More Than Serving Tea


Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.


A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.


Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?

 



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