacific Islands, and acknowledges the numerous generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have forged a proud legacy that reflects the spirit of our Nation – a country that values the contributions of everyone who calls America their home," he said.
"Today, we will learn a great deal about the rich cultural heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and their many contributions to America's history and to the Department of Defense," Bailey continued. "Many AAPIs have defended the United States and served as leaders in some of our most important government, business, and educational institutions – even in the face of racial and cultural prejudice."
Bailey's opening remarks were immediately followed by a reading of the 2018 U.S. Presidential Proclamation, and greetings offered by Maryland state officials. The stage then was cleared for a colorful and energetic performance of "Lotus Blossoms" presented by the Jin Yuxing Dance Studio that appeared to captivate the entire audience.
Serving as Guest Speaker for the festivities, Dr. Joseph Caravalho, Jr., Maj. Gen. U.S. Army (Retired), was then welcomed to the podium. As the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, Caravalho spoke with a warm familiarity that further engaged an already captive audience. His presentation remained poignant, often shifting between humor, personal insight and historical elements while detailing the significance of the Asian American and Pacific Islander region and culture.
"I was born and raised in Hawaii," said Caravalho. "I grew up among the rich heritage of Hawaiians, Samoans, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and a host of other heritages."
Caravalho continued by offering a brief history of his family life in Hawaii, the great sacrifices made by his parents, and his success as a nuclear cardiologist and general officer in the U.S. Army – all the while crediting his heritage and upbringing as a primary factor in his accomplishments.
"[Our parents] taught us the value of discipline, hard work and fortitude," he said. "It was important to be gracious and selfless. Above all, they gave each of us the tools of strong faith and moral character."
Closing his presentation with a focus on "a real American hero," Caravalho spoke of the remarkable actions of a native Hawaiian, Army Private Shizuya Hayashi, during World War II near Cerasuolo, Italy.
Reciting a portion of the official commendation for the Medal of Honor presented to Hayashi, Caravalho proclaimed, "'Private Hayashi's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army' – I hope you can see that I am very proud of my heritage."
Following an enchanting performance of cultural music by The Jasmine Guzheng Academy, Bailey closed the ceremony by thanking the participants and inviting all attendees to enjoy a sampling of popular ethnic foods in the building's atrium.