Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Asian Parent - Understanding The Behaviours & Motivations

Disclaimer: If this blog post offends any of you, I apologize. It isn`t everyday that I step beyond my usual bounds of neutrality, but this topic has been a long time coming. Secondly, stereotypes discussed in this post do not, of course, apply to every single Asian parent. Instead, this post is directed to those that do exhibit these behaviours. Lastly, I don`t mean to racialize this behaviour. I`m merely focusing on the stereotype exhibited by a community I`ve grown up in, a community that I personally know.

A few months ago, towards the end of the summer, my mother came home fuming. She was so angry that you could see the smoke spewing out of her ears. That afternoon, she had spent the last few hours at a local tea shop, having afternoon tea with several friends. Unfortunately, their conversation wasn`t as pleasant as the venue they chose. In fact, their conversation was downright vile.

Casually, one of the women asked my mother what I would be doing in school this year. To which my mother responded the brief yadda-yadda-yadda about Queen`s. Done. You would think that would be the end of it, right? That my mother would, in turn, ask about the woman`s daughter. That the women would laugh pleasantly about how super awesome education is. No big deal, right?

Except this particular woman exhibited behaviour that annoys me the most. The behaviour that Asian parents are stereotypically known for. And so, while my mother had tea, this same woman began to complain about my education. For the next ten minutes, she told my mother, in front of several other women, how law school and grad school are the easiest programs to get into. She continued with the following gem:
"Why is your daughter going to law school? Oh my god, anyone can get into that. That`s such an easy program. Is she stupid? My daughter goes to Ryerson, and her program is so hard to get into. Why doesn`t your daughter go to Ryerson too? She isn`t very smart if she`s going to grad school."
Uh. What? Please tell that to the thousands upon thousands of students rejected from law school each year. How do you even respond to that? Awkward silence ensued.

At another function, my parents were chatting with several other parents. Jokingly, my mother teased another mother, asking if her son had a girlfriend yet (all in good fun, of course). No harm to joke about the romantic relationships of youth, right? Well, no. Defensively, the mother shook her head in disdain, responding with the greatest of all airs:
"My son is only 23. He doesn`t have a girlfriend because he`s actually focused on his goals."
Uh. What? So... you can`t be in a relationship and have goals? Are these two situations mutually exclusive? Are we in some parallel universe here? We later found out that her son did indeed have a girlfriend, his mother knew about her, but outright lied to everyone at this party. Why? Didn`t you know? A teenager who has a girlfriend or boyfriend is known to be someone who isn`t focused on being successful. The parents are, in turn, looked down on.

To really understand what went on in the scenarios above, I need to point out the following. For those who haven`t grown up in this kind of environment, let me say this in the most blunt language possible. The Asian community cares about image. This statement isn`t intended to sound pretentious. In fact, it`s as frank as I can get. While conservative values usually comprise the environment we`ve grown up in, there`s another dimension to the behaviours of the families and individuals who make up this community. You need to look good in front of other people. That`s the bottom line. Your kids need to be successful. Taking piano lessons. In a good school. Your kids need to have good grades or else the family looks bad. It`s a pretty big deal. In addition to all this, One Upper Parents can also exist. Parents who feel the need to brag a bit more to look better than another set of parents. It`s both complicated and simple to understand.

And so, while my mother came home angry that afternoon above, subsequently relaying the story to me while we ate dinner, I was most fascinated with the fact that, while she was a psycho, we understood why this woman acted the way she did.

To others, she would have come across as psychotic. But to us, she came across as a defender of a family she needs to protect and promote. Asian parents (and their children) are under tremendous pressure from their respective social circles, communities, and extended families. Your children need to be in university. To dress well. To have good grades. To be successful. To be beautiful. To advance towards a great career. The Filipino community in particular is notorious for this behaviour.

I understand why they do this, and while I don`t agree with their attitudes and behaviours, I can`t fault them for it. How can I? When it`s the type of behaviour and social perception this community has always known? I don`t agree with the way they behave. But I know why they do it. And I understand.

And while this entire blog post unsettles me, the main idea I`d like to get across is that there are implications of culture on the behaviours of generations upon generations of Asian families immigrating to Canada from different parts of the world. Culture matters (Wow. I sound like a Professor I had last semester. Those in Comparative Development know who I`m referring to). Different groups see the world from specific cultural lenses, and it affects their behaviour, the way they interact with others, and really, their way of life.

And while many who aren`t part of this community won`t understand the ideas I`ve discussed above, who may conceive these values as archaic, reactionary garbage, I would beg to differ. I understand where these people are coming from. And while we can`t change these attitudes right now, I have hope for future generations who don`t rely as much on cultural perceptions of the world to interact with others in their community. I have hope for my generation. But only time will tell if these hopes are futile.

"If only closed minds came with closed mouths."
- Nicole Aitoro

"Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him."
- Booker T. Washington


  1. Hi barb. Pleaseeee read my latest book club read. Hotel at the corner of bitter and sweet. It's fantastic and parallels your blog some. To a greater extreme but I do highly recommend it ( Chinese boy meets Japanese girl during the pearl harbor invasion.)

  2. ok, let me just say, I had NO idea that was the environment you grew up in. Barbara, I know how you feel! Growing up, my parents always compared me to my friends, my cousins, and my parents friends kids. I've always been told that I should do better even if I did my best, it never seemed good enough. I'm sorry that you had to go through that.

  3. Hello Shobna! That sounds like an awesome book, thanks for letting me know!

    Dan, thanks for the comment! Haha, I didn't mean to make the environment sound like I didn't like growing up that way. Actually, in retrospect, I'm kind of glad that I did grow up in a community circle that did have those attitudes. I think it pushed me to be what I am today. With that said, I don't think it is necessarily the best environment to put children through. And I know exactly how you feel about the comparison issue. I wonder if all parents do that? haha