ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
From the tropical rainforest on the Islands of Hawaii to the snow-capped summit of Mount Fuji, Japan, this unique region of the world and the people that live there have a culture unlike any other.
The military brings all kinds of people from every heritage together to support the mission and during the month of May, the Ellsworth Air Force Base Diversity Council held several events to celebrate National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“We have a huge Asian American and Pacific Islander community here in Rapid City, and nationwide,” said Airman 1st Class Fepuleai Edwards, a 28th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and equipment operator. “This month we’re showing the diversity within the military.”
Asian Americans constitute 5.6 percent of the U.S. population, and are one of the fastest growing demographics. Edwards has a Samoan heritage and performed several traditional dances during the month’s events.
“We had some hula, we had some Samoan dancing, we had a blessing dance from the nation of Thailand… A lot of dancing, that’s one of the main ways we like to perform and share our culture,” said Edwards, the event organizer. “There are some things you cannot express through words, but through your hands and your feet and the movement of your hips. We share the stories of our history, our genealogy is embedded in our dances. Many of our cultures didn’t have written history before colonization, so dancing was one way we passed on our traditions and our history.”
The Diversity Council and volunteers made lei necklaces with the children at the Child Development Center, taught kids how to hula dance at the Youth Center and held food tastings at the Base Exchange and Individual Deployment Readiness Center during a cultural exposé.
“Diversity is important because it gives us wider perspective,” said Col. John Edwards, 28th Bomb Wing commander. “Don’t judge a book by its cover, if you look at me and my wife, Jen, here, you’re looking at Chinese, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Irish, Welsh, British, American Indian, Scottish and Portuguese.”
Col. Edwards’ wife, Jen, emphasized the importance of educating others in order to keep culture alive.
“We have a pretty diverse background in our families,” she said. “We embrace our cultures that we both came from… we are proud of them. We also have tried to impart what is special about this culture to our children because really, it’s scary how quickly you can lose what’s special about your culture if you’re not willing to teach.”
A1C Edwards compared the culture of living on a small island and relying on each other to that of serving in the Air Force.
“One person cannot accomplish the mission alone, we need each other and we need everyone,” he said. “Because we have such a diverse workforce now and we spend so much time at work, it’s important that everyone feels like they belong to the community and family.”