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Posted on Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 6:12 a.m.

U-M Center for Chinese Studies Kite Festival and Frances' Farewell--let us keep the conversation going

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang and Little Brother at a community Chinese New Year's celebration. Thanks for walking with us as we share our stories with you.

Photograph courtesy Andrew Fang

The University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As usual for an academic department, they have all sorts of lectures and films and art exhibits and concerts and performances and colloquia and conferences planned.

Kicking it all off is the New Millennium East Meets West Kite Festival this Sunday, Sept. 25, 1-5 p.m., at Nichol’s Arboretum. There will be kite-making workshops, kite flying competitions, cultural performances, and kite masters from China and Michigan. There will be special categories for students and community. It's a real town and gown and east meets west affair, much like the dragon boat races they organized at Gallup Park in 2007.

I had the good fortune of being invited to help with some kite-making workshops through Parks and Rec and to escort fourth-generation premier kite master Ha Yiqi — with whom two U-M Art and Design faculty apprenticed this summer in Beijing — to visit local elementary schools. I also enjoyed the neat kites made at the Center for Korean StudiesChuseok celebration.

I am excited to see what this year will bring. During the University of Michigan LSA ChinaNow Theme Year in 2007-2008, converging as it did with University Musical Society’s Asia Festival and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads Asian American book, I met so many incredible people (including my literary hero, playwright David Henry Hwang) and was given the gift of so many personal and professional opportunities. My whole life changed that year, and I did my best writing ever.

Unfortunately, will be discontinuing my column, “Adventures in Multicultural Living,” to focus more of its resources on local news.

I am grateful to Mary Morgan at where this column first got its start and to Tony Dearing at for giving me this opportunity to share my stories with you. I am a bit worried for journalism that in this time of increasing diversity, it cannot support a diversity of voices. (Jeff Yang’s column, “Asian Pop,” at San Francisco Chronicle was also discontinued this month.)

I have lived in Ann Arbor most of my adult life, but I have felt like an outsider much of that time. Writing this column has helped me find my place here in the community. I will not miss the few obnoxious people who threatened me and my children — cowards and bullies all — but I will miss the many interesting people I meet — both virtually and in person — in elevators and libraries and parks, who approach me so shyly, “Do you write for the newspaper?” then share their stories with me.

One woman was so excited to recognize me that she led me by the hand to meet all her friends and family and then insisted I join them for dinner. I am told that the Rotary Club and the University of Michigan librarians regularly clip and discuss my columns at their meetings.

An English teacher at Huron High School used one of my columns to stimulate classroom discussion of a Maya Angelou book they were reading — which was so lively it spilled into a second day, and even more impressive, students who normally never talked in class really got into the discussion.

I heard about parents sharing columns with their children, teachers sharing columns with their students, and adult children sharing columns with their immigrant parents. One reader wrote that she wished I lived next door so we could discuss these things over a quiet cup of tea.

I am glad to have been a part of these many brave conversations, to talk about the nuance and complexity of race and culture, things we do not normally talk about in polite American society. So many people have told me, “My family does something similar, we…”

I will certainly continue to write, and maybe I will finally finish my book(s) I keep not finishing, but the focus will inevitably become less local, which is sad. You can find me at and and You can visit my website at and RSS feed my blog Friend me on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+. I will also be teaching several classes in the community, and I am always available to speak.

Until then, see you at the Kite Festival.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog and a contributor for Chicago is the World. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


Bill Wilson

Sat, Oct 1, 2011 : 11:31 p.m.

---"I always appreciated your highlighting multicultural arts & culture events, Frances. I also felt that you drew parallels between cultures and showed the things we had in common as much or more often than you highlighted that which divides us. I'm sorry to see you go and wish you well with what comes next!--- Sarah, I might have bought your comments, had she not doctored the comments of Dr. Tarjei Rygnestad. There's just no place in journalism for that type of behavior.

Sarah Rigg

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

I always appreciated your highlighting multicultural arts & culture events, Frances. I also felt that you drew parallels between cultures and showed the things we had in common as much or more often than you highlighted that which divides us. I'm sorry to see you go and wish you well with what comes next!

