By AUDREY FISCHER
That the son a World War II prisoner of war would grow up to expose the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison is a truth that's stranger than fiction.
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba is the son of Tomas Taguba, a former Filipino prisoner of war following the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Having survived the Bataan death march that followed, Tomas Taguba eventually moved his family to the United States and became a citizen and an officer in the U.S. Army, and he watched his son distinguish himself as the highest ranking Filipino-American officer in the Army today.
General Taguba was one of 23 Army officers assigned to conduct an internal investigation of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and issue a report in 30 days or less. The results of the investigation came to the attention of the American people in graphic detail in April 2004. "I used to be taller before I testified before Congress," joked the diminutive Taguba, who recently delivered the keynote address for the Library's 2006 celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage month.
"I try to disappear and change my name every May," quipped Taguba, a sought-after speaker, especially on this annual occasion.
But Taguba is very proud of his name and his Asian heritage. Rather than dwell on the impact of the Abu Ghraib exposé on his life and career, he chose instead to thank his adopted country and celebrate the achievements and contributions of his fellow Asian Americans.
"Our country's generosity has given us the privilege to observe nationally a special time to recognize the contributions and achievements of Asian Pacific Americans," he said. "I believe our history has judged us justifiably as having a significant involvement in shaping America's history and prominence as a world power."
Taguba cited Asian Americans in Congress (Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Michael Honda); in the Cabinet (Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta); in sports (Tiger Woods and Michelle Kwan); in industry (Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon Cosmetics); and in academe (Chang-lin Tien, the first Asian Pacific American to be chosen as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley).
"And we finally have an Asian Pacific American in charge of the White House kitchen," said Taguba, referring to White House chef Cristeta Comerford, a Filipino-American. "The achievements of these individuals are the true testament to the perseverance and patience of Asian Pacific Americans to compete for their place in our society and to work through countless challenges to gain the opportunities our nation has to offer."
Taguba digressed from his remarks to speak about his own experience growing up as an Asian Pacific American, while acknowledging that every immigrant has a story to tell about growing up in this country.
"I immigrated to this country when I was 11 years old. I am a naturalized American citizen. I am an Army brat, a son of a retired U.S. Army sergeant. I come from a family with a long history of service to our nation that willingly followed a tradition of military service since the Spanish-American War. I pride myself on learning English as my second language. I am a firm believer that education guides us to the right path toward success. And I have personally experienced prejudice, as some of you have, as a youngster and as a professional soldier."
That being said, Taguba spoke about the values he learned from his parents—humility, obedience, respect and the importance of becoming educated and educating future generations.
"Pursuit of quality education has always been one of the fundamental objectives that enables our youngsters to see the good fortunes that come with it." Acknowledging the tremendous pressures that come with parents investing time, energy and resources in their children, Taguba noted that "this type of parental demand is our way of investing in our future and America's future."
To prove his point, Taguba cited the academic achievements of Asian youth, which are often disproportionate to their minority status as only 4 percent of the American population.
Taguba advised Asian Pacific Americans to take bold measures in assimilating themselves in the greater American society and cautioned against dwelling on the painful experiences of their past. He suggested that adults mentor young people to achieve their career goals.
"It is a great feeling to be able to cheerlead our precious youngsters," he said.
In a climate of debate over U.S. immigration policy, Taguba encouraged all immigrants to cherish the freedom they enjoy in this country.
"While we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it is truly an honor to know that being an American has nothing to do with the place of our birth, the color of our skin, the language of our parents or the way we worship our religion," he said.