Children of the Immigrant Experience: the “Asian Parent” (pt.1)

Part IV of the Children of the Immigrant Experience series. (If you haven’t read any of the previous posts about this topic, I recommend reading them first before this one).

chinese exam

Song dynasty emperor receives a candidate of the Imperial Examination. A long tradition of upholding the importance of education and excellence has created what we call “Asian parenting” today.

Disclaimer 1: I procrastinated on purpose before arriving at this topic. It’s a big topic, a controversial one, emotionally-charged, and pertains to my own specific immigrant culture. I worry that I may sound traitorous or unpatriotic, so I will try to remain as neutral as possible.

Disclaimer 2: I will be generalizing in this article. I’d just like to put it out there that I’m aware of this, but I feel only qualified to talk about “Asian parents” because that’s what I’ve been exposed to, mainly. I’m aware that this type of parenting is represented in other cultures as well.

Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of “Asian-style” parenting. “Asian parents” exert a type of rigorous, strict, tough love on their children by marching them to way too many extracurricular and academic activities with impossibly high expectations in each. Perhaps you’ve read the shocking Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) that caused quite a stir a few years back. Or, perhaps you’ve even read my high-school student’s response to it.

I’ve matured from that angry high-schooler since. Now, I can see both positive and negative aspects of “tiger-parenting.” And this two-part post will explore each.

Children of immigrants have praised Tiger Parenting. The Korean at the popular blog Ask A Korean wrote an article defending it, and he has his good reasons. I myself have come to the conclusion that tiger parenting is fraught with pros and cons, and that generally, the cons outweigh the pros. Now, I don’t know anything about parenting (I’ve only been on the receiving end of it) but I have had a lifetime of observation towards so-called “Asian Parents.”

I’ll talk about the cons today, and do a follow-up post on the pros soon after.

Con #1: Irrelevance

387px-Cellist_celloMy first critique of Asian Parenting is that the academic or extracurricular focuses Asian parents typically force their kids into are simply irrelevant. For example: classical music. Every other Asian parent wants their kid to be the next Lang Lang or Yo-Yo Ma.

Why this obsession? Perhaps a generation ago, when Asian countries were economically and culturally subordinate to western countries, proficiency in classical music was considered a mark of “classiness” or education because it was “western”. Perhaps a person who knew a thing or two about classical music could succeed in the western-dominated international society.

Then, within my own lifetime, knowledge of classical music was an extracurricular activity that could get you into the best colleges and universities. And perhaps that was true…but if every third kid on the block can play the piano, why make yours play the piano too? He’s not going to stand out. Why not let him master the electric guitar, learn how to scuba dive, or get a rock-climbing instructor license instead? Parents of Asian culture, eager to “save face,” may want their kids to be piano geniuses because “everyone else is doing it.” But that doesn’t exactly work in today’s society anymore.

If you’re going to push your kids to be amazing at something that sets them apart from the herd and gives them a competitive edge, please diversify and aim for well-roundedness! Learning piano is nice, but so is learning Swedish, how to build a table from scratch, or spotting edible plants in the wilderness.

Con #2: Approach

asian grading scaleThe approach Asian parents take to push their kids (strict, firm, unforgiving) is construed as cruel by many (just read Chua’s article on how she would deny her kids food or toys if they couldn’t perform perfectly). I disagree with this methodology because often times it is too much, and bordering on cruelty or child abuse! (However, you’ll see “approach” in the pro section as well, but more on that later…)

The main critique I have against the Asian parenting approach is that it takes the fun out of things. I know that in order to succeed in something, you have to give some blood and sweat––but not to the point where the activity is not fun anymore. Taking out fun leads to disinterest in the activity, and disinterest automatically leads to poor performance.

As a music teacher, I see this all the time. My most successful music students are those that actually enjoy the process of learning music and the challenges it poses. Students who were clearly forced into music are easy to discern: they’re disinterested, lazy, and have no aptitude as a result.

Con #3: Living Vicariously

scumbag asian parentThis is by far the worst incentive to “tiger parent.” I’m talking about the parents who force their children into something because they couldn’t do it in their childhood, or the type of parents who use their children’s achievements as a means to brag to other parents. I’m sure this exists in all cultures and ethnicities as well.

I’ve encountered my fair share of these types of parents in my childhood. In my opinion, these under-confident, under-achieving individuals are just pushing their kids to feed their own insecurities and reputation. And it’s not fair to force your kid to do something just because you couldn’t do it yourself. Of course, a parent may have had their dream of becoming a pianist dashed because they lived in poverty as a child, but that is no reason to force your unwilling, unmusical child to become a pianist himself.

Worse are the parents who use their kids’ achievements to feed their own reputations. What they’re doing is not about the good of their children at all, but about their own selfish needs.

So that’s my response to “Asian” or “Tiger” parenting, as a child of immigrants––the con side, at least. Luckily, I was not a victim of tiger parenting. My parents were probably more pushy than others (I was kept very busy as a kid and went to many lessons). But at the end of the day, it was my choice to pursue the things I wanted to pursue (and hey! I got to choose what to pursue!) And that’s probably why I’m successful at those things today.

Please stay tuned for pt.2 of this post by following! Or, read the previous posts in this series.

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Children of the Immigrant Experience: On Losing My Culture

Part II of the Children of the Immigrant Experience series.

