In our wonderful community here in Wiesbaden, there is a regular opportunity to experience the diverse culture our military represents or encounters. When I first arrived in Germany I didn’t know there was anything but brats and fried potatoes to experience. Turns out it is as common as hot dogs and French fries back home, so making a decision on German Food on such a narrow idea is going to leave you disappointed.
There is something else that disappoints me. I really have waited to speak about what’s bothering me. I wanted to give it a chance to tell me I was wrong. To prove to me that it was more than a misguiding perception of cultural “fast food.”
First I want to preface this with how much I appreciate the effort of the local units to make a cultural heritage presentation an important part of military life here. It is not an easy task and there are some beautiful elements that often go with it.
The first disappointment is the timing of some of these presentations.
One of the ones I felt was executed well was the Asian American Heritage event. There were table displays from the ethnic diversities of the Pacific. There was dancing and there was food. Fairly authentic too! I marveled at who must have volunteered to roll all those kimbaps – I miss having a local Korean grocer I could run to for a snack! Aye, but I digress… The point is it has been one of the few events I have been able to go to. Mostly because these events are during a lunch hour where I am busy making sure my minions eat. At most of these events if there are things you can eat they run out… even if it is a sample. It’s not really an event suited for the lunch hour. There is not a guarantee that there will be enough food for everyone, so I try to do my part and not bring my kids.
The second disappointment is the advertising of these events.
The biggest reason I made it a point to go to Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance was not because there would be cake… I didn’t go to the Asian American Heritage event because I felt I needed to honor my Korean roots. It was because whoever was in charge of those event paid attention to posting announcements and getting the word out. They placed an invitation in front of the PX and Food court, in main traffic ways. They went beyond a post in the community calendar… something I would only see by chance once a month. They cared enough about what they were presenting that they wanted to make sure other members in the community had a chance to participate.
The third disappointment has to be the type of patriotic contributions that are more about getting some sort of participation from the local schools… and less about being relateable to the heritage being presented.
Take for instance the recent National American Indian Heritage event I attended yesterday. A good portion of the event was the elementary school’s performance. I did enjoy the interpretive dance by three of the girls but the other three songs by the chorus I felt added nothing to the event. (Hey I really loved one girl’s solo, but the songs were popular patriotic songs. I would have loved one of the songs having at least a reference to honoring Indians!) Compare this with the elementary school’s performance at the Martin Luther King Jr.’s event, where they reenacted his life events. Very cute and informative! Absolutely added to the presentation in a memorable way!
The fourth disappointment is the lack of participation from the community.
I think a lot of this has to do with how the information is getting out to the community. I think that forcing the event to be squeezed into a lunch hour forces people who would like to come, reconsider. All that aside when I look around the room I see 95% of the attendees are in uniform. Where are all the family members from our community? That’s right. They are probably at work or school, so who is the event really for? Is this just a check in the box for big Army? Or was it really meant for the community.
It may sound like I’m being a Negative Nancy but I think it is a shame that the main speaker and performers make the effort to put together something worth seeing, and so few actually get to see it.
Here are some of the things I am glad I didn’t miss;
From Martin Luther King Jr.’s Remembrance ceremony I have to say that I was really connecting with the lyrics of Standing Tall recited in passionate prose. While eating my cake I had the opportunity to read additional information on signage displayed throughout the area. Every year I learn something new about this man (8 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr) and this event was a wonderful opportunity to do just that.
From the Asian American Heritage event I learned the role Asians have played in our Armed Forces. There were so many contributors here but the one that echoes in my memories is that there are some today in harm’s way not because they face the fire of combat… but because we forget that they are Americans too. A reminder that we need to stand with each other and lift each other when they need us most.
From the National American Indian Heritage event I learned the sacredness of things abused by Hollywood for our entertainment… are actually so holy Indians do not speak of them carelessly. So holy that the main speaker was taught at an early age he doesn’t touch his regalia (uniform, tools, weapons, or any other ceremonial item) while drinking alcohol. There is so much respect for the purpose of these items that there is never a time and a place where the two will meet. That decisions should be made not on what it could do for us today, but on what it will do 7 Generations from now.
I walked away from this last event feeling like there had been an unspoken message that I felt could have been made more clear. American Indians are the original forgotten veterans of America. I don’t think we give them enough credit for being an ingenious part of America either. If you don’t understand what I am talking about check your library for a copy of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations.
My point is, all of these culture are a part of who we are. They are key to understanding what being American is really about. I think they are worth taking the time to celebrate. Don’t you?