5/17/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- The National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base turned to a local speaker to aid in its observance of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, but she brought a worldly and historical aspect to the May 13 event.
Mai Nguyen, who has been director of the Asian/Hispanic/ Native American Center at Wright State University for 25 years, served as the guest speaker for the celebration, sponsored by the Asian American Pacific Islander Committee.
A welcome was provided by NASIC Chief Scientist Gary O'Connell.
"It's important that we all partake of these programs to learn as much as we can ... of other cultures that make up this great country we call America," Mr. O'Connell said.
"The more we can learn about each other's cultures and histories, the better off we are," he said.
"When you start to talk with others who aren't like you, you learn and grow so much, together in so many different ways."
Mrs. Nguyen explained who Asian-Americans are, describing the six major Asian groups - Chinese, Japanese, Asian-Indians, Koreans, Filipino and Vietnamese - who came to the United States due to waves of immigration in the 1800s and 1900s, prompted by the California gold rush, sugarcane plantations, intercontinental railroad, farming and more. Vietnamese people sought to emigrate here because of the Vietnam War and Communism.
In many cases, first-generation Asian-Americans were discriminated against and resented because of their appearance, culture, origin and willingness to take low-wage jobs.
Mrs. Nguyen told the audience that it is very important to understand why the Vietnamese came to the United States and how those reasons differ from other Asian-Americans.
"That was different from other groups," she said. "The Vietnamese came (to this country) unprepared because of the war."
She was one of four Vietnamese-American students at Syracuse University in 1975 when Communists took over Saigon -- now called Ho Chi Minh City -- and she discussed the Vietnamese "boat people" who were trying to flee Vietnam after Saigon fell.
The event ended with a Chinese dragon dance organized by David and Kelly Kirsch, who became acquainted with the Dayton Association of Chinese Americans when they adopted a daughter from China.
Mr. Kirsch, a NASIC employee, explained that the dragon is an important symbol throughout Asia and can signify longevity, prosperity, water and friendship.
A food tasting/lunch was provided by Tik's Thai Express in Fairborn.
After the official program ended, Mrs. Nguyen said these types of cultural experiences are important because it is important for people to understand each other's culture. When one is unfamiliar with another's culture, inadvertent mistakes can be made that hurt people.
"It's always good to be informed so we can enjoy and enrich each other's life," she said.