In the early eighties, my parents came to New York City, driving from Montreal, all the way to Brooklyn by reading a map, passing through Harlem and of course, getting lost along the way until they finally reached their destination: a small rented apartment infested with mice and roaches. I was in the car, a squealing chubby infant, the apple of my mother’s eyes. Her very first child was a beautiful baby with a head full of thick black hair. Everything seemed surreal to my mother. She looked forward to a new, wonderful life ahead of her in oh-so-wonderful America.
America’s roads aren’t gold-paved, my mother realized as her American Dream shattered like a thrown cheap vase. For years, my parents struggled to make a living. My father had recently graduated from college and he earned a little more than $30,000 a year pre-taxation. My mother helped him, toiling through the day as a seamstress an illegal Chinatown factory, then bringing bags filled with cloth back home to sew some more into the midnight hours.
My mother, was naturally cranky. She had to work, take care of me, do the chores at home (catching the mice, etc…) Growing up, I’ve been scolded and barely praised. I wasn’t allowed to go to sleep-overs, speak to boys unless academically necessary (or date until I turned 18, which is great because I never had to deal with teenage pregnancy or worry about STDs), or even hang out with the other kids in our neighborhood (we lived in the ghetto. The “western” girl who lived two houses away from us never graduated college and became a teenage mama). I remember I could recite the entire multiplication table by the age of five in Cantonese. (Nine times nine is 81. Six times five is 30). It’s true, Chinese kids are math whizzes (though I totally failed pre-cal and calculus, so I’m never that stereotypically Chinese after all.)
Truth in Amy Chua’s words: My mother had always been strict to my sister and me. We were expected to bring home good grades (90 and above), we were expected to excel in most subjects, and we weren’t lauded when we won awards or contests (in the fifth grade, I was the Spelling Bee and Story telling champion.) Wanting more praise, I always tried harder and harder in school.
But our mother wasn’t a Hitler-mom like Amy Chua, the exaggerating, hymning tiger. And I’m sure not all Chinese Mothers are like her. For one, my mother loved attending the school plays I was in, even though I was always a pumpkin or a background tree.
My mother allowed us to watch television (television was like a Robo-Nanny. It kept my hyper baby sister quiet and hypnotized in her playpen. It nurtured my creativity. Besides, watching TV was my mother’s only source of relaxation back then.) Thank god she allowed us to use computers, we’d be tech-unsavvy otherwise. My mother never threatened us or spied on us. Of course we would get punished for bad behavior, but we were never interrogated or insulted. (though tonight, my mother just called me a piece of shit, jokingly. She cutely says Sheeet instead of shit.)
My sister and I weren’t privileged enough to attend piano or violin lessons; however, both of us loved to draw and my mother encouraged us to be artistic.
Amy Chua writes, “By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” True, but too much repression leads to uprisings and resentment. Amy Chua is successful, as are her daughters. I would like to hear her daughters’ thoughts and side of the story. Are they really confident and happy? Do they resent their mother?
And what about Chinese fathers? Are they superior? Usually, they are quieter, like mine. Sometimes, it’s like I’m talking to a wall when I have a “conversation” with my father… but that’s for another discussion. Anyway, congratulations on your bestseller Amy Chua. It’s great to have a prominent Asian-American voice out there. The Asian-American community, of course especially the Chinese, resent you for exaggerating the Hitler-ways of Chinese mothers. And for basically saying Chinese-American children aren’t naturally gifted, they are prisoners of their mothers’ tailored boot-camps, who through constant practice and drilling, develop great skills. (Chinese Americans are a funny bunch. They dislike successful, outspoken Chinese Americans who uglify the Chinese culture for recognition.)
Chinese Mothers are superior in that they cook very well. That’s a truth. My mother is superior. She is the gardener who provides the soil, sun, nutrients and water. She allowed our flowers to bloom naturally, with a little gentle pruning and plucking here and there, but never an uprooting or thunderstorms and pesticides as described by Amy Chua.