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Posted on Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 6 a.m.

Mooncakes and yo-yos

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

We were going to have an moonlit picnic at the park — teriyaki chicken musubi, steamed little dragon buns, a thermos of hot jasmine tea, and of course, plenty of mooncakes. Thirteen-year-old Hao Hao had already written up a grocery list (which suspiciously includes “Pocky — 1,000,000 boxes”). We had four pink and green paper lanterns and candles from Vietnam, one for each of the kids. It was going to be a rare Saturday night with everyone together, just to sit and eat as a family and look at the beautiful full moon, the Harvest Moon, while composing a poem or two for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (basically, Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean Thanksgiving or Oktoberfest … but without the beer).

But then rain was forecast.


Jeff Liu of the University of Michigan's Taiwanese American Student Association and the Ann Arbor Chinese Center of Michigan performs Chinese Yo-Yo at a U-M Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Celebration on Oct. 3, 2009.

Luckily, Brian on the Revolution Chinese Yo-Yo Team mentioned the team would be performing at the University of Michigan, so we decided to go there instead. (Five-year-old Little Brother idolizes the “Older Brothers” on the Chinese Yo-Yo Team and is like their mascot.) The Taiwan Student Association, The Taiwanese American Student Association, and the Singapore Student Association were hosting a Mid-Autumn Moon Festival celebration.

In addition to the dazzling death-defying Chinese Yo-Yo tricks (with Little Brother dutifully fetching the runaway yo-yos), two young women play a song on the pipa and gu zheng about longing for home far away, and the Singaporean students also sing a sad song about missing distant loved ones. That is what the moon festival is about—family and home—and I love watching how people create community when they are far away from both.

It is great hearing the lilting flow of accents from Taiwan, Singapore, and America, and reassuring to hear so many young people switch seamlessly from fluent unaccented Mandarin to fluent unaccented English, everyone doting on Little Brother. Even though we do not know anyone here other than the yo-yo team, we feel warm and at home in this accidentally constructed community. Fourteen-year-old Mango even CLOSES HER LAPTOP to watch the audience-participation games, they are so engaging. At one point, the full moon bursts out from behind the clouds and fills the wall of windows fronting East Hall for a few moments, watching over us. Sigh.

The night before, I spoke at Mam Non Organization’s annual Moon Festival, organized by Linh Song in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Area Families with Children from China. After eating mooncakes handmade by the Mam Non GIFT Mentoring Program with help from Eastern Accents Bakery, everyone heads outside where Asian American volunteers from the University of Michigan light candles inside 200 colorful paper lanterns from Vietnam, and these families that have adopted children from Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, and China carry glowing paper lanterns together as they walk with their children through a country field to enjoy the full moon’s beauty with their new friends from the Asian American community.

From a distance, all you can see are a serpentine of tiny lights pinpointing the darkness—a river of tiny lights connecting these children to their heritage as they create new traditions together with their family and friends.

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