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Posted on Sun, Jul 3, 2011 : 8:30 a.m.

Balancing old and new traditions for family and community at Fourth of July and Ann Arbor Summer Festival

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Bollyfit's Anuja Rajendra (in blue) leads students and community members in a new twist on an old tradition, a Bollywood flash mob dance performance at Ann Arbor Summer Festival Top of the Park Wednesday | Photograph courtesy of Peter Smith

When my seven-year-old son, Little Brother, came home from school and said that his first grade class would be talking about family traditions the next day, his older sisters all simultaneously said, “Uh oh.”

Because our family talks about traditions a lot more than “normal” people, his sisters jokingly call a lot of things “tradition” that are not really traditions in the normal sense. However, because Little Brother is so little, he cannot always tell when his sisters are joking. What if he thinks these are real traditions and tells his classmates about them?

For example, whenever Hao Hao does anything that bothers her older sister M — including going into her room and sitting on her bed and reading her books, she insists that she has to do it because, “It’s tradition!” Whenever anyone breaks out into song and dance, the stated reason is always because, “It’s tradition!”

Every Friday night we have dumplings for dinner before Chinese School. Is it because Mommy is too tired to cook on Friday nights? No, it is because, “It’s tradition!”

M always argues back, “It’s not a tradition just because you say it is.”

Worried about what embarrassing things Little Brother might tell his classmates, his sisters try to refresh his memory about the (slightly) more “normal” traditions that we share as a family like celebrating Thanksgiving Eve with our friends, singing with Santa, making mochi at Mochitsuki, barbequing after the Memorial Day parade, eating long noodles for long life on birthdays, lion dancing at Chinese New Year, and more.

Little Brother comes home at the end of the day with a worksheet he has completed about his favorite holiday: Easter. I did not know Easter was his favorite holiday. He has drawn pictures of all his favorite Easter traditions — candy, eggs, candy eggs, eggs filled with candy, chocolate Easter bunnies, the real Easter bunny.

He has another worksheet filled with drawings for other traditions on other holidays, but I am surprised to discover that he has left the Fourth of July blank. He told his teacher that we do not celebrate Fourth of July.

What? That is not true. We do celebrate Fourth of July. Don’t you remember when Auntie Mei-Ling and Tyler came to barbecue at the pond? Don’t you remember when we had a picnic on the beach to watch the fireworks? Don’t you remember Uncle Howard promising every year to take us kayaking to see the fireworks?

Ah, now I see the problem. Because we celebrate it differently every year, he does not always realize that it is Fourth of July.

I begin to wonder what other traditions give structure to our calendar that he does not even realize are precious traditions? Like Top of the Park at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival? Art Fair? Ann Arbor Book Festival? Grillin’ for Food Gatherers? Tour de Kids? Storytime with Mother Goose? Festifools!

Part of the fun of creating a family life rich with meaning and memory is simultaneously maintaining traditions from long ago while also having the courage to create something new, while always staying nimble and sensitive to everyone’s current needs.

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival has done a fabulous job of reaching out to our diverse community, designating a few nights as a Global Party and inviting many community groups like BollyFit Studios, Peaceful Dragon School of Tai Chi, CDO Michigan school of capoeira, Unveiled Dance school of Middle Eastern dance and Ann Arbor School of Yoga, to share their traditions for the rest of the community to observe, sample, try, and see what happens. Watch out!

Did you hear about the Bollywood flash mob dance performance orchestrated by Bollyfit Studios last Wednesday night at Ann Arbor Summer Festival Top of the Park?

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog and a contributor for Chicago is the World. 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