This year, in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month, Airmen from the 94th Intelligence Squadron shared their culture and prepared 150 bento boxes for service members at Fort George G. Meade, Md.
The history of the bento box is simple but has an intrinsic quality deep-rooted in Asian culture. Dating back more than 1,000 years, Bento is a Japanese style lunch box prepared with love and care.
While the box may be set up with dividers housing different proteins, vegetables and starches, the diversity of each ingredient comes together to form a melting pot of flavor and nourishment.
“As a Korean-American, I can remember growing up bringing a Do Shi Rak, a Korean version of the bento, to school every day, getting strange looks and various questions because I was different,” said Staff Sgt. Lia, 94th IS linguist. “This event gives us an opportunity to share our culture and use food to talk about contributions of AAPI and raise awareness for the current state of Anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.”
In many Asian and Pacific Islander cultures, sharing a meal with someone is an important way to break the ice, relieve tension and share in a discussion with those you care about. The goal of this event was no different.
“Food can be a conversation starter. Being able to prepare a traditional meal with my peers and then sharing that with non-AAPI members opens the door to conversation,” said Lia. “… when I was younger, my mom prepared my lunch for school with Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish with a distinct smell. I was embarrassed but a lot of people asked me about it.”
Sharing food is sharing culture. Asking a simple question like ‘what is that? or would you mind telling me a little more about this?’ can lead one down a path of mutual respect and appreciation for different cultures.
“Traditionally, these boxes are prepared by parents with love and care. I remember my mom packing mine every day for school,” said Senior Amn Myung Won, 94th IS linguist. “I think all the volunteers had that in mind as we prepared these boxes. The love and respect poured into each dish comes out when we get to share it with our peers.”
Asian American Pacific Islanders make up approximately 5.7% of the population of the U.S Air Force. The variety of cultures and lifestyle brought together as one team in the Air and Space Force drives innovation and excellence.
“AAPI members have played a huge role in shaping this country. The first Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. in May 1843 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was in May 1869,” said Lia. “May is great time to celebrate the efforts of the first generations and also the legendary veterans that have served in the U.S. military since. I think our diversity is our greatest strength in the Air Force.”
Lia’s first-generation family lives close by and she is able to return home for some homemade food often. Her mom always responds with, “the food always taste better when we are together.”