By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan (May 12, 2017) – Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) celebrated Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, paying tribute to and recognizing Asian-Americans’ and Pacific Islanders’ contributions to American society and the U.S. Navy.
The guest speakers were Capt. Jeffrey Kim, Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, and Mitsuyoshi Ishiwata, SRF-JRMC friendly society president and physical infrastructure management division head.
“I would like to introduce Admiral Harris,” Ishiwata said, during his speech. “Harry Harris Jr. is the highest ranking Asian-American in the history of the United States Navy, and the first to attain the rank of 4-star admiral.”
In his speech, Ishiwata explained that Harris was promoted to admiral in 2013 and appointed to Commander, U.S. Pacific Command in 2014. Harris was born in Yokosuka and grew up in Tennessee and Florida.
After the two speeches, the attendees were treated to a potluck lunch, which included grilled chicken, pies, mazi-gohan (Japanese rice pilaf), cakes and soft drinks.
Forming a band named after Okinawan confectionary, “Chinsuko,” six SRF-JRMC employees performed instrumental “sanshin” music. “Sanshin” is a small, banjo-like, three-stringed instrument which precedes the “shamisen,” an instrument often accompanying Japanese traditional entertainment like kabuki. The main difference between the two is that the former uses snake skin as a body cover; the latter, cat skin.
The roots of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage month originated in 1978, when the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution. This proposed that the president should proclaim that the week beginning May 4, 1979 recognize the contribution of Americans with Asian and Pacific origins to society. The resolution was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in October of the same year.
In 1990, the law was amended and President George H. W. Bush proclaimed that the week extend to the whole month.
According to the Asian American heritage month website hosted by the Library of Congress, the month of May was chosen because of its historical significance to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. Japanese immigrants first arrived at the United States, May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad was opened on May 10, 1969, and was laid and completed by workers mostly consisting of Chinese immigrants.
One of the contributors of this legislation was the late Daniel K. Inouye, a Japanese-American and a former Hawaii senator. He was one of the congressmen who proposed a resolution to officially legislate a period when Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage was acknowledged.
On April 14, 1990, Senator Inouye, the chairman of Senate Defense Appropriation Subcommittee at the time, visited Yokosuka, as reported by the “Anchor,” SRF-JRMC’s former newspaper. After a tour aboard USS Midway (CV 41), he visited SRF-JRMC where he was given a command brief and toured shops accompanied by SRF-JRMC’s then-commanding officer Capt. Phillip F. Grasser and other Japanese employees.
As reported by a Navy.mil article on April 30, 2017, there are currently 24,743 Asian-American and Pacific Islander service members in the Navy, including eight admirals, 659 master chief and senior chief petty officers and 318 officers. These Sailors represent more than 56 ethnic groups rooted in Asia and the Pacific Islands, currently living in the United States.