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NRCS celebrates a Chamorro style Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS Public Affairs Specialist and Preston Irwin, USDA-NRCS Asian American & Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program Manager

Imagine being the first person in the entire United States to see the sun rise, and the last to see it dip below the horizon in a brief flash of green.  This seemingly impossible feat is sometimes reality when your work area straddles the International Date Line.  Preston Irwin, rangeland management specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spent multiple years working in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands Area, including Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) which are located west of the International Dateline.  Both territories claim the slogan, “Where America’s day begins.”

The Texas NRCS hosted two separate “Lunch and Learn” diversity events in honor of Asian-American Pacific Islander Month during May. These luncheons, held in Fort Stockton and Kerrville, allowed NRCS employees, Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) partners, USDA-FSA and USDA-Rural Development staff to learn about the history, culture, agriculture practices, and conservation in the U.S. territories of Guam and the CNMI.

The presentation opened with a warm “Hafa adai” welcome, which is how the indigenous Chamorro people say “hello” in Guam and the Mariana Islands.  Irwin began by describing the distinctive geography, geology, and climate of the Mariana Islands, which were then contrasted with other more well-known Pacific islands including Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.  This background information laid the foundation for the remainder of the presentation, which focused on the rich history and culture of these islands. 

Irwin described their location in the Western Pacific Ocean and their historical and strategic importance to Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States for exploration, trade, and military use over the past 400 years.  He then explained how the history, geography, and natural environment have shaped the unique culture of the Chamorro people, the native islanders who inhabit these islands.  

The presentation concluded with a question and answer session where he shared personal experiences and firsthand knowledge he gained while living on Guam and serving as the NRCS-Pacific Islands Area’s State Rangeland Management Specialist.  He described the unique challenges involved with farming and ranching on these islands, the dedication of their inhabitants to conservation efforts, and the cultural traditions of respect for family, ancestors, and community and the cooperative spirit that fuels their success.

“I found it interesting to hear how travel from island to island occurred, while trying to work with the agriculture producers in these islands especially when we think about the size compared to Texas,” said Justin Chenault, NRCS engineer.

After the presentation, the group was treated to a traditional Chamorro-style fiesta meal.  The Mariana Islands delicacies included three types of kelaguen (chicken, shrimp, and venison), a dish made with lemon juice to “cook” the meat, titayas (a flatbread similar to a tortilla made with coconut milk), Chamorro-style beef barbecue, fina’denne’ (a sauce made from soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, and hot peppers), red rice and macaroni salad.

NRCS District Conservationist of Rocksprings, Rode Mills explained, “The food was such a treat because not too often do you get to eat traditional cuisine from the Pacific Islands in Texas and learn about these U.S. territories that we serve.”

Irwin serves as the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program Manager, relying on his first-hand knowledge to assist him in this position.  The NRCS continues to help educate and highlight special emphasis groups to further increase the diversity and knowledge of the employees, partners, and customers.  For more information on the NRCS in Texas, please visit the tx.nrcs.usda.gov.

NRCS celebrates a Chamorro style Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month luncheon, By Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS public affairs specialist and Preston Irwin, USDA-NRCS Asian American & Pacific Islander Special Emphasis Program Manager(2019, May)