Looks can be deceiving

Members of the Wichita Falls Hula Polynesian Dance Troupe perform at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Luncheon held at the Sheppard Club on May 31. Attendees got to see three styles of dance and hear from guest speaker Col. Om Prakash, 82nd Training Wing Vice Wing Commander. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

Members of the Wichita Falls Hula Polynesian Dance Troupe perform at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Luncheon held at the Sheppard Club on May 31. Attendees got to see three styles of dance and hear from guest speaker Col. Om Prakash, 82nd Training Wing Vice Wing Commander. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

The master of ceremony A1C Gino Pogoy welcomes everyone to the Asian Pacific Heritage Luncheon held at the Sheppard Club on May 31. Over 120 people came to the this year’s event which was  planned by MSgt Marcos Starks of the 372d Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

The master of ceremony A1C Gino Pogoy welcomes everyone to the Asian Pacific Heritage Luncheon held at the Sheppard Club on May 31. Over 120 people came to the this year’s event which was planned by MSgt Marcos Starks of the 372d Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

Members of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Luncheon planning committee. Pictured from left to right: SSgt Andrew Maramag, 366 TRS, A1C Pauline Cardenas, 82 CPTS, MSgt Marcus Starks, 372 TRS, A1C Gino Pogoy, 82 MDOS, Ms. Debbie Baldwin, 982 TRG, TSgt Ruben Labrador, 361 TRS, SSgt Jose Deharo, 82 SFS. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

Members of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Luncheon planning committee. Pictured from left to right: SSgt Andrew Maramag, 366 TRS, A1C Pauline Cardenas, 82 CPTS, MSgt Marcus Starks, 372 TRS, A1C Gino Pogoy, 82 MDOS, Ms. Debbie Baldwin, 982 TRG, TSgt Ruben Labrador, 361 TRS, SSgt Jose Deharo, 82 SFS. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Kimberly Dagdag)

06/01/2012 -- "Do you speak Spanish?" That is something I have heard several times during my time as a bank teller. It never offended me, it's just something I always noticed. While I know by the looks of me it is hard to place my race, (I'm tan with dark hair and dark eyes), it's because I am part of a small minority - Pacific Islander.

Growing up I never really acknowledged my race, in fact I always marked "White" or "Caucasian" when filling out race information (even though my skin color is not in fact white). It is not that I have ever been embarrassed; I was raised by the concept that I am American. As a matter of fact, it was not until recently that I had any real connection to my heritage at all. A chance encounter on Facebook led me to the discovery of a photo of my grandfather who made his way from the Philippines to the United States at the age of 14 by joining the Navy. Through the past months I have enjoyed learning about my heritage.

The month of May has been designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and is a time to celebrate the many contributions of Asian Americans. This week I had the opportunity to attend the Asian Pacific American Heritage Luncheon at the Sheppard Club with guest speaker Colonel Om Prakash, 82nd Training Wing Vice Commander. We gathered to honor the role they play in enriching our nation's legacy.

Col. Prakash spoke about the many great contributions this small demographic has had on our countries history. For instance, consider the transcontinental railroad. America became the first continent to have a coast-to-coast railroad thanks to nearly 12,000 Chinese workers. However, while these Chinese workers often worked harder than their peers they were discriminated against and were paid less.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of internment camp imprisonment during WW II, a dark spot in our nation's legacy. Anyone with Japanese ancestry was relocated to these camps. Col. Prakash referenced the official apology to the Japanese American community for internment camps, stating actions were based on "wartime hysteria, a failure of leadership and racism."

Taking time to reflect and educate myself on the history of the Asian Pacific American heritage has changed how I view my heritage. I have never known myself to be anything other than American, but I am truly happy to say that part of who I am is Pacific Islander. Prakash concluded the luncheon by stating, "No one aspect about us defines who we are, your whole is greater than your parts."

The past month has really brought awareness of my heritage and while it has never defined me, I realize now what an important part of me it is. Whether it is heritage, culture, personality traits, etc., each of these parts make me who I am. I've learned that I have an important duty, which is to be a role model because future generations of Asian-Americans will continue to celebrate events like these, highlighting the contributions being made to our nation's legacy.