Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amy Chua aka "Tiger Mom" Book Tour Review

Elliot Bay Book Store 1-21-11

The short version: The hottest author/lawyer/tiger mom/ in the United States comes to Seattle to defend her work.

I have been to a hundred author readings and have devoted a Blog to the subject of trying to sort out if an author is worth people’s time to see. I have never been to anything like this. Back in October, when Elliot Bay Book store’s scheduled this reading, they had no clue the fire storm created by author Amy Chua and her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” The crowd was so big they should have had this in Town Hall (860 seats) or better yet Quest Field (67,000). My God you would have thought the Rolling Stones were in town. One woman even passed out from the heat in the basement.

Raw meat that is what you feed Tiger Mom’s and that is what the crowd came to see. Half were from Seattle’s large Asian population (including India) while others were curious American’s (read white people)drawn by the curiosity of this author. I talked to several Chinese American’s this night. Some expected to laugh, having experienced that kind of parenting. The author admitted that she saw the humor in the harsh way she was raised and believed it carried through the book. One older Chinese American immigrant man, however, told me he came in support of Ms. Chua and to see how "American's" (again read white people) in his town would judge the Chinese way.

Maybe that is why Ms. Chua is getting such a backlash from some national writers in the Asian community. There is a real fear among Americans that they have lost their status as the world’s great power. Having seen America’s reaction to the way immigrants are treated after 9/11, Pearl Harbor and Mexican Immigration, it’s understandable that the American Chinese might not wish to be the next xenophobic target.

I doubt anyone; including Ms. Chua would have expected the reaction her book has created. Despite the fact the book has started a national conversation; it is not a parenting book. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“ is a peek into a specific sub culture and the timing for book sales could not have been better since the President of China has arrived to visit the United States, reminding us that his country owns a majority of American IOU’s

I don’t like to categorize people into such lables as “Western” and “Chinese” but that way but that is how Ms. Chua describes America in her talk tonight.

Yes, she grew up a strong independent American even keeping her maiden name (her husband’s name is Rubenfeld), dresses like a college girl and distracts the hell out of you while constantly playing with her hair as she answers questions. Yet close your eyes and her northern California accent gives no clue that Ms. Chua is of proud Chinese heritage.

She is a second generation immigrant. Like so many in that classification, she torn between American culture and the ways that their family brought from the old country. So I can understand why she identifies with herself as Chinese despite growing up and educated in U.S. public schools, among American culture, speaking better English that many “real Americans” and to some she should be considered as American as the President. (Insert your own “Birther” joke here)

Even the thorniest rose, however, can have its flowers plucked and it is obvious the last ten days since the books release have taken a toll on Ms. Chua. She is understandably defensive. Do people have so much hate in their hearts as to wish harm on her daughters?

Let’s not forget for one minute that Ms. Chua is a lawyer and a teacher. The stage is where she is most comfortable and here she is impressive. She takes control in a public forum and it is in the court of public opinion where she frames her message more effective, than a three minute spot on the Today show. If the “Tiger Mom” is a control freak at home and the national media is beyond her reach then it is during appearences like these where she will conquer America.

I came to watch people hate her, but instead I believe the majority of the audience came to an understanding.

The Reading:

Let’s just get to the bullet points Ms. Chua made during this reading. Brackets are my commentary.

-This was not a book about parenting.
-She is NOT nor ever claims to be an expert/ just tells the truth of how she inserted her upbringing into children's life
-The Wall Street Journal excerpt was here words, but Ms. Chua is adamant that she had nothing to do with the articles title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” and that the headline did damage to her books message. (She never mentions the boost in book sales)
-By reading the book, readers will find that it is the story of a family and how Ms. Chua comes to terms with how she was raised will not work for her own daughter. (No more violin)
-“Chinese parenting” is love not abuse. It does in fact make more self responsible people. It teaches children to own thier mistakes and teach personal responsibility.
-Chinese love their children, no different than the enabling “helicopter parent” who hovers over their child’s every move into adulthood. (Parents do not have to move to college with junior.)
-She downplays the idea that she believes that Chinese parenting is superior to “Western”methods. She does not explain those methods much.
- She emphasizes how her Chinese upbringing is no different than other second generation children from Europe. (This helps Ms. Chua reach out to a readership beyond the Asian community in the rest of America's with common experiences)
-She defends the idea that striving for excellence is a bad thing. “A 96% on a test is a good thing, but let’s just examine those other four percentage points “
-She has regrets, but that has been well documented, and her pat answers make for boring questions.
- In trying to relate to the audience, she claims that her husband is from a “Western background” (I know some Jewish people who would argue that one)
-Sleepovers are not bad, it’s just that in an age of Mean girls’ exclusion, and kids committing suicide based on what is said about them on Face book, a little protection from potential bullies to preserve self esteem is not a bad thing. (I agree)

Beware America, the Tiger mom is coming to an Author reading near you. Go see it and judge for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for this article. unlike most people you do know what you are talking about.