Image by Audrey Li
Written by Eileen Luo & Amy He
Edited by Julie Yang & Lucy Wu
On May 11th, hundreds of people gathered in the Dr. Michael J. Doran auditorium at Wootton High School to attend an event titled “From the Tiger Mom’s Mouth: Reflections on Parenting, Career, and Being a Perpetual Outsider”. The “tiger mom”, also known as Amy Chua, is a mother of two, professor of law, and child of Chinese immigrant parents. As introduced by Congressman Jamie Raskin, she is also a “fantastic teacher” and “terrific speaker” who, by sharing her experiences at the seminar, aims to enlighten her audience to the wisdom she had gathered through years of blood, sweat, and tears.
The event started off with a brief history of injustices committed against Asian Americans in American history, events which ranged from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese internment camps. It was delivered by Paul Li, founder of the Calvin J. Li Memorial Foundation and an advocate of Asian American rights. Afterward, the microphone was turned over to Julie Yang, who read a Proclamation written by Montgomery County Executive Mark Eldridge, announcing May to henceforth be named Asian American Heritage Month.
Next, Congressman Jamie Raskin introduced Amy. Raskin, as a former schoolmate of both Chua and her husband, was more than qualified for this job. He described her as a distinguished professor who has an “extraordinary understanding of global dynamics and global tricks” and who understands what the “trends of globalization, mechanization, and trade mean for families and social groups in our society.”
Being an Outsider
Chua began her speech by discussing her struggles as an outsider in the literary world. She recalled her memories to eight years ago when The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was published. A few days before its publication, the Wall Street Journal had excerpted “the most provocative parts of the book in an article with the accompanying headline: ‘Why Chinese Mothers are Superior’” Soon afterward, Chua received hundreds of emails from readers expressing their anger at her unconventional ways of parenting. Later, when she was on the Today Show, the host’s first question to Chua was: “So, yes or no? Are you a monster?” Despite the negative responses to her story, which reflects the parenting methods of many Asian immigrants, Chua said that her experiences with the Asian American culture had, for the most part, served her well.
“My three younger sisters and I always knew that we were different from everybody else,” she said. She said that they “were always the ones with the funny clothes, the funny accents, the funny haircuts”, traits that labeled Chua and her family as outsiders. Consequently, Chua was often on the receiving end of racist jokes and bullying. How could being an outsider have served her well?
Accepting her heritage was the first step in embracing her status as an outsider. Chua said that, after a particularly bitter encounter with a bully, she went to her mother for comfort, only to be rebuked. Her mother told her that, if anything, she should feel sorry for the bully, who did not understand that China was a great country that had over two thousand years of history. By embracing her culture, Chua was also able to embrace a sense of “cultural exceptionalism”, which she said, “provide[d] a kind of psychological armor against discrimination”.
Afterward, she recounted her parents’ strict, “authoritarian” method of parenting. Despite their being strict and “authoritarian”, Chua said that she would always be grateful to her parents for teaching her “hard work, discipline, and perseverance… values which allowed [her] not to just give up”.
Chua said that she would always be grateful to her parents for teaching her “hard work, discipline, and perseverance… values which allowed [her] not to just give up”.
She then told the audience of her journey through many professions. She said that she went through lessons in the medical, economic, and law fields before settling down as a law professor. At one point, Chua worked for a law firm. She was not particularly happy there, but the valuable experience had set her on the track to becoming a professor and understanding the strengths of being an outsider.
During her tenure at the law firm, Chua was asked to write about Mexico’s economy for a project at the firm. While researching the topic, she found that in Mexico, “there would be periods of very open, pro-foreign investment, pro-capitalist periods. And then it would swing to the other direction: very closed, anti-foreign investment… xenophobic nationalizing, and then it would swing back to… pro-market”.
Chua published the piece on Mexico’s economy just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was perfect timing. “Everybody else in America just saw: Oh, the Soviet Union’s fallen. Communism is dead. You know, capitalism has won.” said Chua. “But because I was… from a family that came from… different parts of the world, my thesis was: remember, not every country is like America.” Everyone has different cultures, different practices, she said, so “policies that work in this country may not work the same way in other countries.”
