colorful image with the words Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the middle of it

Diversity Equality Inclusion - May 14, 2021

Reflections | Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by Fred Pang

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It was established by law as a time to celebrate the contributions of that community to our nation.

Today, according to the U.S. Census about 22.9 million Americans identify as Asian and 1.6 million identify as Pacific Islander — together, they make up 7.4% of the U.S. population. Elements of our community have lived here well before 1776 and have contributed in an outsized way to the vitality of our country. Later in this article, I will call out some of the many notable current and historical Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have made significant contributions in their field.

Historical Contributions

In keeping with the intent of this month, I wish to begin by highlighting two of our community’s historical contributions, which number among many. These contributions are particularly notable because they were made under the burden of prejudice and discrimination.

Our nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad was built between 1863 and 1869 to join the eastern and western halves of the United States. Over 90% of the construction was done by indentured Chinese laborers. Braving harsh working conditions, including injury, death and discriminatory treatment, they nonetheless persevered and were vital in accomplishing one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century. Those who remained in the U.S. after construction was finished continued to contribute as loyal and productive Americans. Of note, despite their contributions and subsequent success in business, science and the arts, they were the only racial group that was discriminated against by laws enacted to prohibited immigration (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) out of the ignorant fear of the “Yellow Peril”.

During World War Two (WWII), Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and interred in camps because of the same ignorant fear that Americans who happened to be of Japanese ancestry were not loyal to our country and instead subjects of the Japanese Empire (like the Chinese Exclusion Act, this was an act of systemic racism against those of Asian ancestry). Second-generation Japanese American men, many of whom had been sent with their families to internment camps, joined the United States Army in waves to show their loyalty. They were segregated into the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought with valor and uncommon courage to earn the distinction as the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. Military History (about 14,000 served in the unit during WWII). Soldiers of the 442nd were awarded 21 Congressional Medals of Honor in addition to over 18,000 other medals for heroism under fire, including over 4,000 purple hearts for deaths and wounds suffered in combat.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are prominent contributors in all fields of endeavor in our country.

Today’s Leaders

In current leadership, we have Vice President Kamala Harris, and 15 Representatives and two Senators, including Mazie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, Mark Takano, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Kai Kahele and Andy Kim. These leaders built on the legacy of stalwarts such as Hiram Fong, Daniel Inouye, Patsy Mink, Sparky Matsunaga, Daniel Akaka and many others who served in state and local government and left indelible marks in our history.

In business and industry, we have Eric Yuan (founder & CEO of Zoom), Amar Bose (founder & Chairman of Bose), Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), Jawed Karim (co-founder of YouTube), Bobby Murphy (founder of Snapchat), Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), Indra Nooyi (CEO of Pepsi), Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), and Kevin Tsujihara (Chairman & CEO of Warner Brothers). They number among a host of other successful business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

In architecture and design, we have Fazlur Rahman Khan (designer of the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center), Maya Lin (designer of the Vietnam Memorial), Gyo Obata (designer of the National Air and Space Museum), and I.M. Pei (designer of the Louvre Pyramid and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) among others.

In science and technology, we have Steven Chu (1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics and former Secretary of Energy), Ellison Onizuka (Astronaut), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1983 Nobel Laureate in Physics), among over 10 other Nobel Prize winners and many other distinguished personages in science and technology.

In sports, we have Duke Kahanamoku (three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Silver medalist in swimming), Tommy Kono (two-time Olympic gold medalist and silver medalist in weight lifting – Schwarzenegger looked to him as his idol), Kristi Yamaguchi (Olympic gold medalist in figure skating), Catherine Fox (two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming), Amy Chow (Olympic gold and silver medalist in gymnastics), Bryan Clay (Olympic gold and silver medalist in the decathlon), Natalie Coughlin (Olympic gold medalist in swimming), Victoria Draves (Olympic gold medalist in diving), Michael Chang (winner of the French Open in tennis) and Tiger Woods (tied for most wins of the PGA Tour), among a host of other world class athletes.

In the Media and Arts, we have Connie Chung (two-time Emmy Award winner), Christine Chen (Emmy Award winner), Sanjay Gupta, Ann Curry, Lisa Ling, Fareed Zakaria, Leana Wen, Yo-Yo Ma, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta, Alex and Eddie Van Halen and Awkwafina among other luminaries.

In the military, we have Eric Shinseki, former Chief of Staff of the United States Army and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who stands in a long line of Asian American and Pacific Islander Generals, Admirals, Sergeants, Petty Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who have served and continue to serve our country in uniform. They have done so with valor founded on love of country and a commitment to the spirit of “Go for Broke” when called upon to fight and win.

There are so many more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are strong threads in our American fabric. They add color to it, but most importantly they add strength. The Hawaiian word for family is Ohana. Asian and Pacific Islanders are proud to be a strong, vital part of the American Ohana.

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Frederick F.Y. (Fred) Pang is a former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He was appointed and confirmed by the Senate to these positions from 1993 to 1997, under the Clinton Administration. Prior to these appointments, he served as a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee under Chairman Sam Nunn.  Before his civilian service, he served for 27 years in the United States Air Force and retired in the grade of Colonel. Fred is a decorated Vietnam veteran. Following his public service, Fred founded ViStar Corporation, a Defense Consulting Company whose primary work was to support our Global War on Terrorism. His company was acquired in 2005 by Veritas Capital and merged into what is now AECOM.  He currently serves on the Boards of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union and its Foundation, of which he is its former Chair. He and his wife, Brenda, moved into Goodwin House Alexandria in 2020. They have two adult children who live in Northern Virginia. Fred holds an MBA from the University of Hawaii.  Both Fred and Brenda are avid travelers and Fred enjoys golf.

About the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) Committee: We are a group of staff and residents who together serve a mission to educate, embrace and empower a workplace of diversity, equality and inclusion. Our vision is to seek open and honest communication and collaboration that will inform and celebrate the cultural, ethnic and sexual orientation of all members of our staff without bias.

Questions or comments? Please contact us dei@goodwinhouse.org.

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