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Posted on Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

Holi, Hetalia, Songkran, and Festifools - playing in the spring sunshine

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

wang Little brother robot festifools 2010.jpg

Little Brother Robot seemingly leading the Festifools parade

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang | Contributor

I was walking down Liberty Street with about thirty singing and laughing and high-spirited high school girls dressed up as World War II Axis and Allied Powers (long story, do not worry, just Hetalia cosplay) when coming towards us from the other direction was a group of happy and tired-looking university students covered head to toe in colors. Deep purple smudged on one cheek, blue and red smudged on the other, hair dusty pink and green, white T-shirts never to be white again.

Oh! Holi! I knew it was coming, but I had not yet gotten around to checking an Indian calendar and so I missed it (again) this year. Oh, the disappointment.

Holi is a boisterous Hindu and Sikh festival celebrating the beginning of spring by throwing brightly colored tikka powders at others. Songkran or the Thai water-throwing festival is a similar Thai festival offering revelry and relief from the heat in Thailand’s hottest month, April. Both mark the new year in April (different calendars), and both offer a chance to play outdoors in lightness and in fun.

I dreaded both these festivals when I first encountered them in Nepal and Thailand years ago. Maybe I was too serious then. Maybe I felt more vulnerable as an outsider. Maybe I was a bad sport.

Now I think we all could use more opportunities to play.

Ann Arbor’s Festifools was great fun again this year: People of all ages out in the sunshine wearing silly paper frond hats and enjoying the parade of giant puppets — creative April foolery rather than mischief and tired put-downs. Melanie Maxwell’s hysterical interview with parade organizers asks the worrisome question, if such good-natured merriment were to spread, “Then where will we park our cars?”

The children and I went to the Ann Arbor District Library to make robots and take part in The Great Robot Invasion. Under the guidance of Super-Librarian Laura Pershin Raynor, the downstairs multipurpose room was completely packed. While Little Brother and his sisters and his sisters’ friends worked together to build his fluorescent orange robot costume, I was approached by an enthusiastic volunteer from a local nonprofit who asked if the kids and I would like to join their English as a second language tutoring program. I was in such a good mood, Laura and I just smiled at each other and let him make his pitch. No space to be offended today. After several minutes, he suddenly stopped cold and stammered, “You speak English perfectly.” I smiled. Then on to invade Main Street!

Three years ago, during the University of Michigan’s China Theme Year, I brought my team of lion dancers to Festifools, but my very young and small lion dancers were completely overwhelmed by the towering size of the puppets.

The kids are taller now. Six-year-old Little Brother walked down the middle of Main Street in the midst of all the mayhem interacting directly with the characters walking alongside him. He took candy from a giant robot, put his head inside the Tyrannosaurus Rex’s mouth, marveled at Michelangelo (museum theme this year) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. When he grew tired of the weight of his robot costume, he took it off and made me carry it, continuing to walk up and down the middle of Main Street without a thought to whether or not he still belonged in the parade sans costume.

I love seeing children so in the moment, being who they are where they are, strutting down the street in the sunshine, without a care what others might think. Maybe this spring, we all can.

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 Web site at, her blog at, and she can be reached at