Asian in America and Tiger Mom Amy Chua’s Influence
There is no doubt that Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mom” book sparked a reaction fanned, no doubt, by the incendiary article by the Wall Street Journal. I read somewhere that when people bother you, it’s because they reflect something inside yourself that you are trying to suppress. They are a foil into your own “dark side.” So it’s not surprising that an extreme parenting style that produces a child that appears to be obedient, talented, and smart is an end result we all to achieve.
The thing about parenting is that we parents don’t really know how we are doing until our children are grown up and out of the house and perhaps, even having kids of their own. My husband and I now laugh now at those annual pediatrician visits that were so fraught with stress and sometimes, elation. “He said our child is perfect! Yes! We are not screwing her up!” We’d celebrate on a good visit. On another, depression would follow the visit. “She’s underweight and watching too much TV. Sigh!” Somehow, as a parent, the balance between nurturing and permissive versus tough and demanding (i.e. Tiger Mom-ish) is not easy to achieve.
And so Amy Chua’s parenting style requires a lot of pushback since it’s clear to all of us who are a little horrified but secretly think that maybe, we too, could be a little tougher. Tiger Mom’s kids practice 3 hours a day and that’s insane particularly if it’s not the child’s desire…but my kids practice less than half an hour a day. I don’t time my kids but some days I suspect they 1) forget to practice at all and 2) they spend more time assembling and disassembling their instruments than actually blowing into it.
On the other hand, with so much heated debate over Amy Chua’s article, it was hard to nail down exactly what was so wrong and disturbing about her extreme parenting style. Of all the articles and musings that poured forth, this one by Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times nailed it for me. I have an excerpt below. What do you think?
Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ has stirred debate over childrearing methods. But it says even more about the author.
by Meghan Daum, Los Angeles Times
“And, yes, I feel her pain that the Wall Street Journal went for the most incendiary stuff in “Tiger Mother” and topped it with a headline she didn’t write. But once I read the book — this can be done, cover to cover, in a few hours — it became painfully clear that Chua’s image problem isn’t really due to her mothering style. It’s due to her inability as a writer to handle the provocative tone of her book, particularly the ostensibly self-parodying aspects. (I think the dollhouse bit was an attempt to make fun of herself.) Where in real life she might be endearingly wacky, she comes across in the book as possibly crazy. For all her controlling impulses, as a writer, she lacks the wit, pacing, and emotional honesty to effectively control her own material.
This is a shame really because Chua has important things to say. Her book raises necessary questions about how permissive parenting affects not just children but society. She talks unflinchingly about the anxieties of the immigrant experience and the way the attendant work ethic feeds the myth that Asians are simply genetically smarter than Westerners.
In the end, though, I have to wonder if her lack of sensitivity to the tone and impact of her words doesn’t in fact deliver a judgment about the very upbringing she espouses.
Chua’s parenting method might garner perfect grades and test scores and multiple Harvard degrees (which she has, thank you very much). But maybe what gets sacrificed along the way is the ability to genuinely laugh at yourself, to recognize the absurd, and to weave it into your existence — in other words, to hone the tools necessary for effectively seeing yourself in full, so that you can make others understand where you’re coming from.
That’s less a skill that can be learned than a gift that can come from only one source: the experience of failure. Surely no kid should be denied that.”
Finally, I find it odd that two Yale Law Professors, both Amy Chua and her husband, spend their limited spare time writing books that are completely off-topic from their profession. You don’t see Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, (see list of his publications) penning mystery novels or memoirs on his parenting style. It is as if neither Amy Chua nor her husband finds satisfaction in their careers, and that maybe they’d have pursued a different path if allowed to. Maybe they were scared to pursue writing careers? Maybe they were not self-actualized to know what they wanted? Maybe they lack the self-confidence to pursue something financially risky? Maybe they were used to being told what to do and think? To me, this is very revealing. And will their children be forced down a career path that their parents deem acceptable? Well, it seems that way to me; the leash is very short indeed.
