U.S. Rep. Hanabusa recounts experiences at heritage month event

Sailors and civilians assigned to various commands aboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam listen as U.S. Rep for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District Colleen Hanabusa talks about the accomplishments of Asian Americans past and present during an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage event held at JBPHH Memorial Chapel. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Nardel Gervacio

Sailors and civilians assigned to various commands aboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam listen as U.S. Rep for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District Colleen Hanabusa talks about the accomplishments of Asian Americans past and present during an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage event held at JBPHH Memorial Chapel. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Nardel Gervacio

Brandon Bosworth

Staff Writer

Navy Region Hawaii marked the start of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with an observance held May 1 at Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel.

Speaking at the event were Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific; Quartermaster 2nd Class Caroline Balagtas, Port Operations, Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam; and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who represents Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives.

President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution designating Asian-Pacific Heritage Week in October 1978. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed an extension expanding the week-long event into a month-long celebration. In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law.

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

“Asian-Pacific DNA is woven into the very fabric of our country,” said Ponds. “Today it is fitting we set aside some time to recognize our fellow Americans.”

Balagtas spoke about being born and raised in the Philippines and her journey to the United States. Her father was a U.S. Navy Sailor who died when she was age four. She eventually made her way to California and became a U.S. citizen herself in 2005.

One day Balagtas found herself talking on the phone to a Navy recruiter after someone made a mistake transferring her call to a local business.

“He began talking about the opportunities and programs the military offered,” she said.

She enlisted and was soon off to Naval Station Great Lakes for basic training.

“Great Lakes opened my eyes to the diversity of the U.S.,” she said.

Balagtas came to JBPHH in 2012 and works as a harbor patrol dispatcher for Port Operations.

“As a Filipino woman, I am proud of my accomplishments,” she said. “As an American, I am proud to serve and will continue to serve as long as they let me.”

The event ended with a speech by Hanabusa, who recounted her own experiences as a fourth generation Japanese American growing up in Hawaii.

“It is a unique place to grow up, since we are a state composed of all minorities,” she said.

Hanabusa also talked about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit composed almost entirely of American Soldiers of Japanese descent who volunteered to fight in World War II. It is also the most decorated infantry regiment in the history of the United States Army. She explained how the 442nd reflects the sacrifices Asian Americans have made to the nation.

“Why do Asian Americans commit so much to this country?” she asked.

“It is their sense of family, their sense of loyalty, and their sense of obligation. They are grateful to have a chance at the American dream,” she said.

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Category: News