December 17, 2014

Perceptions of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration at UAMS

By Teresita L. Angtuaco, M.D.
Professor, Department of Radiology

Teresita L. Angtuaco, M.D. Professor, Department of Radiology

Teresita L. Angtuaco, M.D.
Professor, Department of Radiology

On April 30, 2013, President Obama declared May 2013 as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, calling upon all Americans to observe the month with appropriate programs and activities. On May 30, UAMS celebrated this event by bringing together a panel of UAMS employees with Asian or Pacific Islander heritage to share their stories of coming to the United States and to UAMS. Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., highlighted the history of the proclamation, celebrating the contributions to this country by those of Asian and Pacific Island descent. He called this diversity important to the country and one of the secrets to the success of the United States.

As an Asian American from the Philippines, I moderated the panel discussion. Other members of the panel were Hari Eswaran, Ph.D., an associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who is from India; Toan V. Bui, an instructional development specialist for Nursing Services Education, who is from Vietnam; and Michael K. McNeely, audit manager for Institutional Compliance, who is from Hawaii. Although we had different reasons for coming to America, a common thread was the desire to seek better opportunities for  ourselves and our families.

“I had half a life in India and now half a life here so I think I’ve had the best of both worlds,” said Eswaran. “Every culture, every part of the world has positives and negatives, and I got to take the good from both.” He came to the U.S. in 1991 from New Delhi, India, to attend college at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. From there, he found his way to UAMS, where he does research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He shared his philosophy about exposing his children to the Indian culture while at the same time realizing that this is their new home, and they should therefore adapt to a culture different from their parents.

Bui agreed that exposing children raised in the United States to the culture of their parents’ native countries is important. “I hope my children come to appreciate some of the Vietnamese traditions,” said Bui, whose family came to the United States in 1994. He has worked with his father, a veteran of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, to collect stories of their heritage and native country for a book.

Michael Andrew Kealoha McNeely is half native Hawaiian from his mother’s side. His parents married in the 1950s in Hawaii and came to Arkansas shortly after. He credited his aunt for impressing upon him and other family members the importance of the Hawaiian heritage. He shared the fact that there are only about 46,000 people who share his split heritage. He said, “I believe our heritage is a gift, and you cannot forget your story; it should keep giving you a sense of who you are and where you came from,” He is very grateful to have found employment at UAMS. He believes that diversity is one reason that UAMS is “a great asset for Arkansas — people from all over the world come here to be treated or to work here.”

I came to the United States in 1975 with my husband. We still return regularly to the Philippines, in part to share our native land’s culture and heritage with our two grown children. We always laugh, reminiscing about some of the lessons our children learned when they first experienced homes without indoor plumbing. Up to this day, there are still people in my hometown who go to a nearby river to bathe or wash clothes. When I was young I joined my cousins for the daily trip to the river. We would try to get there early, before the water buffaloes come to bathe. We definitely did not want to be downstream from water buffaloes! It is a blessing to still be able to visit home in the summer. However, it is a privilege to be a citizen of this country with all the freedom and opportunities it affords those who are willing to accept the challenges it presents.

At UAMS, it is especially appropriate to recognize members of our family who come from Asian American and Pacific Islander roots who contribute to make our institution one of the most diverse medical centers in the country. We all have found a welcoming and nurturing environment at UAMS and all feel very proud of the sense of belonging and acknowledgment of our heritage.

Our common goal of contributing our best efforts to the success of the UAMS mission was echoed by all the panelists who participated in the celebration. The discussion that followed only strengthened that resolve. We are proud to tell our stories so that others may share with us in our journeys and struggles to make it in a new land far away from our native countries. We look forward to serving UAMS, the people of Arkansas and the United States as a whole, as we celebrate our heritage and share our values with our new countrymen.