Last week I spent an afternoon enjoying Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California. They had food, hula, and folks from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco ready to answer our artsy-side questions. Heck, they even had the Chinese Lion Dance by Champions Kung Fu of Concord. The event was a success and drew a relatively large crowd considering the population of Coast Guard Island is small.
All in all, it was a pretty cool event.
Aside from eating and enjoying the dancing, I took photographs as the AAPI Committee’s official photographer. While not normally my day job, I do like taking pictures. I volunteered and they said yes. When I looked at my photos the next day to do a bit of post-production work, I realized I had captured more than just the event. I captured the spirit of diversity.
I saw people from all walks of life in my pictures. I saw Asian Americans, to be sure, but also saw African-Americans, German-Americans, Jewish-Americans, older Americans, young Americans, very young Americans, female Americans, male Americans, Active Duty Military Americans, Retired Americans, and even a few Americans from the United States Navy. All these people, regardless of ancestry, service status, gender, age, or religion, opted to spend their personal time celebrating a cultural heritage event that was most likely not their own. To me, this says a lot about the Coast Guard community.
Genealogists and family historians are the same.
Those of us who have studied our family history know that what we see is usually not what we get. In other words, as we pursue our history into the past, we typically find unexpected cultural ties that, at times, can be shocking. No matter how surprised we are, we always see the beauty of the connections. We recognize how close we are as a human community while accepting the gift of knowledge and appreciation. I don’t think anyone would argue that it changes the way we think in a fundamental way. That’s important because our thoughts guide our choices in life.
While I haven’t a lick of Asian or Pacific Islander in me, it didn’t lessen the value of what the AAPI Committee did. If anything, it enhanced my desire to learn more. That’s the whole reason the Coast Guard takes the time to focus on diversity. It’s not to boast that one culture or heritage is better than another, it’s to give people the opportunity to engage in dialog and gain a deeper understanding.
I captured this in my photographs. It’s what I value the most about my service and what I value the most about my role as family historian.