Who’s Your Mama?

A Dragon Daughter Takes a Look at the Tiger Mother

by lauren chang

“Aren’t you glad I’m your mother?” asked my mom
after I ranted about “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Written by Amy Chua, a
Yale law professor, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is an account of how Chua
raised her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa “Lulu,” using the strict “Chinese”
model of parenting. When the book was released, it became the hot topic of the
nation.

At this point, I’m sure everyone has some idea of
the book’s content—the rules Chua imposed on her daughters during their
childhood: no sleepovers, nothing less than straight As, no personal choice in
extracurricular activities and no computer games or TV, just to name a few.

I thought I knew what I was getting into—a
hardcore Chinese mother who essentially bullies her children into doing what she
thinks is best for them, claiming she is doing it for the benefit of their
futures, only to have it all backfire on her. Then she lightens up, learns a
lesson and everyone is happy.

It literally took everything I had to not throw my
mom’s new Kindle out the window.

As an Asian American Studies major and a Chinese
American, I was outraged at every stereotype and overgeneralization Chua made
about the Chinese and those she deemed “Westerners.” If an outsider read this
book hoping to find some rhyme or reason for the supposedly overzealous nature
of Asian parents (immigrant or otherwise), one would automatically chalk it up
to the “Chinese method” for churning out more superior children compared to the
Western style.

Chua claims to use the terms “Chinese mother” and
“Western parents” loosely, since not all women of Chinese heritage are “Chinese
mothers” and not all western people are “Western parents.” You can’t help but
feel, however, slapped in the face when this woman, who doesn’t even know you,
is insulting you. Hell, I don’t even have kids and I’m offended because she is
essentially insulting my mom.

My mom is anything but a Tiger Mother. According
to the Chinese zodiac she is a Rooster, often characterized as loyal,
trustworthy individuals who offer their blunt opinions without being
mean-spirited.

Many people, including Chua, don’t believe in
astrology (western, Chinese or otherwise), but those qualities do describe my
mom. She will tell you her honest opinion because you need to know the truth.
She can keep secrets, so Harry Potter’s parents would probably still be alive if
James and Lily had chosen her as their Secret Keeper instead of Peter
Pettigrew.

Throughout the entire book, Chua keeps saying,
“Chinese people do this,” “Chinese people do that,” “Chinese people believe
this,” and it was infuriating because I don’t know why this woman thinks she has
the right to speak for an ENTIRE nation of people! Just because she is an
“insider” does not mean she has all the insider information.

Chua writes in her book, “What Chinese parents
understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at
anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which
is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires
fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are
always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give
up…”

She manages to uphold that Chinese parents are
hardcore about everything in life, and also to insult Western parents who “give
up” at the slightest hint of hardship. In the movie “Black Swan,” Nina Sayers
(Natalie Portman), compelled by her overbearing mother, pushes herself to the
point of self-destruction in order to perfect her dual lead role. Chua, however,
would probably say that Nina’s mother was a “Chinese mother” and not the typical
“Western parent.”

As I was growing up, my mom did encourage me to try
to find a hobby. It was partly finding something I liked, as well as something
to add to my college application. But my mother was only adamant about my sister
and I learning how to swim. She said it was a useful skill that could save my
life or someone else’s some day. It wasn’t really hard to get me or my sister to
swimming lessons—we were practically fish and swam our way through all the
levels offered by our community center.

In high school I made my own choices regarding my
extracurricular activities, and was involved in journalism, water polo and
badminton for four years, and soccer for one. My mom never forced me to do
anything I didn’t want to do because she felt there was no point in wasting
money on something if I wasn’t going to enjoy it. Chua would probably say my
mother was a “Western parent” despite her being of Chinese descent, but I ended
up at Berkeley, so my mom must have done something right.

Chua also engages in overgeneralizations and
stereotypes to explain her daughters’ aptitude in certain areas. “She [Sophia,
the eldest] was probing and questioning, from the Jewish side. And from me, the
Chinese side, she got skills—lots of skills…” Wait, let me get this straight:
all Jewish people are probing and questioning and all Chinese
people are incredibly skilled?

Maybe this was meant as some sort of joke, but
this kind of writing only helps to reinforce the stereotypes people in Ethnic
Studies are trying to erase. It doesn’t matter whether these are “good”
stereotypes, as even admirable representations can be harmful. “Model minority,”
anyone?

Yes, the model minority is detrimental to Asian
Americans as well as other groups. This term was originated by dominant society
to describe Asian Americans as being able to achieve the kind of success America
claims anyone can accomplish when they come to America. It was their way of
chiding other minorities, “Why can’t you do it? They did it.”

That image is also damaging to Asian Americans as
it creates a high pressure environment where achievements are the only way to
evaluate worth. Instead of embracing individuality, it forces Asian Americans
into a stereotype: good at math, plays piano, always gets good grades, etc. The
model minority also masks problems within our community, as some groups are not
as successful as others because they face different sets of issues.

While Chua churned out very skilled and
disciplined children, she only reinforces the image that Asian Americans don’t
value independence—that children are “automatons” to be programmed into
“perfect” people. She actually mocks her husband when he brings up the fact that
people are different, that Lulu is not Sophia, and Chua cannot force her to do
exactly what Sophia did.

This was the most infuriating book I have ever
read. Yet, it did make me appreciate my mother more. I’m not a master at
anything, but I am happy, and the arguments between my mom and I are nothing
compared to Chua and Lulu’s. We’re practically best friends and I’d take that
relationship over dictator and the dictated any day.