Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Why Asian Mothers Are Superior" & Why I Love My Asian Mother - Reflections on Amy Chua

Awhile back, I blogged about Asian parenting and my momentary exasperation with the Asian community's emphasis on image in order to be perceived as successful.

Honestly, this was one of the few aspects that used to annoy me about the Filipino community. I've grown up watching my parents' friends perpetually talk up their children to make sure their children looked successful. Back then, to me, it looked like the success, beauty, and ability of their children was validation of their worth as a parent. And I was sorely annoyed.

Image and success. It seemed to be everything.

And so, for their children, there was pressure to, basically, look and be perfect. You're always consciously aware of what people think about you: from the clothes you're wearing, to the type of designer purse (or lack thereof) slung over your shoulder, to where you are at in school, what career path you're taking, how your hair is styled, how you bow and shake hands with elders, etc. You exemplify how your parents have raised you.

Everything I'm describing sounds enormously superficial. And I admit, to an outsider, it really does. Why do you think knock-off Gucci purses are all the rage in Hong Kong? Why do you think Japan and Korea have the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world?

Because success and perfection. It seems to be everything.

But, as I grew up, I realized the true motivations behind the behaviour of this particular community.

To someone who hasn't grown up in this community, the strict parenting I'm about to describe sounds ridiculous and out of hand. But, you know. There's more to the Asian community than what meets the eye. And, while I complain about it sometimes, if you dig a little deeper, you learn something about why the community functions the way it does and why Asians parent the way they do.

So. Ever wondered why this community functions the way it does?

Image and success. It seems to be everything. But, why?

Here's the thing. I'm glad I was brought up the way I was. This is the world, the community I've grown up in. And, personally, I'm used to it. I'm accustomed to the rhythm and routine of social functions in the Asian community.

But, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wondered why the Asian community places so much emphasis on perfection? Ever wondered why Asian parents emphasize so greatly the value and concept of success?

Confucian values aside, I think Asian parents act the way they do because they know their kids can be the best if they tried their hardest to be the best. Emphasis on Try and the value of Hard Work. And they'll push them to perfection because they know they're capable of it.

Wait. Disclaimer. I'm not saying that Asians are ethnically superior because they're the only race that can be perfect. God, no. Don't misinterpret me.

I think the MacLean's article published a couple of months back speaks volumes. Where complaints were being lodged that the University of Toronto was "TOO ASIAN." CLICK HERE to read the article. Trust me, I know all about how UofT is too Asian. Ever been to Sidney Smith Hall? These Asians. They're everywhere.

I know the value of strict Asian parenting. I know it, because I've lived it. I've grown up with parents who didn't accept anything less than an A on a report card. Who put me in piano lessons when I was six years old. Who put me in ballet lessons when I was eight years old. Who made me practice multiplication tables, cursive writing, when I was in kindergarten. Who gave me extra homework assignments. Who made me practice said piano and ballet, even when I wanted to quit.

They knew I could do it. And so, they pushed me to do so. And, quite frankly, I'm glad they did. I was taught that I needed to try. That I needed to work hard. I was taught that I shouldn't be lazy. And, honestly? I'm so glad they did. I wouldn't be where I am today if I wasn't pushed the way I was.

Strict Asian parenting is a strange concept for individuals who didn't grow up in this community. But, let me tell you. There's method behind that perceived madness. Asian parents instill their love for their children by pushing them to work hard - because wishing and hoping for their success is a reflection of the hope and unconditional love they have for their children.

Pushing for success. It's a reflection of love. Ever think of it that way? That success is something parents want for you because they know you're capable of it?

So, are you yelling at me yet? People who haven't experienced this are going to freak out. I know it. I know what's been said behind my back. That I work too much. That I go to the library too much. Complaining that I shouldn't get ahead with my readings or my work. Encouraging me to skip class. Oh, really? Frankly, I don't care what you say about me behind my back. Because, sorry. I couldn't hear you over my law school acceptance letters.

