By Arturo R. García
In a pair of interviews posted since Latoya’s column on Amy Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal piece, Chua elaborated on both the themes of the book it was taken from, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, and said the newspaper mis-represented her book.
Chua told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jeff Yang she was “very surprised” by the excerpt that ran in the Journal, entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” saying she had limited input into editing it, and none before it was nearly about to be published. She told Yang:
The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.
Yang describes Battle Hymn as riveting, and Chua’s voice as “slightly rueful, frequently self-deprecating and entirely aware of its’ author’s enormities. It’s a little, but not quite, like a Chelsea Handler book — if Chelsea Handler were a Chinese American law professor and Momzilla of two.”
Yang also quoted Disgrasian’s Jen Wang’s take on the book:
The book isn’t a how-to manual, as the Journal excerpt would have you believe — it’s a memoir. As such, you’ll see some truth in it, and you’ll also see glaring blind spots and a sometimes-woeful lack of self-examination. That truth, instead of making you hate Chua, will cause you to reflect on your own upbringing — and your own parenting style, good and bad. And I think this is especially important for Asian Americans who feel that they were parented Chua-style, and are bitter about it — that is to say, most of us.
Chua uses a similar description for the book in talking to Yang, calling it “a coming of age book for parents.” She also refused to retract her statements about “Chinese parenting.” In another interview, with Time’s Belinda Luscombe, she called that parenting style, “tough immigrant parenting,” and said it wasn’t the same as being a “helicopter mom”:
As I understand it that term means the parent is hovering over the child and talking to teachers and principals. When I was little, my father used to say that if something doesn’t seem fair, you prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good. Now I think if a kid in school does badly on a test you rush into the school, you question the teacher and the curriculum. I think the kids are strong to be able to hear “Start with yourself, maybe you didn’t work hard enough.”
Neither story touches on the kind of anecdotes that have been posted on its’ respective comments thread, of the tragic effects “tough parenting” can have on a family. Let me repost this comment Elton left in Latoya’s thread:
My big sister was what I used to jealously call “every Asian parent’s wet dream come true” (excuse the crassness, but it really does sum up the resentment I used to feel towards her). She got straight As. Skipped 5th grade. Perfect SAT score. Varsity swim team. Student council. Advanced level piano. Harvard early admission. An international post with the Boston Consulting Group in Hong Kong before returning to the U.S. for her Harvard MBA. Six figure salary. Oracle. Peoplesoft. Got engaged to a PhD. Bought a home. Got married.
Her life summed up in one paragraph above.
Her death summed up in one paragraph below.
Committed suicide a month after her wedding at the age of 30 after hiding her depression for 2 years. She ran a plastic tube from the tailpipe of her car into the window. Sat there and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her new home in San Francisco. Her husband found her after coming home from work. A post-it note stuck on the dashboard as her suicide note saying sorry and that she loved everyone.
Mine is an extreme example of course. But 6 years since her passing, I can tell you that the notion of the “superior Chinese mother” that my mom carried with her also died with my sister on October 28, 2004. If you were to ask my mom today if this style of parenting worked for her, she’ll point to a few boxes of report cards, trophies, piano books, photo albums and Harvard degrees and gladly trade it all to have my sister back.
To be fair, perhaps Chua only wanted to tell her own family’s story; she says to Yang that she does not intend for Battle Hymn to be a parenting manual, and that her own parenting style has become more temperate after a confrontation with her youngest daughter, which is documented in the book. But as more of these stories emerge in discussing Battle Hymn, anecdotes like this one from Chua get a little more unsettling:
The story I’m getting most flak for her is one I stand by. My daughters find the trouble I’m getting in for it incredibly funny. My kids were maybe seven and four and my husband had forgotten my birthday so at the last minute we went to this mediocre Italian restaurant and he said “O.K., girls you both have a little surprise for mommy.” And my daughter Lulu pulls out a card, but the card was just a piece of paper folded crookedly in half with a big smiley face and it said Happy Birthday Mom. And I looked at it and I gave it back and I said “This isn’t good enough. I want something that you put a little bit more time into.” So I rejected her birthday card. People can’t believe I rejected this handmade card. But she knew as well as I did that it took her about two seconds to do it. That’s the story that’s coming off as the most outrageous, which in our family is like a standing joke.
Seems like more and more people have heard that one before – and they’re not laughing.