Why celebrate ethnicity? Ethnic observances recognize, educate

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Keith Johnson
  • 22nd ARW Military Equal Opportunity
Each year I'm approached by someone new with the question, "Why do we celebrate special and ethnic observances?"

At first, I find out how familiar the individual asking the question is with ethnic observance programs. Then, I usually offer them the textbook answer: ethnic observances are conducted to recognize the continuous achievements of all Americans - to highlight prominent figures in American culture and to increase people's awareness, mutual respect and understanding of other ethnic groups.

Ethnic observances are also designed to enhance cross-cultural and cross-gender awareness and promote harmony among all military members, their families and the civilian work force.

The focus of ethnic observances is directed toward encouraging interaction between different ethnic groups, rather than just recognition of prominent people in those groups.

Since 1968, the Department of Defense has proudly supported observances through the development of local programs of recognition and many diverse activities.
Now, let's move beyond the textbook for a minute.

One of the unique things about being an American is the fact that wherever we go outside our borders we are recognized as Americans. Likewise, whenever foreigners visit the United States, they immediately begin to see how diverse we really are.
One reason to have a special observance is to learn something new about an ethnic group other than your own. For example, did you know Emile Berliner, a German-American inventor who lived from 1851-1929, is best known for inventing the disk record and the gramophone? He is also credited with creating the telephone microphone, acoustic tile and a light-weight aircraft engine.

Here's another one; African-American Dr. Charles Drew invented a system for storing blood plasma, a blood bank, that revolutionized the medical profession. Dr. Drew also established the American Red Cross blood bank, of which he was the first director, and he organized the world's first blood bank drive, nicknamed "Blood for Britain."

Our country is only 231 years old - very young compared to many countries around the world, yet we have accomplished so much as a nation in our short history.

We are comprised of the best the rest of the world has to offer. Other countries look to us for medicine, technology, fashion, music, art, dance and even some of our beliefs. Each part of the American heritage has contributed something to the world and made America the leader it is today.

By celebrating these accomplishments we promote our own culture, educate the next generation and keep the American spirit alive, not only for ourselves, but also for the rest of the world.