There was also much consternation from the Asian American community who bemoaned the setbacks in stereotyping that Amy Chua’s hoopla is causing. It’s true. Growing up Asian in America means to most of us, imagery that includes thick glasses, schoolyard teasing and/or fights, and strange packed lunches. In the realm of children’s literature, this is slowly starting to change in an exciting way and now there are books that actually reflect what it means to be an Asian American child in America.
For Teach Me Tuesday, I am celebrating recently published children’s literature that depicts Asian American kids in an authentic and honest way. These four books are all award-winning (or about to win the award) and depict accurate portraits of balancing that line between assimilation and respecting one’s cultural heritage. And what is amazing about this lineup is the diversity of the books: chapter book, easy reader, easy chapter book, and graphic novel!
And the dumpling makes an appearance in each of these books, so I have also included my mother-in-law’s recipe for Mandu, the Korean dumpling version.
p.s. Thank you to Fourth Musketeer for sending me the article.
When this book arrived, my oldest snatched it and ran upstairs with it. Two days later she raved about the book. She’s in 5th grade. This is Wendy Shang’s first book and she’s a new luminous voice in Asian American children’s literature. She really nails it! In The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, the nuances of being Asian in America are depicted: Lucy’s older sister is the “perfect” older sister obedient and accomplished, her older brother is the math wiz who prefers history, and she’s the youngest — the most assimilated, the most athletic, but feeling the most under-appreciated. The parents are not caricatures of the “Tiger Parenting” mold but really do represent typical second-generation Asians.
There are also many interesting twists and turns to this book:
- Popular girl bullying. Queen bee syndrome and all. When Lucy decides to try out for captain of the student (vs. faculty) basketball team, queen bee Sloane tries to derail her using peer pressure and all kinds of nasty girl bullying.
- Lucy’s Asian classmate Talent appears to be Amy Chua as a child; an outsider at school looking in. Talent is impressive on paper but lonely at school and excited about a new Chinese School starting up in a town which seems to conflict with Lucy’s basketball team practice.
- Basketball versus Chinese School. Lucy lives for basketball but her family doesn’t think there is any future for a short Asian girl in basketball and wants her to go to Chinese School instead. In the basketball showdown between the students and faculty, Lucy’s leadership skills do not go unnoticed, and finally, her family can support Lucy’s passion.
- There’s a Joy Luck Club twist that I love. Lucy’s newly discovered Great Aunt is visiting them from Mainland China. At first, Lucy is embarrassed by her F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) ways but grows to appreciate and love her new relative whose presence makes her miss her beloved grandmother all the more.
But it’s the food that brings and keeps the family together which is also very Asian where meals are shared together as a family and one would never eat alone. And dumplings come into play, much as they do at our house, as an activity that is both fun and delicious making Lucy’s birthday celebration truly special. This book was just released this month — January–and I predict that it will be up for a lot of awards. [chapter books, ages 8-14]
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this easy reader. My six-year-old and I have read it many times and it still cracks us up. It was a 2011 Geisel Honor book. Dumplings are also featured in this short chapter book with six stories recapped in a funny revisionist way by Ting though I am not sure that kids this age can actually roll out the dough AND make the dumplings. No one I know takes that extra step to make their own dough. [easy reader, ages 4-8]
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
- Blanch Napa cabbage OR bean sprouts and squeeze out using cheesecloth. Mince finely.
- Squeeze out tofu using cheesecloth.
- Mix all ingredients together.
- Place about a tablespoon of filling into the center of a wrapper.
- Dab edges with egg mixture and fold into dumpling shape. Fold wrapper in half to match up sides, then crimp into a fan-like shape. Set on cookie sheet until ready to cook.
- We prefer fresh mandu boiled. Place into boiling water (just like making pasta). When the dumplings rise to the top, they’re ready.
- Eat by dipping into soy sauce and vinegar mixture (1:1).
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.