Dear Sophia

Last year, one of the topics in my writing seminar was abuse. What counts as abuse and what doesn’t? Not surprisingly, my paper turned out inconclusive; the more research I did, the more complicated things turned out to be. The only solution I could hope to offer was to provide support if the victim needed it, to not deny a victim’s claims, and to keep an open-mind. Reading an excerpt of Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and the forum that followed brought up the same issue… and with it my hypocorism. I realized I was very quick to judge Chua for her parenting style, or at least the parenting style described in the Battle Hymn and in the forums: abusive.

Reading Erin Ninh’s “How not to Misread the Tiger Mother” didn’t solve anything, and I’m pretty sure if I did read the book, I’ll definitely misread it. Ninh provided a lot of evidence for why the Battle Hymn could be mistaken as a how-to guide and only mentioned slightly that Chua meant it to be a memoir. If anything, this forum made me think that Chua’s intentions in writing the book WAS to write a how-to parenting guide: the irony.

The rest of the forum didn’t make Chua’s Battle Hymn seem any better, either. It is very clear that Chua instigated stereotypes with her book. She glorified the Asian immigrant experience and put the model minority myth on a pedestal. She simplified race, class, and power, and didn’t seem to mind it. She talked about her daughter’s success, focused on it, at the end of her book, instead of describing her “change”. There are many other issues, but one thing that struck out to me was the mention of Sophia’s response.

At some point in the forum, it was mentioned that Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, Chua’s oldest daughter, had written a response to all the controversy that surrounded the Battle Hymn, supporting her mother. I remember cringing. But, it is because I realized how hypocritical I was being. I have had a friend tell me that my parents were abusive. And I, in shock, quickly replied “no, they’re not. I love them.” Although I probably wouldn’t describe my parents to be as strict as Chua describes her parenting to be, it is very similar, strict in different areas, though. And, I definitely wouldn’t say my parents are abusive, so why would I think that Chua is.

In readings such as this one, or similar to, we often lack the perspective of the children and the father. This is because the father typically doesn’t play a role in raising the children; he is the breadwinner. That is how societal norms have set it up to be. But obviously that is changing with times, the number of stay-at-home dads have only increased, and we should put an effort to identify their narratives and see what affects this has on raising children.

As for the perspective of the children? Well, we can provide that ourselves by thinking about how our parents have raised us (were you raised by a Chinese tiger mom or not? Was your Chinese tiger mom Chinese?). The whole situation itself is complicated and there’s no way to not be biased as we were all raised in different ways. So, in my situation, I realized, like Sophia, I didn’t mind that my parents had raised me the way they did. This isn’t relevant to the point of this paragraph (but does go to show that races shouldn’t be simplified like Chua did in her book), but my parents are Mexican, and they instilled onto me similar work ethics that Chua did her daughter. Sophia describes success as knowing “you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential,” and I couldn’t agree more. Obviously, there’s this whole college frenzy going on, admission is becoming more and more competitive. We need to stop making this a matter of race and focus on the bigger issue. One reason we make this about race is because of the “Asian threat” fueled by more stereotypes.  This is part of a solution OiYan A. Poon provides in her part of the forum: looking at the bigger picture. Chua’s parenting style is based on wants and needs for success on higher education, but it isn’t the only right way to accomplish this success. Parents with different parenting styles have also raised successful children and will continue to do so. Parents with similar parenting styles as Chua’s have raised unsuccessful children and will continue to do so.

My parents decided they’d raise me in a stricter manner, and I don’t mind, and someone else’s parents may have opted out, and they probably don’t mind. To find out the children’s perspective talk to your friends, even if you were to find people raised similarly as Chua raise her own children, I’m sure responses will vary.

I guess this just comes to show how little race SHOULD play in different matters (if only everyone would agree and we’d stop grouping people). Answers do vary and everyone thinks differently and has gone through different experiences. So, if your parents ever decided to write a book on how they parented you, just remind them not to pull a Chua and actually write a memoir, not group people and  provoke further stereotypes, and to make it seem as less of a how-to as possible.

Seriously, Sophia, I really do appreciate you defending your mother. Chua may not have been abusive, but there is still a lot wrong in her book.



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