Catalyst to Action–Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and National Bike Month!

fkwang trailabike bike

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang and Little Brother biking to fall soccer practice | photograph courtesy of my daughter Margot

by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, contributor
Oh no!

How did that happen?

I thought I took precautions! I was careful!


Biker’s tan.

You can always spot the bicyclists by that straight white line three to four inches above their knee and little white sock line around the ankle. I have been slathering on the sunscreen every day, trying (hopelessly) to stay fair and lovely (joke), but to no use. I know once that line forms, it is almost impossible to shake. Only two weeks into May and I am already marked. Everyone can see my secret.

As a kid, my bike was freedom. I biked to the park for ceramics class, I biked to ballet class, I biked to school, I biked to my Nai Nai’s house. I remember swooping in and out of the parked cars along Colorado Boulevard as I blasted downhill, signaling each swerve with my left hand, until my jeans invariably got caught in the chain, forever punctured with double stripes of oil (Sorry, Mom).

Then somehow, during awkward adolescence, I became embarrassed and hid with my bike inside the garage. I remember propping up the back tires on two paint cans and cycling inside the garage, where no one could see me. I have no idea why; it seemed to make sense at the time.

When I lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, bicycling made sense again. It was a way to get from one place to another. It was a way to stay independent. It was not like the bike geeks in their neon spandex biking 90 miles going nowhere. I especially loved not having to bargain or argue with taxi drivers who never wanted to take me all the way up to my house on the hill by the Russian Embassy. And I picked up some technique along the way.

I always wore a kurtha salwar (shalwar kameez in Hindi) or sari at the time to try to blend in a little better. What I did not realize was that I was still a girl out and about on my own. Not normal. I also wore a helmet. Really not normal. I was the only girl on a bike in all of Kathmandu. Totally not normal. And biking fast. Smile. I remember strangers telling me they saw me biking out by Tribhuvan University a full year after I had actually been there. I suppose I was quite a sight, elbows and knees in, head tucked down for speed, with two long braids and long flowing orange chiffon scarf flying behind me as I flew down that big hill from the university.

This year, my twelve-year-old daughter, Niu Niu, got strong-armed into biking to school with her friends on Bike to School Day. She did not want to do it and grumbled the whole way.

Because May is National Bike Month, my eight-year-old son, Little Brother, and I also started biking to and from school, and we have been having a blast. It means waking him up ten minutes earlier, and it means changing in and out of bike shorts and bike shoes twice a day (actually, yesterday I did not change and wore my bike shorts under my skirt to a lecture I gave at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); it seemed appropriate). We still need to ask our friend Kevin if he can teach us how to lube our bikes.

Every day I come home singing, “I love my bike, I love my bike, I love my bike.” Who would have thought?

May is also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Having special months to celebrate the achievements and heritage of Asian Pacific Americans, to bike, to write poetry, and more may not seem like much, however, these months get folks excited, talking, and goading each other into action. I mean, I have been looking at my girlfriend Kate’s gorgeous Colorado mountain biking photos on Facebook for months, yet I did not get the bikes down from the rafters until my daughter “had to” bike to school with her friends.

In the way that an unexpected wink from a handsome man can be a catalyst to wink back and see what might follow, the results can be quite unexpected.

Shout out to Magnetic North and Taiyo Na and Heather Park for their new music video, “New Love.” Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!


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 a contributor for New America Media Ethnoblog,,, and She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at, her blogs at and, and she can be reached at


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