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Posted on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 5:30 p.m.

Join me as I explore Ann Arbor through a cross-cultural lens

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

When I first came to Ann Arbor from California for graduate school oh so many years ago, I felt out of place, conspicuous, like a foreigner, like I was not wanted and I did not belong. Without a feeling of safety and understanding, it was difficult for me to maintain my footing, and I planned to graduate and run away as soon as possible.

But on my way out of town, I met a handsome man who laughed at my jokes and convinced me to stay just a little longer. Slowly, I managed to find a place for myself and my young family, to create the kind of community in which I wanted to raise my children, strong and proud in their own skin. Without any sort of multicultural What to Expect book, I had to write my own.

Ann Arbor is often praised as being so multicultural, so diverse, so tolerant, so international, so liberal (with such good restaurants, and such a vibrant arts scene). However, there are those who point to the invisible color line running up and down Carpenter Road and the achievement gap in our schools and whisper that Ann Arbor is not as hip as it thinks it is.

I often feel like I am living in some Star Trek-style parallel universe to the mainstream. I read the same newspapers (what is left of them), walk the same streets, speak the same language. Yet my “read” or “take” on what is going on in the world (and my life) is often strikingly different from that of the mainstream, especially to those who keep asking how come I speak English so well. My friends of various minority cultures understand; they live in parallel universes too. What would happen if all these different communities and all these different people came together—really came together—and I do not mean a perfunctory once-a-year international potluck. I am excited to introduce my column, “Adventures in Multicultural Living,” which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month as it shifts to a weekly format and begins publication at These columns will include explorations of multicultural events and cultural practices, thoughts about raising children with cultures, visits with colorful personalities straddling different cultures, stories of cross-cultural clashes, and moments of resonance that cut across cultures and move us all. Additional blog posts will introduce the myriad of multicultural events in town, many hidden just out of view. The focus is local, the communites are here, but the vision is national and international in significance.

I come to this work from many years as an editor of the online magazine Asian American Village; team teaching Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn; Outreach Coordinator of the Ann Arbor Chinese Center of Michigan (if you have ever seen kids performing Chinese yoyo and lion dance, that was us); working locally in small business, nonprofits, multicultural education, and civil rights; I am writing a book on Asian American identity in the Midwest. My greatest local claim to fame, however, is that I am chair of King School’s International Night, an event that goes way beyond the once-a-year international potluck, and educates, builds pride and cultural identity, and creates serious community.

Come walk with us.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village and a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at



Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 1:03 p.m.

I am South-Asian, from the indian sub-continent. I think, sometimes, we are too concerned about being "different". This can lead to parochialism,and then becomes a "blame American culture for everything" sort of a mindset. I see this amongst many of my Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi,Nepali and Sri Lankan fellow immigrants. Theyare too hung up o n their own ethnic and cultural identy,and too hung up on trying to make sure that "mainstream American culture" accepts them the way they are, without making any efforts to learn to live with the kind of diversity that a place like A2 offers. Thus, I am a bit worried whenever the term "multi-cultural" comes up


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 10:43 a.m.

Frances, thank you for all you have done already in this regard. The talk you gave at our PTO in Troy last year was amazing. Let's walk, I'm with you :)

Kevin Karr

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 10:02 a.m.

Thanks for your mention of King School's International Night, Frances. Under your leadership, the collective King School community's work in preparation for International Night is a yearly highlight for so many of our King School students and families. I've posted a link to your story above on the MLK School website, and I look forward to reading more of your writing. Kevin Karr Principal MLK, Jr. Elementary School