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.