Culture News

LMI Celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

May 14, 2021

May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of generations of AAPIs to American history, society, and culture. This year, LMI employees shared their experiences and diverse backgrounds. Each story offers a unique perspective on the month and what the AAPI heritage means to them. Click on the stories from our contributors to learn more.

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AAPI Month

Standing on the Shoulders of Humble Men and Women

Larry Kobayashi | Senior Consultant, Data Science

According to LMI senior consultant Larry Kobayashi, “Whether we acknowledge it or not, Asian Americans are living on the shoulders of our ancestors—the humble men and women who preceded us." His great grandparents came to Hawaii in the 1890s to harvest razor-sharp sugar cane.

Read Larry's Story

According to LMI senior consultant Larry Kobayashi, “Whether we acknowledge it or not, Asian Americans are living on the shoulders of our ancestors—the humble men and women who preceded us.” His great grandparents’ life in Hawaii in the 1890s started austerely, with the harvesting of razor-sharp sugar cane. One set of great grandparents returned to Japan after fulfilling their obligations to the plantations, while the others stayed in Hawaii.

Larry's great uncle Ernest Murai was his first family member born in the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Despite the family's poverty, Ernie's father sent him to high school and college on the mainland in the 1910s. After attending the University of California, Los Angeles, Ernie became one of the first Japanese American dentists in Hawaii in the 1920s as well as one of the earliest Japanese American political leaders in the Hawaiian Islands. During World War II, Ernie met and advised John Burns, who was later elected as governor of Hawaii three times, while Ernie became the U.S. director of Customs and Immigration in Hawaii.

Ernest Murai standing on the right. John Burns seated with his wife.
Ernest Murai standing on the right. John Burns seated with his wife.

 

Ernie's wife, Larry's great aunt Hazel, was equally dedicated. A 1941 photo of her repairing a Red Cross truck in The Honolulu Advertiser indicates that Hazel drove an American Red Cross ambulance during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hazel (left) repairing a Red Cross truck.
Hazel (left) repairing a Red Cross truck.

 

Larry's uncle Roy, always a technically curious person, became a ham radio operator in Hawaii in the 1930s. His hobby resulted in temporary internment after the Pearl Harbor attack. After his release, Roy joined the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the U.S. Army's most decorated units in the WWII European campaign. Made up of mainly Japanese Americans, the 442nd is renowned for rescuing the Texas “Lost Battalion” of 275 men that was nearly captured by the Germans in France. After multiple attempts, the 442nd broke through at the cost of over 800 Japanese American casualties. During these campaigns, Roy received a Bronze Star for bravery. His unit was one of the first to cross the border into Germany, stumbling on the first of the sub-camps of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Roy, pictured below, went on to work as an air controller supervisor for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Larry's uncle Roy

Larry's father, Tadao, was just coming out of boot camp in 1945. The day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima marked a turning point for Larry's dad, who realized, for the first time, that he might survive the war. He later served with General MacArthur's occupation force in Japan and as a translator and aide to a U.S. general in Okinawa. Because of his Japanese language skills, Tadao received a rare battlefield commission as an officer despite not having completed college. He later became the first Japanese American to join the U.S. Diplomatic Foreign Service, serving with distinction for over 25 years. For his involvement as a Japanese American soldier in WWII, he received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

Tadao pictured second from the left.
Tadao pictured second from the left.

 

His family’s dedication and hard work has rubbed off on Larry's family. Roy's sons became doctors and professors, while Larry and his brothers have served our nation for a combined total of over 75 years in the federal government and military services. Though they were all born far from Japan—the land of their heritage—the service, hard work, and perseverance of their ancestors deeply etched the paths of their lives.

A Message to the Korean War Veterans of America (The Forgotten War)

Paul Chang | Project Manager

When Paul's mother and father shared how he and his family became American citizens, he realized their story began years before stepping foot on American soil. Much like today's reality where many Americans face life-and-death situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korean conflict cut people off from loved ones, changed routines, severed supply chains, and created overnight hardships.

Read Paul's Story

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“I am here today because of you; I serve the United States of America because of you.”
– Paul Chang

When Paul's mother and father shared how he and his family became American citizens, he realized their story began years before stepping foot on American soil. Much like today's reality where many Americans face life-and-death situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korean conflict cut people off from loved ones, changed routines, severed supply chains, and created overnight hardships. Citizens of the Republic of Korea became homeless, imprisoned, and displaced, and many were killed as the communist north made its way toward the very south of the republic. It was during this time when Paul's mother and father spoke of their hardships surviving on what little food they had, what little shelter they shared with strangers, and what little safety they felt for their future as young adults.

