Asian American, Pacific Islander Month Celebrates Diversity
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2014 This year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance is a celebration of the ability to excel despite limited opportunities, a senior Navy official said here today.
James C. Meng, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for enterprise business solutions, discussed the Defense Department’s observance, with a theme of “I Am Beyond,” and the department’s efforts in diversity.
“This [theme] was picked by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center,” he said, “to … represent Asian-American and Pacific Islanders’ strong tendencies to excel despite very limited opportunities provided for us.
“If you think retrospectively from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1883 to ,” Meng continued, “and then Executive Order 9066 that interned the Japanese-Americans in 1942, America really has come a very long way in evening the playing field for all its citizens.”
Meng expressed his “sincere gratitude” for the sacrifices made in the U.S. civil rights movement.
Asian-American and Pacific Islanders represent about 30 countries and ethnic groups, Meng noted, and they speak more than 100 different languages. “It represents a very diverse culture, he added.
Meng noted President Barack Obama’s national defense strategy emphasizes a pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, and he said the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community has an opportunity to make more contributions to bridge any culture gaps in those initiatives.
He cited former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Rep. Tammy Duckworth and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki as a few examples of distinguished service members who made a contribution defending American values and also being part of the community contributing to American society.”
“They not only made those contributions,” Meng said. “They served as role models for the rest of the Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders to replicate that type of contribution.” It’s important for DOD to recognize their contributions, and also to remind the constantly renewing workforce that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are continuing to make contributions, he added.
Multiple DOD initiatives, through its Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity have been leveraging external nonprofit organizations, such as the Federal Asian-American and Pacific Islander Council and Asian-American Government Executive Network for mentoring, leadership and outreach, Meng said.
“I have to say that I’m very, very impressed,” he added. “Due to my position over the past 10 years since I’ve been assigned to Washington, D.C., I have been exposed to [much] of the great work that they’ve been doing.”
Meng noted he has worked with several chiefs of naval operations, including Adm. Mike Mullen, Adm. Gary Roughead and now Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert.
“They have made enormous strides,” he said. “Back in 2008, we had only one Asian-American Pacific Islander flag officer,” he said. “But through their consistent effort, bringing about an emphasis [on this], now there are 12 flag officers, so in six years they had a 1,200 percent improvement.”
That kind of change, he said, clearly delineates the commitment of the Navy’s leadership in making those changes.
“I’m pretty sure the other services have made similar progress,” he said. “But since I work for the Navy, I’m more aware of it. Overall, I’m very impressed by what DOD and each service has been doing.”
Meng encouraged young professionals to seek some of the many opportunities the DOD has to offer.
“There are so many opportunities for young professionals -- not just for Asian-Americans -- for all Americans,” he said. “I personally feel that this is a very fertile ground for young professionals to cultivate and pursue their passions.” He specifically noted opportunities in language, science, engineering and technology, where he said he believes that if people are willing to work for the department, they will have very productive careers.
“Personally, I have been enormously grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given since I came to work for the Navy for 27 years,” he said.
Meng said he’s been “truly challenged” by the eight different senior executive service positions he’s held, and that they’ve been “very, very different.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “without those high standards, … when I look back, I would have never been able to accomplish what I have been able to contribute,” he said.
Meng said he believes his Asian culture is intrinsic of respecting people’s dignity, and his collaborative tendencies have helped him a great deal in accomplishing his missions.
“The other important part is my ethnic background, which is very different from Western culture,” he said. “My professional experience and technical expertise [bring] a very different perspective and angle which, a lot times, contributes to finding the solutions that would otherwise be overlooked.”
That aspect, Meng said, is a “fundamental reason” why the department is pursuing diversity, because many problems have been solved from bringing diverse approaches to the table.
Meng again expressed his gratitude for DOD’s diversity and the many people who have shed their blood, overcome bias and engendered fair thinking. “Without their sacrifices, we would not be able to talk about those things that people like myself can contribute,” he said. “I personally felt that I have made a unique contribution.”
Meng also noted that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, then undersecretary of the Navy, listened to his recommendations to establish an executive diversity council for the Navy almost three years ago.
“This is real progress,” he said. “These are real people dealing with real issues. I have full confidence that the Navy and other services are looking at the best practices to help accelerate meeting overall diversity management initiatives.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)