Op Ed

Tiger Mother Doesn’t Speak For Me

I groaned when I first heard about Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mother” memoir, especially after reading the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. Internet commenters rushed to share anecdotes about Asian friends committing suicide or having mental breakdowns because of parental pressure and decided her book was a legitimate reason to support their opinion that students in Asian countries are book smart but not creative. The dialogue on the NY Times website steered dangerously close to xenophobia as commenters claimed that Asian culture is inferior to American and shared stories of workplace problems with difficult Asian colleagues.

I am the first generation daughter of Indian immigrants and more than familiar with parental pressure, academic and otherwise. Yes, I heard about my mom’s friends perfect children: their admission to magnet schools, perfect SAT scores, participation in elite orchestras. Yes, my parents encouraged me to be successful ““ but allowed me to choose my own path to get there. I wasn’t forced to be an engineer or doctor ““ thankfully, since I never showed aptitude in either of these

Chua only allowed her daughters to participate in a narrow range of pre-approved activities, something I also didn’t witness in the Indian community. If anything, Indian parents love to brag so as long as the child was successful, it didn’t matter the venue.

Chua has two daughters, so I don’t know if parenting methods would be different for a son. But there is certainly truth in my experience of the adage of (some) Asian parents “raising their daughters and loving their sons.” My parents were strict about dating, friends, and my safety. But I never doubted their love and affection for me. I never heard any Indian parents refusing to compliment their children in public or calling their daughters “fatty.”

For the record, I do believe Chua has exaggerated her stories for publicity. Her career accomplishments prove she’s intelligent enough to anticipate the public outcry after sharing her extreme parenting methods. Speaking of her demanding
career (as an educator, no less), how does she have time to monitor her daughter’s daily piano practice? Her daughters were raised Jewish and though she said she and her husband agreed they would be reared “the Chinese way” presumably the other side of the family had some sway in their upbringing.

I am in no way suggesting (Chua even said “Chinese mothers” are present in every culture) that only Asian parents raise their children to be academically and professionally successful. Chua describing herself as a typical Chinese mother does a disservice to other (especially immigrant) mothers who care about their children without being abusive.

The main reason I object to Chua’s book is that it perpetuates stereotypes of Asian culture and parenting. The world is full of enough discrimination without adding fuel to the fire.

5 replies on “Tiger Mother Doesn’t Speak For Me”

They don’t regard her as Chinese which she isn’t. She’s Chinese-American as I am. That’s what irked me about her piece, that she drew lines of battle within her household.

BTW I’m sorry I addressed you as “Sally”. I thought I had seen Sally J. Friedman’s name as the author. Sorry.

Hey it’s HK again because I can’t shut up about Chua until she STFU.

Her book in China has been retitled. Chinese netizens decried her claiming to be a “Chinese” mother. The new book cover has Chua in front of a red, white, and blue background and it is titled, “Wo Zai Meiguo Zuo Mama” = “Being an American Mother”.


Hey Sally,

I thought of doing a piece about Tiger Mom for PersephMag, but discovered I couldn’t. My original idea got lost: to interview other Tiger Cubs who are now parents (I’m a peer of Chua’s).

Chua’s story–the original article, her book, the media coverage–hits too close to me, too rage inducing. I am most insulted by the perpetuating of stereotypical thinking attributed to us “Chinese” and East Asian parents.

I agree with your points. I also agree that Chua must have exagerated her stories. No not going to read her book, don’t need to, not interested in giving her my money, because I wouldn’t befriend Chua in real life anyway.

My story about Tiger cubs got lost because: (1) no one would admit they had a Tiger Mother; (2)no one in my peer group of Tiger Cubs has taken a critical look at their lives to examine whys and hows of their lives today–blind spots and lack of self-knowledge, very much like Chu–besides myself; (3) two of the Tiger cubs are too busy being busy model minorities and don’t have free time for a mini interview by phone or email;(4)no one would admit that they used Tiger Mom techniques–besides myself. But I am oddly frank for a Tiger Cub (I’m a couple years younger than Chua, have a similar background to hers, can understand her native dialect, “Hokkien”, and probably passed her while milling through Cambridge two decades ago).

Many of the details Chua listed are true. I’ve seen and heard things, but the whole portrait doesn’t seem real. None of my Tiger cub peergroup friends will openly and easily discuss these issues. In my interviews I become frustrated because I felt as if I wanted to have a graduate school level/group therapy discussion, but the other participants were first semester freshman, not well versed in women studies, knowledge of our native cultures (only polled second generation women), or had deep understanding of psychology (only one would admit to being on medication, but wouldn’t discuss details of her therapy with me).

Very frustrating, bewildering, and somehow enlightening experience it has been for me. One good comment that emerged came from my mother: “Maybe we (first generation immigrant mothers) can read this book and think about the way we raised you (children).”

Glad that you were able to write this post.

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