lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!

I have not purchased nor do I intend to read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book excerpts, interviews with the author, and a piece from one of her daughters I’ve read as well as television interviews I’ve watched have convinced me that there’s really no reason to buy it, read it, nor engage the issues she attempts to raise. To do so would validate the stereotypes and caricatures she presents as authentic culture and concerns, continue their presence in public attention, and benefit Chua’s celebrity and fortunes–from directly from sales of her book and indirectly from the fees she garners from the publicity and promotion.

I am concerned, however, with reactions, particularly from Asian Americans, to the book. It seems not only to have brought out their latent hostility and/or guilt about immigrant parents and families, homeland cultures, and peoples’ relationships to them, but also to have determined and legitimized race and traditional culture as the cause for these feelings and an explanation for their shortcomings. If you have unhappy relations with your parents, from disagreements over their pressure to excel in school, for instance, it was not a result of their (and your) individual personalities, character, values, and decisions, but because they are Chinese–or more broadly Asian. If you have confronted sexist, racist, or other “traditional” attitudes in your family relations, it is similarly because they are traditionally Chinese.

The irony, of course, is that such arguments are themselves racially and ethnically overdetermined; their logic does not allow for individual, cultural, or practical difference. Many Asian Americans face pressure from their parents to excel in school—I did—but that doesn’t always result in unhappy parental or family relations. Immigrants from other parts of the world face the same pressures (if not always for the same reasons or from the same values) as do native-born Americans of all races—a fact that allowed Tom Brokaw, perhaps not realizing its full significance, to claim he had a “Tiger Mom” growing up in South Dakota. Indeed, while I wouldn’t want to add to anyone else’s unfortunate personal relations, such arguments about “traditional” “Asian” families more often than not speak to internalized racial dynamics, of white supremacy and the inherent superiority of Western civilization and its ideals over those from other societies and cultures in the world.

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