Bill Wilson

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 11:23 p.m.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang: Many people who suffer with a psychosis, like schizophrenia, do not exhibit behavior like we see in films like Reefer Madness: man can be highly productive and methodical people. I'm also a bit puzzled by the quote you posted by Dr. Tarjei Rygnestad: "...the Norway attacks were so meticulously planned and executed that "It's not very likely he was psychotic."" You left this part out: "Rygnestad told the AP a psychotic person can only perform simple tasks. Even driving from downtown Oslo to the lake northwest of the capital, where Breivik opened fire at a political youth camp, would be too complicated. "If you have voices in your head telling you to do this and that, it will disturb everything, and driving a car is very complex," Rygnestad said."" Not so. I worked with a man whose wife suffered with severe paranoid schizophrenia, and she (and many friends she met in counseling also suffering with the affliction) drove automobiles quite well. The state had no problem issuing her a driver's license. I'm also a bit confused by this claim of "meticulously planning." Yes, Breivik was obsessed with the notion of a takeover by Muslims. But Breivik did not attack any Muslims. He attacked a group of (mostly) teenage members of the youth group of Norway's governing Labor Party. That's not in keeping with a plan. I'm not getting the claim that Breivik's attorney is "setting up a legal defense" either. Statements given by an attorney to a news agency are not admissible evidence in a court of law. Lastly, neither Geller and Spencer call for the reforming of the Knights Templar and a series of events to remove all Muslims from Europe by 2083, which was in Breivik's manifesto. In fact, they say that Breivik's manifesto contains more of Ted Kaczynski's than either Gellar or Spencer. Sorry, I'm not getting the tie to right-wing Christians and this man either.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 5:31 p.m.

Thanks all for your kind thoughts and comments. Bill Wilson: Of course Breivik's defense attorney says he is insane, he is setting up a legal defense. However, Dr. Tarjei Rygnestad who heads the Norwegian Board of Forensic Medicine, the group that will be determining whether or not he is legally insane, told the AP at the time that the Norway attacks were so meticulously planned and executed that "It's not very likely he was psychotic." Also, Breivik is the one who identified the blogs and writers that influenced him. I was actually writing about reading those particular blogs myself for the first time and being shocked at the level of vitriol in them and how easily such anger can spiral out of control.

Bill Wilson

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

I'm not surprised that the piece is being discontinued. One wonders why it was ever given light in the first place. The defining moment for me came when we were told that Anders Behring Breivik was inspired by "American right wing Christian bloggers and writers." The sad part is, on its face, that's quite true. But what she doesn't tell you is that this man's own attorney, Geir Lippestad , openly states that Breivik is insane, as a simple Google search will demonstrate. And as we've seen time and time again during our history, these type of individuals are just as likely to be inspired by causes some might indentify as left-wing, with the unabomber being a perfect example. However, when I tried to post and make these points after her piece was initially put up, the moderators here kept removing my posts. I wish her luck in her endeavors, and would ask the A2 moderators to allow others who disagree or wish to point out other facts to have their voice represented as well. That's only fair.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

So sorry to hear that this column is being cancelled. I am even more sorry for Ann Arbor, where so many of my friends have admitted to feeling like an outsider. Nowhere else has my blackness made me so popular! We left Ann Arbor nearly a decade ago because its elite form of liberalism was the very thing that precluded its being truly progressive. As a whole, Ann Arbor seemed entirely focused on exposing the ills of society while being unwilling to check itself. While Ann Arbor lauded itself as a diverse community, our family still found ourselves to represent a racial/ethnic minority in school, at work, at social events, and even in public spaces. In fact, at just 4 years old, while dining at a local family restaurant, my daughter looked around and, upon spotting a black couple seated in a corner, said, "mommy, look! there's brown people here." When I asked her what was wrong with that, she casually replied, "because every time we go to restaurants all I see is white people." That a 4-year-old child made such an observation in such a liberal community is, to me, very telling. I could share countless other stories from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation, all sharing that Ann Arbor seemed to tolerate but never truly accept them. If anyone felt "scolded" by your articles, perhaps that is just the nagging gnaw of the proverbial guilty conscience. Each of us is limited by personal experience and perspective, so any twist or turn of our mind's eye will evoke some discomfort. But that is the only way we can learn and make progress beyond what little we already presume to know. Keep trucking, my beautiful, brave, and brilliant friend! Be the voice that carries on, and on, and on.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 4:06 a.m.

Your column has been a breath of fresh air in the newspaper. I always enjoy reading your stories, thoughtful insights and explorations into other cultures. Discontinuing your column is a huge disservice to all of us who really enjoy reading about multicultural topics-there are not many other places to read about what you write. Shame on for not choosing to value the content more to continue it. Your column was the one bright spot amidst otherwise bland reporting and topics. It's clear EyeHeart didn't read your column much or didn't understand it. I never once felt scolded. Perhaps if I narrow-mindedly viewed multiculturalism as somehow negative or felt threatened by it, I may have misinterpreted your content as such. It's clear to the rest of us that your content served a much larger, more important goal of introducing our community to many important topics that are all too frequently sidelined in mainstream media. It's too bad your column has now suffered the fate of this sidelining.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

"It's clear EyeHeart didn't read your column much or didn't understand it" Of course, because anybody that disagrees with you must be small minded, ignorant, unread or just plain dumb, right?


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:11 a.m.

Shame on you EyeHeart. Small minds only hold small thoughts. Frances: Thank you for a refreshing voice in opening our minds to an interesting and often fun view of cultures right here in Ann Arbor. Good luck in your writings. Share more of your adventures with us. Especially about food.


Sun, Sep 25, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

Maybe the readers got sick of getting scolded every week?