The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support and NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support hosted an annual Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Month program May 12, attended by employees virtually and in-person.
DLA Troop Support Commander Army Brig. Gen. Eric Shirley said Equal Employment Opportunity events that recognize and celebrate diversity, are important reminders of who we are as a nation and what makes us strong.
“This year’s celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Month is critically important because our nation has been built upon many cultures, and we take the best of those cultures and continue to advance what is our common American dream,” he said. “So, wherever we come from, whatever our individual cultural uniqueness is, it all becomes one. It all flows into this larger family, this larger tribe, that is the United States of America. And so today we recognize the strength in our diversity, and we celebrate that.”
The national theme for this year’s event was “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration,” an idea Shirley said is very familiar to Troop Support.
“We have used [collaboration] to improve our dynamic team and enhance communications, increasing efficiency and innovating to better support the warfighter around the world,” Shirley said. “It’s because of the collaborations and the relationships we’ve formed with our workmates, our Whole of Government partners and our vendors and customers that make us so successful in what we do.”
Keynote speaker, Randy Duque, deputy director of the Community Relations Division at the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, spoke about the diaspora of Asian descendants in Philadelphia and throughout the U.S. He said that understanding the importance of diversity lends itself to this year’s theme.
“In collaboration, strength comes from these diverse thoughts, opinions, and ways of thinking,” Duque said. “From that you get deeper and richer ideas to complete mission objectives. Through that understanding, these complexities and diversities, particularly with the Asian American and Islander communities, you’ll see how learning more about the diaspora fits in line with the series.”
Duque, who is Filipino, became the first Asian American to lead PCHR, the nation’s oldest municipal civil rights agency, when he served as acting executive director from December 2020 to June 2021.
His current responsibilities as deputy director cover a wide range of areas including civil rights; immigrant and refugee issues; victim services; antiviolence initiatives; community-police relations; conflict intervention; and issues relating to changing neighborhoods.
“[PCHR] is charged with two things: one, ensuring that anyone that lives, works, or visits Philadelphia feels safe and protected,” Duque said. “And two, to conduct educational training on different aspects of civil rights.”
Duque said when people hear the word Asian, usually a lot of similar things come to mind.
“Some people think of the food, or chopsticks, or certain celebrations like the Lunar New Year, or certain costumes people wear,” he said. “But Asian goes beyond all of that.”
The global Asian population makes up approximately 60 percent of the world’s population, including individuals from more than 40 different countries and about 50 major ethnic groups with just as many languages, Duque said. In the U.S., the Asian American population has increased from 11.9 million in 2000 to 22.4 million in 2019, making them the fastest growing minority population in the country.
During his presentation, Duque highlighted some of the similarities that run through Asian cultures, such as a traditionally holistic approach to medicine, an emphasis on conformity and strong family-centered values. He also stressed that many Asian cultures differ in many ways including varying religions and languages, and that many Asian ethnic groups are unfamiliar with the culture of other Asian ethnic groups.
“There are some nations that have several languages that are different from each other,” he said. “My heritage is Filipino. Typically, people think of Tagalog as the language of the Philippines, but that’s not what my parents spoke at home. So, growing up I’d here Ilocano at home, but then going to a Filipino party, I’d here Tagalog and they were different enough that I didn’t understand it.”
Duque said although the Asian community is a large and very diverse group, they are often seen as a singular race with a monolithic culture. Even when born in the U.S., many still see Asian Americans as immigrants and, in turn, can treat them as second-class citizens. Even though the patriotism of Asian American’s goes back to the 19th century.
“There have been Asians in the military as far back as the War of 1812, most of them were Filipinos called Manilamen and they were under the direct command of Jean Baptiste Lefitte in defense of New Orleans,” he said. “Asians also fought on both sides of the Civil War. Japanese Americans served in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish American War. And there were several notable AAPI units in WWII.”
Duque ended his presentation by stating that it’s important for communities to know and understand each other. Through that collaboration, communities of all ethnicities will grow and prosper.
“Go out there and meet your neighbors,” he said. “Extend your hand and invite people to get to know each other. Get to know your neighbors and get to know their cultures.”
Employees can view the program in its entirety here.