Team Whiteman celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Thomas Barley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Moving away from home is never easy, especially when moving away means crossing the Pacific Ocean and having to leave behind the only culture you have ever known. However, those uneasy feelings can be lessened with a few mementos from home and some smiling faces along the way.  

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Maria Benavente, the Whiteman Air Force Base Asian Pacific American Heritage Association (APAHA) president, left Guam and joined the military when she was just 19 years old.

“When I left for the Air Force that was my first experience off the island,” said Benavente. “I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving. Although I wanted it, it was heartbreaking to leave my family behind. It sounds cliché, but it really felt like I was leaving a part of me behind on the island.”

Benavente is not the only Airman to leave their homeland. Similarly, U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Alan Lin, the APAHA vice president, immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when he was 12.

Lin left Taiwan when he was 12 years old because his mother felt the U.S. would provide more educational benefits. He lived with his sister until the age of 23 when he decided to join the Air Force.

“I initially joined the Air Force because of the benefits it would bring me,” said Lin. “It helped me become naturalized. However, after joining I learned to love serving my country. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve a country that’s done so much for me.”

Despite all of the positives that moving had brought them, Benavente and Lin still experience bouts of homesickness.  To help them cope, they found comfort in items that reminded them of their heritage.

For Lin, a red envelope that he keeps in his house reminds him of the celebrations he used to have in Taiwan with his family.

“Red envelopes are handed out to the younger generations by their parents, grandparents and relatives on Chinese New Year as a gesture of kindness,” said Lin. “The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is like a talisman that is supposed to ward off evil spirits.”

Like Lin, Benavente also finds comfort in items that remind her of home.

“I always keep my necklace nearby. It’s the biggest representation of Guam, the seal is on our flag and it just reminds me so much of home,” said Benavente. “And the book Chamoru Legends, contains lots of ancient stories that my family told me growing up and that I learned in elementary school.”

While both, Benavente and Lin, have used items to remind them of home, it was the people that they met who have helped them adjust to their new found lifestyle.

According to Benavente, her warm welcome came when she joined APAHA.

The APAHA helps Airmen like Benavente and Lin connect with others who share similar stories and cultures. Through the APAHA, Benavente hopes others like her can find a sense of togetherness.

“This organization’s whole mission is to bring unity to Asian and Pacific Islanders,” said Benavente. “It was nice to see people who are from where I am from, it’s easier to relate. APAHA has really become my home away from home.”

Although APAHA is primarily made up of Asian and Pacific Islanders, APAHA isn’t just for those of Asian and Pacific Island decent. APAHA welcomes all those who would like to educate themselves about their organization and the cultures that make up the organization.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. For Team Whiteman, it is an opportunity to learn and recognize some of the Airmen whose stories demonstrate the diverse force that strengthens our mission.