MY Chinese Parents

Recently, a WSJ article titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” by Amy Chua, has stirred discussions across forums and social websites. (On my facebook page alone, I saw several arguments brewing.) It was skewed, insane, and yet authoritative. Here there was this highly successful woman, an Ivy League graduate, and a professional, who is giving her account of how she, this authentic Chinese mother, understands how to produce successful children using her “superior ways”. She had data: “In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that ‘stressing academic success is not good for children’ or that ‘parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.’ By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way,” she has results (read: her talented daughters), and she was willing to share. But she made me feel uncomfortable with her generalizing statements and manipulative techniques (predominantly because WSJ is making it sound like it’s coming from this authoritative Law professor, hey she must totally know what she’s talking about). While trying to read through her article, I wanted to jump in and help her daughter Lulu, and I thought of how insane she makes all Chinese mothers sound. However, Amy Chua did make me reflect upon my own upbringing, (as if I haven’t done that enough already after going through medical school applications), and how I was raised.

I come from a low-income immigrant family. My mother worked in a sweat-shop for most of her early years in the U.S, and my father was in construction. They worked long hours everyday, 364 days a year (one day rest for the Lunar New Year, I guess), and every single penny of their hard earned wage disappears at the end of the month. So typical was my story of being that eldest daughter, filial and hard working, who took care of her younger brother, took care of family finances, immigration issues, and eventually went on to attend a prestigious school to discover the cure for AIDS, all because of my Chinese mother who pushed me…WAIT, what?! No. That didn’t happen, and while I do take credit for writing checks for our monthly bills and translating our immigration papers, I didn’t make it to Harvard, I didn’t discover a cure for AIDS, I am not hardworking (well okay, I am hardworking when I’m not indulging in kdramas, sleeping, or staring at some blank space), and my mother hardly had the time to sit down with me to work through thousand page SAT drills. But I didn’t turn out a complete failure, did I? According to the model minority standards, I might have. (Darn it Mother, why didn’t you beat more math into me?)

Too often, was I rejected from scholarships because I didn’t work with a Nobel Prize winner in some stem cell research (but I should’ve because I am that brilliant Chinese immigrant). Too often, was I not featured on the front page of the Tsing Dao Times (the popular Chinese newspaper) for not winning a full ride to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or MIT because I fought against all odds and succeeded with my innate brilliance. And quite frequently as a teenager, I hated my mother for not being THAT Chinese mother. She was un-educated, and her feet always hurt. She didn’t understand how to read my report cards, and she never attended any PTA meetings. She was too unChinese, and I once blamed her for my inability to compete against kids who had parents driving them to violin practices, to expensive tutoring, and to whatever else they didn’t drive me to. They held me back. I had a strict 5pm curfew in High School, and oftentimes couldn’t attend late night band practice, golf tournaments, and school plays. Sleepovers were out of the question, and video games too, but that was because my dad couldn’t trust anyone and we couldn’t afford video games. And I really did believe this while growing up. No matter where I was in life, I felt I wasn’t good enough, and not because of pressure from my family, but pressure from American society. I couldn’t ever feel happy with where I was, because I felt I could have done better, because I’m supposed to.

While I was going through the medical school application process, I felt so insecure about the brevity of my resume. I felt so self-conscious about the leadership positions that were expected of me. I wasn’t president of all 300+ clubs at Columbia University, and goddamn it, I don’t play an instrument to the level of some Julliard graduate. (Because if Chua’s 7 year old daughter can play the violin, so should I right? Especially since my mother was straight from the mainland.) My GPA was okay, but why couldn’t I achieve that 4.3 (because Columbia/Barnard offered A+’s). My MCAT score was okay, but definitely far from the perfect 45. I have failed at being “Chinese.” I couldn’t compete, and while I do make fun of it here, I feel these have become real expectations of us.  

Amy Chua’s article perpetuates this Model Minority that I so hate. Her “authority” instills in the minds of those unfamiliar with “Chinese Mothering” ideas that we (those we were raised by Chinese mother—first generation immigrants) should all be beyond amazing. (AND why is the entire process of nurturing a child called “mothering,” where’s the damn “father” word, ugh, I must go talk to Beck Young about this.)

But I ask: when is it my time to shine? This amateur flutist, this bad singer-song writer, and this perhaps a bit above mediocre think-tank? Like I was telling my friend Hadley when we were dinner-ing the other night, I feel content with where I am, and I think that’s okay. I love my parents for who they are and how they have given me space to create my own self (“own self”… sounds redundant, is that grammatical edible?). We are not all amazing, and I think that’s just OKAY. And lady (Amy Chua), if you want to be a psycho mom, do so, but don’t instill in society ideas of where we come from and what we must do.  


[23:11] Ai-Lin: damn; why didn’t i have a mother like amy chua
[23:12] Michael Dea: omg….seriously
[23:12] Michael Dea: you would have been in harvard
[23:12] Michael Dea: or yale
[23:13] Ai-Lin : but seriously, her article perpetuates a societal stereotype
[23:14] Ai-Lin : dude; all them white ppl gonna think we’re all smart
[23:14] Ai-Lin : and it makes it harder for me to get into med school
[23:14] Ai-Lin : cause they expect me to play violin like that woman’s daughter
[23:14] Michael Dea: that is true lol