Tiger Daughter

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It's Chinese New Year, which means it's time to buy red envelopes. I always try finding the ones with the fat little pigs on them, because they make my family laugh. When you say our last name "Gee" with the wrong intonation, it means pig, which they find funny because we often eat too much.

Chinese humor is sometimes insulting, sometimes self-deprecating, and often subtle. I think it's what people are missing about Amy Chua's book. Chua makes it clear that the book is a memoir, not a parenting how-to guide.

And yeah, Chua goes too far. She forces her daughters to play the piano and violin -- making them practice for hours on end and even withholding food from them. Only after her youngest daughter smashes a glass on a restaurant floor yelling "I hate you," does Chua allow her to quit the violin. During Chua's own childhood, the violin symbolized perfection, elegance, and achievement -- Chua just forgot to let her daughters choose a symbol for themselves.

After seeing Chua at a book reading in Berkeley, I've come to think of the "Tiger Mother" as one big inside joke. She said repeatedly, "You either get it, or you don't." As a second generation Chinese-American, I get it.

When I brought home A minuses, my parents told me to stay after school to earn back the extra points. It was the same for my sister and my cousins. Our rooms are filled with karate trophies, student body president awards, piano certificates, and Honor Roll plaques. Was our freedom of choice taken away? Are we victims of tiger mothers and fathers?


On that point, I agree with Chua. In my family, none of us ever questioned whether our parents loved us. Though they may have pushed us and acted "tough," the message that we were loved was consistent. 

Let's face it, there will always be discrepancies over the best ways to be a parent, but as long as your kids hear the message that they are loved, then you're doing alright.

With a Perspective, I'm Robyn Gee.