column: U-M Center for Chinese Studies Kite Festival and Frances' Farewell--let us keep the conversation going
Photograph courtesy Andrew Fang www.Photasa.com
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 Studies’ Chuseok 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.
I am grateful to Mary Morgan at AnnArborChronicle.com where this column first got its start and to Tony Dearing at AnnArbor.com 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 NewAmericaMedia.org and ChicagoistheWorld.org and InCultureParent.com. You can visit my website at multiculturaltoolbox.com and RSS feed my blog franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com. 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.