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Posted on Sun, May 23, 2010 : 5:41 p.m.

Creating music and community together at Picnic Pops

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

What is it about Picnic Pops that makes it so much fun?

I thought it was the sunshine, but even in pouring rain, it was still fun. I thought it was the carnival games, but the kids are now old enough to play the games by themselves, and it was still fun. It obviously must be the music, but I have heard all these bands play before, and this concert is a lot more fun.

The children and I have been going to Picnic Pops since my oldest were 1 and 2. My friend Susan’s daughter was playing in the Pioneer High School band that year. I remember pushing a big blue double stroller through the mud (some things do not change), not knowing anyone, yet enjoying the sunshine and feeling of community while being enveloped by the cheerful marches and big band sound.

This year, M not only had her first solo—which floated beautifully over the melody line—she also worked a shift in one of the game booths. She is growing up. H milled about with all her friends, and according to Facebook, bought $5 of cotton candy for them. She also is growing up. I sat with a friend whose high school daughter was so happy to be invited back to sit in with her old middle school band, the green Huron High shirts punctuating the white-clad Clague Middle School ranks. It was also neat to see the Huron High Schoolers all rush over to check out the Tappan Middle School band (and then mutter indignantly) when they recognized the music as a piece they were also playing.

There are a lot of outdoor community events every spring—Picnic Pops, Ann Arbor Book Festival, Festifools, Taste of Ann Arbor, Grillin’, Tour de Kids, EcoRide, the Mayor's Green Fair, Ya'ssou Greek Festival, Juneteenth, and all the end of school picnics and ice cream socials. Certainly we are all bursting to get outdoors after burrowing out from under the snow and before the heat of summer hits.

I like to notice who comes to what events.

Most of these community fairs are open to the public, but one often sees a very different cross-section of “the public” at each one. Some of the difference is marketing, some is interest group, some is language, some is weather—I find it really interesting simply to realize how many different subcultures and subcommunities we have here in our small town. I once single-handedly (and accidentally) integrated an all-white sports event by bringing some of my kids’ friends and their families. No one had even noticed that we had been missing.

Last night, as the fifth-graders from King School left for Space Camp, I stood on the curb with an African-American mom, an Indian-American mom and a Caucasian-American dad, making small talk about our kids packing for the trip while waiting to wave goodbye when the buses pulled away at midnight. It should have been unremarkable, yet it is not every day that we stand out on the sidewalk in the open air together, talking and laughing like that.

Many people assume that things will be different for this next generation, who are growing up together with peers of many races and ethnicities and cultures and at a time when multiculturalism is cool. However, it takes more than proximity.

I caught a glimpse yesterday at Picnic Pops. As the Clague Middle School band played the Can Can, behind them, a line of orange-clad Ann Arbor Open students spontaneously came together, arms on shoulders, dancing in the grassy field.

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, lead multicultural contributor for, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. 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


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Wed, May 26, 2010 : 4:35 p.m.

Absolutely! As parents get to know each other because their children are friends, and work together volunteering in the classroom or in the PTO, we create friendships and relationships with people we might not otherwise ever meet or think to befriend.

Blue Marker

Mon, May 24, 2010 : 8:06 a.m.

Music is the gift you can give your child for a lifetime. All the bands sounded great but I'm partial to Mr. Leach and his gang!

Joe Grimm

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 7:03 p.m.

You captured some nice moments. And you are right. Proximity is a good thing, but there needs to be more. Shared interests help. I wonder if, as you were sharing small talk, you were also sharing something larger, and if the older generation will become closer, just by watching the younger ones.