Amy Chua's Book on "Model Minority" Parenting, a Tempest in a Green-Tea Pot?
There are two major reactions in the Asian Pacific American blogosphere to the Wall Street Journal piece that teased power-mom Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: emotional triggering left and right from APAs who grew up under a severe, demanding, authoritarian kind of immigrant Asian parenting; and reactions like mine — puzzlement that a Chinese American mom would want to recreate wholesale the kind of parenting that she herself experienced. Is that even possible? It'd be like trying to visit your immigrant parent's childhood hometown as they knew it — a fantastical place that exists only in recollection.
The Price of Achievement: High
Emotional triggers for many APAs include personal testimonies of how mentally unhealthy high-pressure parenting was for Asian Pacific Americans as children. Too many people have a story about someone who attempted (or sadly, succeeded at committing) suicide because of parental pressure to succeed. This is supported by research showing disproportionately high rates of suicide among APA women; there's also a higher tendency to long-term depression. Girls are given lesser bites of the apple because a son is "more important"; girls in a family (like tv's The Biggest Loser Ada Wong) are irrationally blamed for the boys' missed opportunities. There are anxiety attacks or other difficulties that have to be held at bay by medication or therapy or both. There's even the trigger of a certain kind of aggrieved Asian American masculinity that blames APA women for speaking aloud about patriarchal Chinese culture and measures cultural nationalist "allegiance" by the ethnicity of one's partner, despite the fact that many APA men are themselves harmed by that same patriarchal culture.
(The feminist in me also wondered why a busy woman would want to take on all the parenting if her partner seemed willing and able to do some also. To parent in the "old-school" way that Chua's mom did and she tried to repeat is hugely time-intensive.)
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"Cultural" Parenting as a Cover For Corporal Punishment
What never gets spoken about is the dark underbelly of high-stakes immigrant Asian parenting: corporal punishment, beatings, and other kinds of tools that include psychological and emotional abuse. Case points out that Chua's Wall Street Journal piece already contains plenty of emotionally abusive and coercive strategies that she used on her younger daughter to make her learn a certain piano piece. My worry is that someone (and there always is) will read Chua's book not as memoir ultimately rejecting those tactics, but as a how-to manual instead, and decide it's possible to create prodigies through techniques of coercion usually found in the most fundamentalist religious families in America.