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Celebrating diversity: Asian Pacific Heritage Month

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S., May 7, 1843, and the role of Chinese workers in the completion of the transcontinental railroad, May 10, 1869, are two milestones that led to May being named National Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

"Building Leadership: Embracing Cultural Values and Inclusion" - the theme for 2013 - echoes an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in August 2011.

"Our nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all," the order states. "We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges."

In 1965, Patsy Mink - a Japanese American - became the first female minority elected into Congress. Mink received bachelor's degrees in zoology and chemistry from the University of Hawaii, and after graduation she applied to 20 medical schools, none of which accepted women. Mink decided to change her plans and went to the University of Chicago and later authored the Women's Educational Equity Act. This act, intended to end gender discrimination in schools, was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Asian Americans have fought to defend the U.S. since 1812, and continue to fight for the freedom of all Americans. They strive for excellence in education and military service and currently make up 10 percent of the classes at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

There was a time when Asians and Pacific Islanders were not allowed to come to the U.S., but this law was changed in 1965 with the Immigration and Nationality Act, and this lifted the gates for many Asian immigrants.

Since the lift of the ban, the diversity in the workforce has quadrupled in the past four decades and Asian Americans now account for 5.3 percent of the total workforce. The median family income of Asian Americans exceeds that of the general population by thousands of dollars.

Throughout American history, Asians and Pacific Islanders have faced discrimination in this country and fought for equality. Through persistence and determination, they increased their numbers in schools, the military and other government positions. It is important to remember the sacrifices they've made and recognize their many accomplishments.