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My late and messy reaction to this whole ‘Chinese Mothers Are Superior’ Hubbub

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi

Father and Child

I was going to work on an essay in response to Ms. Chua’s article. I had several pages of notes, and was going to take the two or three hours it took to condense those notes into some type of narrative. Since I have a guest spot on the Strib’s blog, I was thinking about posting it there, just because I think alternative perspectives from Asian Americans need to exist – but I was also a bit wary about the energy it would take to endure the hateful comments that were sure to be leveled at me. As a parent, these days I have little time and even less patience for stupidity.

Part of me was trying to talk myself out of it. Plenty of Asian American bloggers have responded, covering such issues as whether or not the controversial Wall Street Journal excerpt really did justice to her book (see Jeff Yang’s excellent article on that subject), to whether or not raising a child in this fashion is really a good idea.

So, why should I write anything at all? This is not my fight, I said to myself. Even though there seems to be some conflation of Chinese with Asian American, and you have some Chinese blood in you besides, why throw down and risk a flame war over this? It has nothing to do with you. It’s not like Ms. Chua cares what you think – after all, it’s clear that people like me are not her target audience.

But then, don’t Asian Americans like Ms. Chua, who have a large mass market platform to express themselves, have some power over how the perceptions of me, and my family, are shaped? And if so, shouldn’t I use my own platforms to express an alternative perspective?

Damn, it’s recycling night though. It just snowed and I still gotta shovel the walk. And tonight is my partner’s night to have writing time while I watch baby…

Okay, let’s do this.

In this essay, I was going to be careful to point out that my feelings and opinions were not an attack on Ms. Chua, as she has the right to write about whatever she wants. As I have the right not to read her book, a right I fully intend to exercise.

I was going to be careful to say that my critiques had more to do with representation, rather than a debate on parenting. Ms. Chua’s reality is her reality – this is not an attack on her authenticity. I am more interested in the reaction, from Asians and non-Asians alike. There seems to be an acceptance that there is some true essential “Chinese” (and “Asian”) way to raise your kids and some “Western” way, and by “Western” it seems the author means straight upper middle class white male, and no one seems to be talking about the problematics of such assumptions. That no one is talking about how these assumptions play into very specific consumptions of Asian Americans – culture without politics, as if we live in a vacuum devoid of things like race, class, gender, sexuality. At this point in my essay, I’d take my partner’s advice and say that the idea that there is an essential, Western (male) and Eastern (female) way to raise children, and the idea that the melding of the individualist male West and the feminine East as some sort of liberating, uplifting redemption narrative is a colonialist social construct straight out of Said’s book Orientalism

Aw man, I really don’t want to write this.

Then I was going to talk about my own upbringing. How my parents literally saved my life, as a baby, as they shielded me from harm in their arms, bombs shaking the shelter we hid in with other Vietnamese families as the Communist Party tried to kill us and prevent our escape. How I grew up in America trying to understand contradiction: that people said this was the greatest country to live in, while as refugees we lived in a neighborhood made up of mostly impoverished and disenfranchised Native Americans, African Americans, Southeast Asians, and Chicano/as. How my parents wanted me to know my culture but lie about my ethnicity and tell everyone I was Chinese because they felt Americans would blame us for the war and hated Vietnamese people.

These struggles that my mom and dad (YES, my dad, America! Asian men and Asian fathers DO EXIST) faced. How my father sewed designer labels onto handmade clothes so we could pretend we were more well-off than we really were. How a group of kids stood on one end of a block for an entire hour and relentlessly shouted racial slurs and taunts at my mother as she worked outside of our house, knowing she could do nothing to them, knowing she did not have the words to shout back. How my father had to deal with the contradictions of being a war veteran invisible because of his race, and see two of his sons enlist in the American military.

And yes, those dynamics, combined with my parents’ own personalities, effected how we were raised. There were days I was scared of my parents, days I felt guilty that I disappointed them, days when I had no idea what they wanted from me, days I tried to run away from home and days I wanted to kill myself. Continue reading