I said above that image is everything. And it is. For a community that knows they can attain the best, that image of success and perfection, if the values of hard work and trying are exercised, if you try your best to pursue it.

This is a reflection of how I perceive the Asian community I've witnessed and grown up with. Others may have different perceptions, but these are mine.

Which brings me to a brief reflection on Amy Chua's article "Why Asian Mothers Are Superior." To read the famed article that stirred parenting wars all over the world, CLICK HERE. Honestly, I think the sexist and racial attacks on Chua are ridiculous. Yet, the scathing attacks on the motivations behind her strict parenting is something I disagree with even more.

So, here's the thing. I love Amy Chua. And, this article? If you're about to yell at me about how ridiculous it is, I have a few words for you: READ HER WHOLE BOOK. This article is merely an excerpt from her parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She depicts her failures as a parent and, most importantly, the need to instill Asian values in the education system today.

Personally, I wholeheartedly agree. To read her op-ed on US education today, CLICK HERE.

Amy Chua has been criticized worldwide for her strict parenting methods. She's received death threats. She's received numerous hateful comments and emails telling her what a horrible parent she's been. Commentators have decided her children are mindless robots, that they'll grown up psychologically impaired. That they aren't normal because they grew up this way.

Um. Okay. Almost 90% of people I've talked to about this article have admitted that they grew up in a similar environment.

Is an environment with high expectations so evil? For some people, it is.

Parenting touches a nerve for a lot of people. Especially crazy moms who think their way to parent is the only way to parent. Or for people who grew up in a different environment and think strict parenting is for nutjobs. (See: attacks on Amy Chua).

I'm not saying everything Chua did was right. I'm not saying the specific tactics she exercised should be followed to a T. I'm saying that I understand the motivations behind her actions. I understand why she parented the way she did.

Like Chua's own children, I'm glad I was given high expectations by parents very similar to Chua. Because I was taught that I could reach them if I put in the hard work to do so.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

When I was seven years old, crying that I hated playing the piano, yelling that I hated memorizing piano music because it was freakin boring, my mother made my practice piano for an hour everyday so I could memorize those classic pieces. Some people call rote learning ineffective. Others call it child abuse. But, to me? It worked. And I'll forever be grateful for being pushed to memorize piano music that I truly did love but was too lazy to practice if I hadn't been pushed to. I would have regretted not knowing how to play it, knowing I had the chance to.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

Two years ago, my mom took a day off work from her busy schedule and took the subway with me down to the University of Toronto campus. It was the day I was writing the LSAT. The test that would determine whether I was going to law school. Prior to signing up for the LSAT, I didn't want to take it. I dragged my feet for a year. But, my mother. She knew I could do it if I tried hard enough. And on that day, my mother. She sat at a nearby coffee shop for four hours while I wrote my test, waiting for me, giving me the support I needed when I walked out of the test room. She knew I could do it, even when I didn't believe in myself.

And this is why I love my own Asian mother.

When I was younger, I took a ballet test and failed miserably on my first try. I was eight years old. After failing, I wanted to quit ballet. My ballet teacher told me I had terrible posture and needed to fix it. I was humiliated, and I wanted to run away. I begged my mom to let me quit. But, my mother. She firmly told me to finish what I started. That I needed to do my best, because she knew I could be the best if I really tried. And a week later, I trudged back to ballet school, re-took the test, and months later, eventually fixed my posture. She wouldn't let me quit. And I'm glad she did that. Without my mother, I wouldn't have fallen in love with ballet.

I could go on, but I won't. This post is getting way too long.

Say what you want about strict Asian parenting. But, for me. It's a community I will fiercely defend and protect no matter the criticisms. Because it's pushed me to be what I am today. And I will forever be grateful for it.

"All the so-called "secrets of success" will not work unless you do."
- Author Unknown

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
- Thomas Jefferson


  1. Excellent, excellent job friend! So proud of this article.

  2. Nice post. If I didn't know better, I would've thought it was written on Mother's Day.