BRMERTON, Wash. –
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a long history with the United States, which has been commemorated during the month of May, since 1990. May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and to honor the Chinese immigrants who completed the western portion of the transcontinental railroad May 10, 1869.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of various nationalities and ancestry—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Asian Indian, and Polynesian—have a rich legacy of service and sacrifice in the United States Navy dating back to the 19th century. Whether as allies or as citizens, members of the AAPI community have built a legacy of leadership, heroism and inspiration in America. This May, the Navy joins the nation in celebrating the AAPI Heritage Month theme of “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.”
Throughout its history, the Navy has made the effort to evolve and grow—all while providing opportunities for its people to evolve and grow with it. Embracing diversity doesn’t just help the Navy meet its mission, it helps build stronger teams. Here at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, we can see the same principles mirrored in our workforce.
Tiera Beauchamp, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 12 union, and AAPI ERG co-lead, said when she came into the shipyard 15 years ago as a marine electrician helper in Shop 51, the values she brought as a Chamorro woman from Guam were foundational to her growth. The principles she was raised with helped her quickly succeed in a team
where her gender and her culture were underrepresented.
“Respecting your elders is a value in my culture that I upheld. Listening to their stories, and learning lessons through them were a practice I used on the waterfront with my supervisors and with seasoned, long-time mechanics. I soaked up information, technical skills, and direction like a sponge,” she said.
Having that cultural foundation not only helped Beauchamp find her bearings in a new environment, but it provided her with a path to grow, learn and succeed in her career field. It also gave her the confidence to share her culture with the rest of the team—an opportunity she used to build a sense of family on her team and in her leadership roles that followed.
“My initiative was always to develop a family-type environment in each crew I was on. I was always trying to facilitate potlucks or group activities during lunch. Every time I shared my food from my culture, I felt like it brought our crew closer,” she said. “It became a regular thing to feed people for me. As odd as it sounds, when people know you care for them, even thru food, a level of trust is built—and trust is the foundation of what makes a good leader.”
Viliamu Kuaea, improvement specialist and program analyst, Code 1030, Submarine Product Line, and co-lead for the AAPI ERG, said his Samoan family and cultural values were also crucial to finding success and opportunity here at PSNS & IMF. Kuaea’s father spent 20 years in the Army and 20 years working at the shipyard, two places where structure and discipline were essential—and two places where the familial structure of their Samoan family was reflected. When Kuaea started his career at the shipyard, his father offered him a few tips to make the most of his career.
“He told me ‘Son, if you follow these three rules you will be just fine in your career: One, be on time. Two, be where you’re supposed to be. And, three, do what you’re supposed to be doing.’ Every day that’s my first win by meeting those expectations,” Kuaea said.
But, it was through his deep cultural identity where Kuaea said he found his most rewarding level of success.
“I have found that sharing my culture in the workplace, striving to always be useful and helping one another is what I enjoy the most,” he said. “My Samoan culture has long been my companion since I was a child. It instilled in me the idea to follow my feelings when there is something I know I am called to do in life. I knew my work here was it for me. Therefore, it was important that my work evolved out of my soul, the reality of my life and who I am every day.”
As leaders here at PSNS & IMF, both Beauchamp and Kuaea have seen the ways their heritage and cultural roots have grounded them, while also allowing them to branch out and grow. Having the opportunity to come to work as their whole selves has been instrumental to their successes.
For Beauchamp, being her whole self means being authentic. Her advice to the workforce highlights her approach to leadership.
“Embrace your culture, embrace your differences, embrace your values, and share them every day and in everything that you do,” she said.
For Kuaea, being his whole self means bringing a sense of genuine empathy and understanding to his team and building a solid foundation for the future workforce.
“As a leader I choose to care more, listen more and understand more, so there can be more for the workforce of today and tomorrow.”
For both of them, it means being involved, engaged and open about who they are and what the diversity of their cultures brings to the workforce. As co-leads of the AAPI ERG, Beauchamp and Kuaea want to encourage everyone in the command to celebrate this heritage month and to learn more about the various AAPI communities that help define our workforce. Every day is an opportunity to come together, understand one another, and support and respect every individual for what they bring to the command.
For more information on AAPI ERG, email firstname.lastname@example.org.