There is much to be admired about Amy Chua, a Chinese-American woman who successfully became an accomplished economic theorist, Yale professor of law, and author of several New York Times bestsellers.
However, these accomplishments are not the reason she has become a recent household name. Her recently released book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, a parenting memoir about raising her daughters in strict a Chinese manner, has triggered a plethora of intense and critical responses from Asians and Westerners alike. But while Amy Chua’s memoir raises questions about issues that trouble all parents, what is even more disturbing is her perpetuation of the stereotype of Asian-Americans.
“I am less concerned about parenting styles and more concerned about how Chua is seemingly profiting from evoking racial stereotypes at other’s expense,” said Dr. Mitchell Chang, UCLA’s professor of Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
Even though Asians are stereotyped in positive terms such as hardworking, smart, and quiet, stereotypes can potentially lead to discrimination. Stereotypes facilitate lazy thinking, promote a one-dimensional view, and overlook the diversity and range of achievements.
“When I first read her essay, I was reminded of a laundry detergent commercial in which a white customer asked the manager how he gets the clothes so clean. This Asian actor responded, ‘Ancient Chinese Secret!’” Chang said. “In my nightmare, Saturday Night Live airs a skit where Chua reveals the ‘Ancient Chinese Secret’ to parenting, and subsequently ensures that a whole new generation of Asian-Americans will be mocked by that slogan.”
Chang also discusses the broader implications of Amy Chua’s characterization of Asian parenting. With the Tiger Mother cloud hanging over their applications, Asian-American college applicants might be erroneously suspected of not being independent thinkers and creative minds. This will eventually lead to a decrease in acceptances of Asian-Americans despite their high scores and grades.
“The far-reaching effects that racial stereotypes can reach are truly disturbing,” said Katherine Dethy, a second-year economics student. “I am not Asian but I still grew up in a challenging and demanding environment. Why are Asians challenged when they excel in their fields when other students are praised?”
While public attention is on Amy Chua and Tiger Mothers, it is important to use this opportunity to acknowledge the diversity within the Asian-American population.
“We need to bring more attention to the fact that the educational landscape for Asian-Americans is NOT one dimensional, but multifaceted, by focusing on those who are most at risk and most ignored,” Chang said. “For instance, there are Asian-Americans where the struggle is not whether to play the violin or tennis but instead, they struggle to overcome language obstacles, financial burdens, the lack of parental assistance in navigating the U.S. educational system.”
UCLA’s Asian-American center and taking GE Asian-studies courses are two ways that Asian- American students can combat stereotypes and limitations. By focusing on larger proportions of Asian-Americans and their vast experiences, struggles, and encounters, these resources aid students in acknowledging the diversity of Asian-Americans.
As Chang said, “Amy Chua has told one story but let’s make sure that it’s not the only story that the public hears.”