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Posted on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 8:08 a.m.

Seeking the wisdom of our elders, including legendary civil rights activist and author Grace Lee Boggs

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

I was amused when Asian American filmmaker and keynote speaker Koji Sakai introduced himself to the Asian/Pacific Islander American High School Conference at the University of Michigan as an "old person," from the time of the dinosaurs (complete with dinosaur graphic).

He was born in 1977.

“For those not good at math,” he joked, “That makes me 34 years old today.”

He talked to students about how Asian American media is so much better now than in ancient times (the 1990s), and even better still than when a really old person he knows was growing up in the 1950s, when it was nonexistent.

All my life, I have been drawn to the wisdom of those older than myself, especially women of color. As a child, while my younger cousins played in the basement, I would sit in the kitchen with my mother and six aunties, or my maternal grandmother and eight great aunties, or all my parents’ friends, as they bickered and laughed, scolded and shared.

Now that I live far away from family, I look to my friends who tend to be a few years older than me for that wisdom, along with my friends’ parents, teachers of all sorts, and books by women of color, too.

I am currently looking forward to an upcoming visit with a friend’s mom who is coming into town this week. A big dose of Auntie-ness is just what I need right now — a cup of tea, a little lunch and an afternoon of conversation to help me find my way.

I also make sure to help nurture the connections between my children and their friends’ parents so that if they ever have a problem they do not want to discuss with me, they know they can always go to Auntie Lisa, Auntie Linh, Auntie Sujata or Auntie Kaori.

As National March is Reading Month and Women’s History Month come to a close, I am really excited about 95-year-old philosopher-activist Grace Lee Boggs’ talk and book signing, “Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century—A Forum in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” coming up on Monday, April 4, 4 p.m., at the University of Michigan, Modern Languages Building, Auditorium 3. With her will be Danny Glover, Robin D. G. Kelley and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall; moderated by Stephen Ward. From the event’s Facebook page:

This forum marks the anniversary of MLK’s historic antiwar speech, “A Time to Break Silence” (April 4, 1967) and his tragic assassination (April 4, 1968). The distinguished panel of activist-historians will examine MLK’s call for a "revolution of values" against "the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism" as discussed by Grace Lee Boggs in her new book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century. As Danny Glover writes in the Foreword to the book, "Grace has continued to make history as she has nurtured new ideas in Detroit and raised new possibilities of reuniting the efforts of all of us into a new movement."

There is no one wiser than legendary civil rights activist and author Grace Lee Boggs, who has spent the past 70 years working in labor, civil rights, the environment and African American and Asian American issues. I have to confess that no matter how often I meet her, I do not know what to say, and I am still shocked to hear the words “revolution,” “radical” and “the movement” come out of her lips.

As documentary filmmaker Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project) said, “The mere fact that Grace existed blew my mind.”

Thanks, Auntie, for leading the way.

American Revolutionary - Indiegogo Pitch from American Revolutionary on Vimeo.

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


Bob L

Wed, Apr 6, 2011 : 3:06 a.m.

In March of 2010 Grace Lee Boggs was the keynote speaker at the U-M's CAAS 40th anniversary conference. Her talk can be viewed at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> (it may stutter a bit if your network connection is not fast enough). She was an impressive speaker.

Jeff Gaynor

Tue, Apr 5, 2011 : 3:11 p.m.

Wish I knew about this event the day before it happened, rather than the day after. Still, it's good to learn more about Grace Lee Boggs and be sustained by her life of activism.