The U.S. Naval Academy hosted an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month banquet April 28 at the Naval Academy Club.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, gave the keynote address.
Harris, a 1978 academy graduate, was born in Japan and raised in Tennessee and Florida. He spoke to the guests about his point of view on diversity in the Navy, how important it is and how it has changed over the years.
“The condition of being different – that’s the dictionary meaning of diversity,” said Harris. “It’s an irony, I suppose, that the military, known for establishing a culture of uniformity, is the same military that embraces our differences and leads in the struggle for diversity.”
Harris said the U.S. is a melting pot of different religions, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and beliefs, and the military reflects that.
“I believe that embracing diversity is vital to both our present and future,” said Harris. “We cannot achieve healthy growth without it. One former CNO rightly said that as leaders, we must not be locked in time – we must anticipate and embrace the demographic changes of tomorrow to build a Navy that always reflects our country’s make up.”
In the Navy, minorities represent almost 50 percent of the enlisted workforce and 22 percent of the officer corps. Approximately 13 percent are flag officers. Within the flag ranks, 91 percent are male and only 9 percent female. Eighty-seven percent are white, with only 6 percent African American, 5 percent Asian Pacific American, and less than 2 percent Latino, but these numbers show how far the Navy has come since Harris was commissioned in 1978, he said.
“We want to welcome every Sailor and Marine into a family they will proudly call their own for the rest of their lives, a family that exists like no other on land, at sea or in the air,” said Harris.
Asians and Pacific Islanders have been serving in our Navy since the 19th century, and they have continued to be at the forefront as leaders in every aspect of American life and in the military.
“I’m proud to be the Navy’s first 4-star admiral of Asian Pacific heritage,” said Harris. “But more than that, I’m proud to be an American on the Navy-Marine Corps team, amongst the outstanding men and women, from diverse backgrounds, who are critical-thinking Sailors and Marines who serve with honor, courage and commitment.”
Asian Pacific American Heritage Week was first established in 1979. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush expanded the observance to encompass the month of May, and in 1992, Congress passed a law permanently designating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.