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FEMA Highlights Employees in Celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Month

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Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month celebrates the rich culture, history and achievements of the AANHPI in the United States.

This week we are highlighting three FEMA employees in honor of AANHPI Heritage Month.

Celine Carus

Region 5 Grants Management Specialist

Woman standing outside looking at camera.

What does this month mean to you?

As a mixed person I’ve thought about labels and identity a lot, and where I fit under the AANHPI umbrella. Many communities come together during this month - and are also very distinct from one another. The AANHPI label has never been a monolith. To me, AANHPI month is about recognizing our heritages and the rich tapestry of cultural traditions and family histories that make up the U.S. – and there are a lot of stories to be shared.

The theme of AANHPI Month is: Advancing Leaders Through Innovation. How does your work at FEMA support this theme?

My work in the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) branch sees a lot of innovation from our state partners in tackling important localized issues affected by our changing climate. HMA seeks to provide hazard mitigation project funding that lessens hazard impacts and contributes to the resilience of our communities when disaster strikes. While not directly supporting this year’s theme, the work we do in HMA helps support and strengthen communities from which our future leaders might emerge.

Keoni Akaka-Reis

Region 9 IT Specialist 

Smiling man surrounded by large-leafed plants outside.

What does this month mean to you?

As a product of my Ethnicity, Culture, Family, and Community. I am who I am. 

The theme of AANHPI Month is: Advancing Leaders Through Innovation. How does your work at FEMA support this theme?

In the ever-changing world of IT, being able to think on my feet is important. I am Makaukau (to prepare or make ready) all the time and ready for anything that comes my way. I am a member of the AANHPI employee resource group, FEMA Veteran Advisory Council and Region 9’s employee association. I volunteer on my own time for several organizations around the Island of O'ahu, including Hui Malama O Ke Kai, a grassroots, community-based organization that inspires ongoing stewardship of our island and ocean resources and Keiki O Ka 'Aina, which aims to educate children, strengthen families, enrich communities, and perpetuate culture. For these organizations, I volunteer in a program called Board and Stone (Papa Me Ka Pohaku), where I help to teach families cultural practices while being able to strengthen family bonds and connections. I also volunteer to clean our ocean parks and beaches to ensure that these areas can be used for generations to come. 

Norma Su’a Owens

Region 3, Program Analyst

Woman smiling holding an award.

What does this month mean to you?

AANHPI Heritage month is about celebrating, honoring, and reflecting on the contributions of our AANHPI trailblazers and barrier breakers that came before us - those that took the leap of faith to pave the way and lived the uncomfortable circumstances but pushed through to be heard and considered.  AANHPI Heritage month is a reminder we didn’t get here without challenges, like colonialism in the Pacific Islands, Internment Camps of our Japanese Americans on U.S. soil, restrictions of culture and banning languages, etc. We are here today because of the work of those that believed in equality, those that fought for justice, and those that knew their worth to belong. AANHPI Heritage month is celebrating the past, the present, as well as the future of our people, communities and cultures alike.

The theme of AANHPI Month is: Advancing Leaders Through Innovation. How does your work at FEMA support this theme? 

My work in FEMA is about ensuring customers have the best experience when they call for assistance. When you provide the best customer experience within the agency, excellence is what you will provide to the American people before, during and after disasters.

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