Imagining the possibilities of Hello Kitty Gangnam Style and more on Halloween | photograph courtesy Richard Evans
The annual University of Michigan Natural History Museum Halloween party is packed, the girls all dressed as princesses and fairies, the boys all dressed as autobots and ninjas. My son, eight-year-old Little Brother, is a pirate. I am Hello Kitty Gangnam Style. We come every year for the science and the stories, the dinosaurs and the whales (Yay Professor Gingerich!).
This day, I get such a sense of possibility from this short multiculti crowd. There do not seem to be any limits as boys and girls of so many different races and ethnicities imagine what they could be. Anyone could be a doctor, anyone could be a scientist, as little hands explore the surfaces of mammoth and mastodon teeth.
Imagination has no limits today. I love that about Halloween.
Education has no barriers today either. I love that about the Natural History Museum. (Whenever we talk about Chicago, eight-year-old Little Brother has only one word, “Sue.”)
Even now, three weeks later, the memories of this day and the imagination it inspires insulate me from the hateful racist and sexist rhetoric churning outside my door. I want to believe that this hopeful future is what is real and all that crazy stuff in the news—from the Petraeus et al affairs to talk of secession to the Arizona woman who ran over her husband for not voting—is not. Really, don’t we all just want to educate our kids and share a little bit of candy?
Funny how we sometimes need to step outside of reality a moment in order to see what is real.
I recently reread one of my favorite novels, Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” In my twenties, I read everything Kundera wrote up through “Immortality”—“The Joke,” “Laughable Loves,” “Farewell Waltz,” “Life Is Elsewhere,” “Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” “Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Immortality.” They were formative in how I shaped my identity, in how I wanted to live my life. Then I stopped. I do not remember why. For maybe ten years, I mostly watched “Star Trek” reruns and read those bright yellow “For Dummies” books, so much so that when Little Brother was two or three, he once started shouting at Borders, “Mommy! Your books are here!” as he ran from shelf to shelf, pointing out all the bright yellow books for me to read. #embarassingtruth.
A friend saw me reading this book last week and remarked that it was one of his favorite books. Hey, mine too. A new connection. A new conversation.
Last weekend I woke to the news that author Han SuYin had passed away at age 96. She is best known for her interracial love story, “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” which was made into a movie starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones in yellowface, and a television series. However, the book I remember is, “The Mountain is Young,” a HOT hapa – desi love story, written before folks even identified that way. I never read love stories (bah humbug), but a handsome man gave me this book a lifetime ago and said simply that I had to read it. Only now, years later, do I see why. Set in 1950’s Kathmandu, Nepal, against the backdrop of the King’s coronation and filled with colorful characters like the charismatic Boris, the Kathmandu valley is gorgeous, the cultural festivals not exoticized, with a woman writer, stifling marriage, themes of self-discovery and spiritual awakening, the swagger of international development, and did i mention HOT hapa – desi love story? I recognized my own legs as the heroine’s long brown legs ran down the path, and in her journey, I saw possibilities that had not previously occurred to me. I posted a link on Facebook, and a new conversation began.
Once in Chicago, while barreling down the road from someplace I can’t remember now to get to another place I can’t remember now, then-six-year-old Little Brother was so excited to recognize the Picasso sculpture. He had just learned about it in school and there it was in real life. We shouted at the cab driver to stop so we could take a moment to look at it.
Possibility. Imagination. Conversations to remember.
Note: I’m going to be part of photographer Mohammed Langston’s exhibit “Glimpse: People of our Community” and Laurie White’s video “Race in this Place: A Community Conversation” both of which will be at the UM Understanding Race Project: New Exhibits Look at Race In Our Community Public reception, Friday, November 16, 6-8 pm University of Michigan Museum of Natural History 1109 Geddes Ave., Ann Arbor, Michigan. UnderstandingRaceProject.org
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, Chicagoistheworld.org, PacificCitizen.org, and InCultureParent.com. 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 franceskaihwawang.com, her blogs at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com and rememberingvincentchin.com, and she can be reached at email@example.com.