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Embracing Culture: One dish at a time

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Karissa Dick
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As we celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Month, it's essential to highlight individuals, like Senior Airman Christopher Kim, 377th Comptroller Squadron financial management analysis technician, whose connection to their cultural roots enhances their daily lives. Kim's Asian American identity, created through his family lineage, upbringing and experiences, shaped who he is today.

Kim's journey began on the East Coast where he spent his younger years navigating the melting pot of culture and diverse cities he lived in. His maternal family laid the foundation for his connection to Asian culture. Born in Fairfax, Virginia, to a Korean-Japanese mother, Kim's upbringing was filled with rich Asian heritage and some military influence.

Kim’s decision to join the Air Force was deeply influenced by his family legacy and personal ambition. With a Vietnam veteran step-grandfather who served in the Air Force and retired as a Master Sergeant, Kim was familiar with the military lifestyle from an early age. Kim observed his grandfather's experience as a veteran and saw the potential for the military to provide opportunities beyond traditional schooling along with many benefits.

“One of the biggest reason’s I joined is because my grandfather used to be in the military,” explained Kim. “So, I’ve seen the military life, how he went through it, the benefits he received, and how he is still working with the government. He helped me improve my idea of the military and showed me how it could be a good opportunity.”

Having been exposed to the military environment through his grandfather's stories and his own involvement in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps during high school, Kim developed a strong foundation of military knowledge and discipline. Kim excelled in JROTC, where he quickly rose through the ranks from Airman to Master Sergeant to Second Lieutenant. This experience not only solidified his interest in the military, but also prepared him for his future career.

“I think I chose the Air Force because of the knowledge I was given in JROTC and the individuals I met. I met a lot of different individuals from military services,” said Kim. “My grandfathers service in the Air Force and what I had been told about the Air Force in JROTC definitely influenced my choice.”

For Kim, joining the Air Force wasn't just about continuing a family tradition, it was also about exploring his potential beyond pursuing a traditional college education. The promise of military education benefits and the opportunity to travel the world fueled his decision to finally enlist in August of 2021.

“I made my decision, and I joined right after high school,” said Kim. “By joining, I wanted to not only continue that family legacy, but to kind of see my potential more than just inside school. I’m glad I joined, and I don’t regret any day.”

After enlisting, Kim successfully completed Basic Military Training, Finance Technical School and was then stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., as a financial management flight technician in the 377 CPTS. After a period of time, Kim transitioned within the finance career field to become a 377 CPTS financial management analysis technician. In his current role, Kim oversees and helps manage various unit budgets across base.

During his time at Kirtland, Kim has dedicated his efforts not only to his job in finance, but to other base and squadron organizations too. In January of 2023, Kim volunteered in the 377th Comptroller Squadron/Wing Staff Agencies Booster Club as the treasurer where he helped organize fund raising events and manage finances. In August of 2023, Kim volunteered to do a six-month tour with the Kirtland Honor Guard, where he selflessly served the Albuquerque and surrounding regions by providing honor and dignity for military, funeral and memorial services.

Although he is stationed far from family, one of the most significant ways Kim stays connected to his culture is through food. He fondly recalls the culinary expertise of his grandmother, whose home-cooked meals were made from fresh ingredients from her backyard garden.

 "Home-cooked meals were like the number one thing with my grandmother," Kim remembers. "Her thing was always having everything fresh. She always had a huge garden with all the different ingredients she needed. She would gather them and somehow make Korean food out of nothing. She is incredible!"

From garden to table, his grandmother's skill in creating Korean dishes from scratch left a lasting mark on Kim's life. Despite the busy military lifestyle, Kim remains dedicated to preserving his Asian roots through cooking family dishes from his culture.

 "Definitely the biggest way for me to stay with that culture is food. I cook a lot of Korean and Japanese food when I’m at home," Kim said. “Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes, so having the opportunity and time to do that is definitely helpful to keep me in touch with my roots. Without having the opportunity to do things that are a part of my culture, like cooking Korean food, it would have been difficult because I would get homesick. But I think the food is a way for me to still feel like I’m a part of that and I can cook and use the Asian markets here to stay connected.”

Whether it's whipping up Bulgogi or Kimchi, Kim finds a sense of home and joy while recreating family dishes. Yet, Kim's celebration of his culture extends beyond the constraints of his own kitchen. From work potlucks to cooking for roommates, he takes every opportunity to introduce his peers to the diverse flavors of Asian cuisine. Sharing these culinary dishes with friends and roommates becomes a team experience, bringing everyone together through meals and a desire to learn each other’s culture.

"When we do potlucks or birthdays, I try to bring in something to celebrate. I try to cook something like Bulgogi or Kimchi just to have a few different tasting dishes,” elaborates Kim. “A lot of people are used to American dishes, so I try to make something different and it’s always interesting to see everyone’s reaction. I think everyone enjoys the food very much.”

By bringing traditional Asian dishes to gatherings, he sparks curiosity and creates an appreciation for Asian cuisine and culture among his peers.

Through his culture, Kim not only shares food, but also the lessons he’s learned that have aided him in his career. During his adolescence, Kim quickly learned to respect his elders and has since carried that respect into his military service.

“Being in an Asian family, I learned to resect my elders. I know in the military we don’t see each other’s age, we see their rank,” explains Kim. “Rank is definitely important, but I think we should view others with a combination of their rank and age to see that valuable experience they hold. I also learned patience and that sometimes it’s best to take a step back at work and then come back to a problem, whether you’re an Airman, noncommissioned officer or leadership.”

Ultimately, Kim desires to continue on his journey in the Air Force while sharing his culture and striving to become a First Sergeant so he can mentor those around him.

“Hopefully, when I get to 20 years, I’m a first sergeant jumping around units helping them out and seeing how I can use my experiences and ideas to help people who need it,” said Kim. “Sometimes it only takes a small push to help someone do better.”

In the diverse military world, Kim serves as a role model for cultural pride and resilience. Through the simple act of cooking, he preserves his heritage, builds cultural understanding for others and honors his family legacy.

 

As we celebrate AANHPI Month, let’s allow Senior Airman Christopher Kim’s story to remind us of the importance found in embracing and sharing our diverse cultures—one dish at a time.