Many Asian Pacific Americans' Contributions Still Unknown
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 14, 1999 "Celebrating Our Legacy" is a fitting theme for this year's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Chinese American Belkis Leong-Hong said, "because we are a nation of immigrants."
Leong-Hong, former principal deputy director of the Defense Security Service, made the remarks during the May 2 opening ceremonies for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the Defense Intelligence Agency. She said ancestors of Asian Pacific Americans came from "a diverse background spanning all the nations and cultures of Far East Asia and the Pacific islands." But, she said, "We, their descendants, are first and foremost Americans, whether by choice or by birth.
"And as Americans, we have contributed to the growth of this nation, in every walk of life for more than 150 years," said Leong-Hong, who retired from DoD last January and established her own company, Knowledge Advantage Inc., in Rockville, Md.
She said history books don't record much about the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in building the American West. Therefore, she said, "Our children grow up not knowing about our ancestors' roles in the growth of America as a nation. In fact, we are only beginning to discover that we had Asian Pacific Americans who fought in the Civil War!"
There is now a concerted effort to recognize the patriotism of Asian Pacific American heroes from World War II, said Leong- Hong, who was born in Kwangtung, China, and came to the United States with her family in 1960. "We want to memorialize their contributions in history, because time is taking a toll and we are losing many of them due to age," she said.
This year has been marked with ceremonies across the nation to honor and commemorate Japanese Americans who served in the military during World War II, she said. An effort has begun to erect a national monument in honor of Japanese American heroes' sacrifice and patriotism, she noted.
Yuriko "Cherry" Tsutsumida, executive director of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation in Washington, said groundbreaking ceremonies for the memorial are scheduled for October 1999 at the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey avenues and D Street in southwest Washington.
"We hope to have the memorial completed by April 2000 and dedicated by that October," Tsutsumida said. The memorial was initially intended to commemorate Japanese American war veterans, but the purpose was extended to honor the patriotism of all Japanese Americans during World War II, she said.
Tsutsumida said several films are in the works about Asian Pacific Americans' contributions to the defense of the nation. Leong-Hong is particularly excited about a documentary called "They Served with Pride."
"This documentary highlights Chinese American World War II heroes," Leong-Hong noted. "It includes such heroes as former Army intelligence officer Col. Won Loy Chan, who later headed the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section, Military Intelligence Training Center, at Camp Ritchie, Md.
"We know that there are many more heroes out there that have not been identified, or that have not come forward to be recognized," Leong-Hong said. She said the Organization of Chinese Americans is working with veterans' organizations across the nation to urge Asian Pacific Americans who served to come forward and be recognized.
"The intent is to honor these heroes publicly at the Organization of Chinese Americans National Convention in Dallas in July and to read the honor roll call for these heroes and heroines," she said.
A coalition of Asian Pacific American organizations is working to "ensure that our children's generation, and our children's children's generation will grow up having access to all the rights and privileges of an American," Leong-Hong said. "They will grow up knowing what our role in history is, and who our heroes are. They can be proud of those that went before us. And in years to come, they can proudly celebrate the rich legacy our forebears left for them."