She had benefited from the perspective of an outsider. By embracing her culture, Chua was able to turn the status of being an outsider to her advantage. She, as an outsider, had a different perspective, and so she was able to see what others were not.
Chua then began to reflect on her parenting methods. “My parents, having been so tough on me, and having had such high expectations of me, is the greatest gift that anyone has given me,” she said. “And that is why I was so determined, even though my husband’s not Chinese… to raise my own daughters the same way.” Chua’s first daughter, Sophia, complied with her methods, but her second daughter, Lulu, did not.
“She and I had very similar temperaments,” said Chua. “Fast, stubborn, hot-tempered, and we just locked horns from the beginning.” Lulu did not respond well to her mother’s strict parenting methods and constant criticisms, and Chua did not respond well to Lulu’s rebellions, which led to many terrible fights between the two.
These conflicts, however, more or less came to a close during a trip to Russia, around the same time when Chua’s sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Chua and her second daughter had just had another argument, one which caused Lulu to shatter a glass and Chua to walk away so that she could calm down and reflect on the situation.
“It [was] at the exact same time that my younger sister got leukemia… so it was this horrible, dark time,” Chua reflected. “I thought, have I done everything wrong?… In the middle of th[e] horrible fight, it occurred to me, I would really lose my daughter. I could lose her.”
Grades, violin practice, and college were suddenly irrelevant. “I just wanted my daughter,” said Chua. It was then that she began to change her ways of parenting to suit Lulu’s wishes and personality. It was also then, Chua recalled, that she started writing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
At its heart, said Chua, her memoir “[wa]s about how to combine the best of east and west.” She explained this concept by listing five tips “that, in [her] view, [were] good ways of trying to strike that balance between east and west.”
At its heart, said Chua, her memoir “[wa]s about how to combine the best of east and west.”
“Number one, pay attention to your child’s personality,” said Chua. “This is where the Western focus on individualism is a strength… if you have a kid who’s just really social and likes having fun, maybe it just doesn’t fit to force him to play the violin and do math. And, you know what, those skills are good for leadership. They’re good for EQ. They’re good for other things.”
Chua’s second tip was to give a child more choice as they get older, and less when they are young. Western parents, she said, give their children too much freedom, including the freedom to give up, whereas Eastern parents, whose approach to parenting could be too “narrow” and “suffocating,” give them too little freedom.
Chua then stressed the importance of “teach[ing] your children the importance of honesty and morality.” In today’s “cutthroat, competitive world,” said Chua, maintaining one’s integrity can be difficult. Due to the pressure to get good grades, many students today are caught cheating or plagiarizing. “It’s devastating, for their futures and for their moral character,” said Chua. “So I think it’s incredibly important, more important than getting good grades, that parents should constantly convey to their children that nothing is worth the price of your integrity.”
Her fourth point stressed the importance of being “unique” and “not follow[ing] the herd.” Chua emphasized that being a distinctive individual was crucial, especially during maturation, for it allowed children to maintain their culture and values as opposed to subjecting themselves to bad influences.
Chua’s fifth recommendation was to “teach your children how to be happy by example.” A child often mimics the actions of their parents, who exert a big amount of influence on them. If a parent, the role model for a child, is “miserable” and “stressed all the time”, then how can the child be happy?
If a parent, the role model for a child, is “miserable” and “stressed all the time”, then how can the child be happy?
“You can tell all your friends that the tiger mom’s advice is to relax and have your fun,” said Chua cheerfully. She thanked the audience for her attention, then turned the microphone over to Li.
After her speech, Li thanked Chua for her sharing her experiences with the audience. As evidenced by the speech, it was not easy being a mother. For this reason, and because it was Mother’s Day, Chua was given a beautiful bouquet of flowers. It was a touching moment. There was a storm of applause.
Audience members were then asked to stand up and interview Chua. Up until the very last minute, they asked Chua a variety of questions which ranged from her parenting methods to her perspective on current events.
Time flew by, and before they knew it, the event was over. “Thank you very much,” said Li, a sentiment that was echoed by Chua. It was with reluctance that the audience members stood up and left the auditorium, the memory of Chua’s speech and wisdom resonating deep within their hearts.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.