The United Nations, led by the United States, eventually intervened. Young South Koreans gathered enough strength to take up arms and defend their homes. With the support of U.S.-led forces, the communist north was driven back by what is considered the most successful strategic maneuver in U.S. Marine Corps history—the amphibious landing at Inch'on that cut off the supply and support chains of the northern forces. This, the turn of the conflict, is when life decisions were made by Paul's family, why he is here in the United States, and why he is grateful to those who served and continue to serve.

Paul's mother and father immigrated to the United States in the mid-1970s and became citizens after being naturalized in the mid-1980s. Paul was 5 or 6 years old when he arrived in Philadelphia but quickly became a Philly kid growing up in his Italian and Jewish neighborhood. The diversity was needed, and he learned a lot about his new culture—mostly that it's a mixture of all cultures and everyone has the same story that their product, service, or food has no equal. Paul's parents never forgot about their experiences and lived in preparation for life-changing events every day. Some can say they were the first “preppers,” often buying supplies in bulk to save and to prepare.

Throughout Paul's childhood, he was taught the lessons of the Korean War and the gratefulness of those who would sacrifice for others. This is where his appreciation for the U.S. military truly came into perspective. “This is my home now; this is how I can show my appreciation for those who sacrificed for my family,” Paul said.

Paul's father told him stories of his training with the U.S. Army, the battles in which he fought, and the scars from bullet wounds that were his evidence of determination to free his country. His father spoke with high regard of his fellow American troops having to weather the same harsh environment and combat. He fought for his country and his American counterparts fought alongside him. This gratefulness always began and ended his stories.

Paul's favorite story was when his father's platoon was ordered to take a hill; after several attempts, many of them were injured and had retreated to a dry riverbed at the bottom of the hill. They needed to evacuate the injured and his American platoon leader radioed for support. He laid there in agony awaiting help when he saw an airplane flying very low down the riverbed. It looked like its wings had been shot off and was about to crash when it landed 100 meters from them. He asked Paul, “What do you think it was?” Paul replied, “Was it a helicopter?" His father answered, “Yes. The very first I'd ever seen in my life." Paul only thought of a helicopter after watching “M*A*S*H” episodes at the time, but when he researched more, he learned the Korean war was the first time helicopters were used in that capacity.

When Paul enlisted in the Marine Corps almost a year before high school graduation, his mother and father were proud to sign the waiver. He graduated boot camp from Parris Island, NC, when he turned 18 years old. His pride in his service and his country were for both his parents and himself. It was Paul's way to show his honor, courage, and commitment to his country and to all those who came before him. Even after 20 years of service, he could not think of any other career than to work for the American public in some way. He found that working at LMI with the Department of Defense gave him an opportunity to continue his service to the country he loves.

Paul ended with, “All this planning and working in my life in the shadows of my mind has been dedicated to those Korean War veterans who left their homes to go halfway around the world to save my mother and father from losing their home and more. I now follow your footsteps to defend and serve under the blanket of freedom that is the United States of America. Semper Fidelis!”

Paul's father with his dog during the Korean War.
Paul's father with his dog during the Korean War.

 

Paul at Quantico, VA during his promotion to a Staff Noncommissioned Officer.
Paul at Quantico, VA during his promotion to a Staff Noncommissioned Officer.

 

One Community

Philip Trinh | Consultant, Data Science

With the current state of affairs in our world, Philip Trinh has had a lot of time to think about who he is. As a middle-aged, Vietnamese American male, he was born to parents who had fled from their birth country in fear of having to live in post-war Vietnam, and on the sheer hope that they could live a better life elsewhere.

Read Philip's Story

With the current state of affairs in our world, Philip Trinh has had a lot of time to think about who he is. As a middle-aged, Vietnamese American male, he was born to parents who had fled from their birth country in fear of having to live in post-war Vietnam, and on the sheer hope that they could live a better life elsewhere. Philip considers himself lucky—he is living comfortably, has a steady income, and can work while others don't have the same luxury.

