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Posted on Sun, Feb 27, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

Taking the time to celebrate birthdays, African American History Month and other special times

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang with Dragon Chica author May-Lee Chai.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang | Contributor

I had nearly forgotten, until I received the Facebook post from my good friend James wishing me a happy birthday. James and I share the same birthday, so I immediately wished him a happy birthday, too, and then sent birthday wishes to my childhood friend, Hsiao Ma, who also shares the same birthday with me, but not before she beat me to it. Theirs are the only birthdays I ever remember.

Growing up, birthdays were not a big deal, and usually consisted of small family gatherings with my family and Hsiao Ma’s family. The only other guest we ever invited was George and his family. A little dinner, a little cake, nothing fancy. Hsiao Ma, George, and I were a trio in those days, the only Chinese kids I knew other than my three older cousins.

I was surprised the first time I heard of someone taking the entire day off work and school because it was her birthday. It was her special day, so she was going to dedicate that day entirely to pampering herself. She felt she deserved it. I could not fathom that either birthdays or pampering could be so important.

I do have birthday parties for my children, but, conceptually, these are still just family gatherings in our home. We only invite our closest family friends. However, because I have so many children and they have so many friends, these do end up being rather large affairs. A lot of food, a lot of cake.

Still, in recent years, I have been trying to occasionally slow down a little bit and try what many say we should do, “take some time for yourself” and “do something nice for yourself.” This year, I splurged on an all-day writing class, and I went out to lunch with my new virtual BFF (“best friends forever”), Dragon Chica author May-Lee Chai.

It was so cool to meet in person after virtually admiring each other’s work for so long. We ate dim sum, saw lion dancers, and went to buy two gorgeous Chinese blouses (that my daughters will steal the moment they see them, so I am not really sure if these blouses count as my presents or theirs).

Auntie Ling made me long noodles for long life in a special Taiwanese soup, rou gen tang. It was a really nice day, a special treat, all things I would not have done otherwise. I kind of like this. I get it now.

So as we near the end of African American History Month (February), just passed by the Day of Remembrance (of Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Feb. 19), and head into National Reading Month and Women’s History Month (March), I am seeing how nice it is to slow down per these specially designated months and days to think outside of our daily experience.

Sure, we ought to learn the history of all those in our country every day, just as we ought to take care of ourselves every day. We should not need a special day or a special month to honor the history and accomplishments of such large groups of our population, but, well, in truth, we are busy, we fall into routines, we forget. Without these specially designated times to remember a largely untaught forgotten history, what are the chances that we will never quite get around to it?

These special months help us to remember to remember, and they also help us all do it together, because this history belongs to all of us.

Note: In honor of African American History Month, National Reading Month, and Women’s History Month, as well as her recent Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, read writer and poet Maya Angelou’s memoirs, starting with "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings."

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 an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. 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