APIHC helps put Team Sheppard members in touch with their culture

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Payne
  • 82nd Mission Support Squadron
When you're adopted, learning your history can be a very difficult thing. I found out I was adopted at age 5 and was so proud about the news that I went to kindergarten the next day and told everyone. Having no idea what it meant to be adopted, I was bursting with excitement all the same. It wasn't until I was much older that I learned how truly blessed I was to have been one of the fortunate few to have been chosen through adoption.

I can remember the documentary that opened my eyes to the plight of orphaned American-Asian children like it was yesterday. I was in tears by the time it was over to know so many fellow American-Asian children in South Korea living in poverty, shunned by a society and country who viewed them as impure because they were left behind by their American fathers and even given up by their Korean mothers unable to support them or their family would not accept the child. This left an impression on me that has lasted to this day.

Unfortunately, I did not grow up learning any of my Korean or Hawaiian heritages or languages because my parents are both African-American. It was not until I was an adult and in the Air Force that I started to develop a yearning to learn more about my heritage on my own.

During my enlistment, I was introduced to the Combined Federal Campaign and began donating to an organization, the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which is dedicated to helping American-Asian children. I still donate to that foundation today and things have a way of coming around.

In my search for my birth mother, I discovered that I have a sister five years older than me. It turns out my sister was getting support from the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in 1966 when I was adopted. It was as if God led me to support the very organization that supported my sister.

I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and coming to Sheppard ranks right up there. I remember the day my husband came back from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and found out we were leaving Langley Air Force Base, Va. to come to Wichita Falls. I found out there was an Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage Committee on Sheppard. It only took one email from the APIHC president at the time, Capt. Scott Cassano, for me to decide that I had something I could be involved in while I was here, something that would help me learn more about what it meant to be part of an Asian- and Pacific-American community

I have an even stronger desire to learn more about my heritage because of all I have been able to experience through the committee and from fellow committee members.

When I first joined the APIHC 2004, they were in the midst of their preparations for their Asian Pacific American Heritage Month events. I was impressed with the organization of the committee and the dedication of the committee officers and members,but even more with the camaraderie I felt, even as the new kid on the block. Everyone welcomed me and I felt like I was a part of a family.

I can honestly say that I have learned more since I have been a part of the APIHC than I have my entire life. There is a lot to be said about being a part of a committee dedicated to sharing their heritage with anyone who wants to learn.

The Taste of Culture is one of the events that the APIHC has done every year and this is the one that makes me feel the most pride. Although it's one of the committee's fundraising events, everything is created, prepared, cooked and served by committee members. So it is a unique opportunity for others to enjoy the various cultural foods that can be found in Asia and the Pacific Islands locally. Not a year has gone by that I have not been approached by someone on base who wants to know when they can have some more "home cooking" and knowing that people who aren't Asian or Pacific Islander have grown to love a culture other than their own makes me proud that the APIHC has accomplished local cultural awareness.

Over the past year, the APIHC has had a continual loss of active membership and it is on a steady decline so I worry about the future of our little committee here at Sheppard. The sad part about this for me is that it's so hard to make others understand how important an active committee could be to someone else out there. Someone who may need to feel like they belonged to something that puts them in touch with their cultural heritage like it did for me.

This year will be my last year as the president so my hope for the APIHC is that someone will step up and carry on the torch for another year. It has been both an honor and a privilege for me to have been the APIHC president for the past two years.

As my husband heads to Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in October, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go back to Korea for the first time since I left in 1966. Who knows, I just may luck out and find the very family that I've spent so many years looking for.