Throughout his childhood, Philip heard his parents' immigration story from his father in pieces, but it wasn't until high school that he got the whole story and understood the gravity of the situation. Growing up, Philip was one of two Asian kids in his grade. Yet, at the time, it wasn't a salient thing to him because he was fortunate enough to be accepted in his community. He felt that he had friends to play with and wasn't pointed out as the “different” one. Philip didn't know this would be the exception instead of the norm until he started his undergraduate studies at the University of Denver and met other friends from diverse backgrounds. He always had a sense that people would treat others how they would want to be treated: with dignity, respect, and courtesy. On the contrary, other people's experiences ran the spectrum between acceptance and rejection.

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“Diversity isn't about having the right numbers of people—it's about having the empathy to learn from diverse experiences and the openness to share those experiences in hopes to become one community.”

Throughout his time in undergrad, Philip was exposed to what it meant to be inclusively excellent. He says, “Diversity isn't about having the right numbers of people—it's about having the empathy to learn from diverse experiences and the openness to share those experiences in hopes to become one community.” Every individual has struggles, and every community has challenges. The way to bring each other up is being an ally to one another. They didn't call each group an “association” or an “affinity,” but they were “alliances.” They welcomed everyone into their groups, even if they didn't identify with the group itself. Philip recalls, “If you were willing to celebrate the diversity of the group and work with others in a progressive movement toward an inclusive world, that's all that mattered.”

For AAPI Heritage Month, Philip usually reflects on his parents' immigration story and many others that he has heard over the years from great people around the world. But the last few years have made him contemplate more on humanity. A lot is going on in the world where it may seem like it's falling apart, and the pandemic doesn't make it any better. Thinking back to the community he had on campus is what brings him hope; it's an ideal that he strives toward in his everyday interactions. Philip knows that we're all in this together, even though we have different values, perspectives, and experiences. He closes by saying, “Let's celebrate not this month, but every single day of the year as one community.”

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“Let's celebrate not this month, but every single day of the year as one community.”

Triumph Through Adversity

Christopher Nguyen | Consultant, Human Capital Strategy

This year marks the 46th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, an event that changed the lives of millions of Vietnamese and Southeast Asians refugees. Each anniversary, LMI’s Christopher Nguyen reflects on his parents’ emotional stories, from the casualties and chaos of war during childhood and adolescence to their rescue by U.S. cargo ships, offering new hope and a new life in an unknown land.

Read Christopher's Story

This year marks the 46th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, an event that signified the end of the Vietnam War and changed the lives of millions of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian refugees who fled their home countries in search of freedom and better opportunities. Each anniversary, I am reminded of the stories told by my parents in bits and pieces over the years, from the casualties and chaos of war during childhood and adolescence; to escaping on small fishing boats while fearing capture, persecution, or death; to rescue by U.S. cargo ships, offering new hope in refugee camps; and finally, to arriving in America and navigating a new life in an unknown land.

A few years ago, I began to fully understand the meaning behind these stories; viewing the world through my parents’ lenses let me see how these events shaped them into who they are. When they recall these memories, there is never the sound of resentment in their voices. Instead, they have a sense of calm—an acceptance of the trauma they endured and how their lives were forever changed.

My parents’ stories are not uncommon. They echo those of hundreds of thousands of other “boat people,” with many faring far worse conditions during their journeys at sea. I feel privileged to have heard their stories, as some refugees’ memories are too difficult to relive. I pass down these remembrances to honor their sacrifices, recognizing the courage it took to leave behind everything. As generations pass and with further assimilation into Western ideals and the broader American society, the preservation of Asian cultures is challenged through the loss of language, traditions, and values. For me, forgetting these stories and their lessons is not an option.

As we embrace AAPI Heritage Month, whether you are a member or an ally of the AAPI community, I encourage you to learn more about your family’s history and share your stories with others. Only by talking about our experiences can we celebrate our unique differences and truly understand and learn from each other. As we reflect on the accomplishments of AAPI trailblazers and the community, we must acknowledge the work left to do. In the past year, we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled racism and xenophobia toward the AAPI community. From the six women of Asian descent and the four Sikh Americans who were killed in the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Indianapolis to the countless other victims of anti-Asian violence, we are reminded of the long journey toward equity and justice that lies ahead.

Even so, I remain optimistic for the future. More than anything, my parents’ stories taught me the resilience of the AAPI community. In these difficult times, we must uplift each other’s voices and stand in solidarity with other communities to create sustained change. Most importantly, we must advocate for ourselves, never forgetting that our voices matter and deserve to be heard. As a proud Vietnamese American and member of the AAPI community, I am here to say we are “American enough,” we are not your model minority, and we will triumph through adversity like those before us.

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