As a kid you read stories about children learning about their traditional cultures. These are usually the children of immigrants, whose parents want them educated about the traditions of the “old country,” to keep the old traditions alive in their generation, and to be proud of who they are.


Vancouver Chinatown. Gates on Pender St.

In politics and society you often hear about groups rallying for the preservation of traditional cultures. In Canada, this is probably the biggest political debate (next to the legalization of marijuana, heh). These debates mainly centre around the First Nations people and the French Canadians. The former want their traditions and land preserved, the latter want their language. I’m of neither descent, so I cannot speak for them, but I do represent perhaps the third biggest visible minority: Asian-Canadians.

What I wanted to address today is losing cultures. It seems to me that many of those who advocate for young people to retain their cultures are either the young people’s parents or outside forces. I mean, it’s very PC for a white person to encourage a non-white immigrant or child of an immigrant to keep practising their culture. However, I notice that the immigrant or immigrant-child may have different views.

red lanternTruth is, many of my friends and myself with a similar background (born in Canada, or raised in Canada since a very young age) have very little interest in our traditional cultures. We’re not “ashamed” of ourselves or anything, we just don’t like that lifestyle as much as our North American one. We grew up North American, eat North American food, do North American recreational activities. We prefer hiking in the Canadian wilderness over singing karaoke. We’d rather expand our skills in English and French than study Chinese or Korean. I can already hear people lamenting the effects of assimilation. We’re not “assimilated.” We grew up in this culture, and we love it, and we’re proud of it, and frankly we can’t relate much to a country across the sea. It’s our choice.

I went to a high school where there were basically 2 “cliques”: “white-washed” Asian-Canadians and the FOBs (Fresh-off-the-boat). I always had the feeling that FOBs looked at us with disdain. FOBs, immigrants who arrive later on in life, adamantly hold onto their roots: they only speak their traditional languages in the halls with other FOBs, they karaoke on the weekends, and they complain about young people not being able to have “fun” in a “boring” place like Canada. And they probably look down on us as sell-outs to white culture. But us “white-washed” kids aren’t too fond of them either: we think they dress strangely, should speak more English, and go outdoors for a change.

The definition of "whitewashed"on Urban Dictionary. I am kind of interested in "whitewashed Tshirts and mugs"...

The definition of “whitewashed”on Urban Dictionary. I am kind of interested in “whitewashed mugs and Tshirts”…

I’m not sure what kind of “thesis” I’m advocating for in this post. Perhaps I just want to paint a picture of something below the surface that exists: that immigration isn’t that simple. That urging people to hold on to their roots is actually a complex idea. I’ll say again: I by no means am “ashamed” of being ethnically Chinese (although I’m sure some children of immigrants do, especially with China’s bad reputation in western media nowadays), but I do see my nationality as Canadian. I identify as a Canadian. Abroad, I say I am from Canada. This is backed up by my passport and birth certificate. And I bristle with pissed-off-ness whenever some hicktown ignoramus doesn’t believe I am “Canadian” and go “wait aren’t you Chinese or something”. (I was in an Austrian restaurant once with a waiter like this. My Chinese-Canadian compatriot aptly scoffed, “No, we’re ‘fake Canadians.'”).

In most parts of the world, many people still believe that nationality and ethnicity are the same thing. It’s not. Not for us children of immigrants.

Are you a child of immigration? Are you an advocate for preserving your traditional culture, or are you comfortable living the one shared by your compatriots? Please share your thoughts.


Children of the Immigrant Experience: Why I Avoid “Ethnic Writing”

A few days ago I wrote about how we’ve moved from the “immigrant experience” to “the children of the immigrant experience.” This is Part 1 of the series Children of the Immigrant Experience.

Canada sees immigration as a mosaic of peoples. The problem with this way of thinking is that it segregates us and makes people think of differences more than commonalities. I think we ought to realize more of our commonalities.

Canada sees immigration as a mosaic of peoples. The problem with this way of thinking is that it segregates us and makes people think of differences more than commonalities. I think we ought to realize more of our commonalities.

We live in a North America where if any character is any ethnicity other than white, this is treated as not the norm and thus the writing is considered “ethnic writing” and has to be about some social issue pertaining to that race.  If the protagonist of a book is Asian-Canadian, for example, the book has to be about the “immigrant experience” or, even worse, how the Chinese built the damn trans-Canadian railroad (all due respect to those immigrants, but I’m getting quite sick of these types of books…as you can probably tell from my tone).

North America is a land of immigrants. There is no “default” or “original” race except First Nations people (who get the ethnic writing treatment as much, if not more, than every non-white body else!). I’m quite sick of the fact that any book that has a non-white protagonist or a non-white author’s last name on the cover has to be about a non-white ethnic issue, while any book that has a white protagonist and a white author’s last name can be a book about everyday human things. I’m sick of this because, despite living in 2014, we are obviously living in a eurocentric world where being white is “the norm”. I’m also sick of the fact that if you have a non-European surname (like mine) you’re automatically expected to write about immigrant people, and only immigrant people with the same surname. As if that’s all I know about.

I'm not necessarily arguing for the melting pot model of immigration in the USA. I'm merely asking to remove certain "expectations" that X immigrations do X.

I’m not necessarily arguing for the melting pot model of immigration in the USA. I’m merely asking to remove certain “expectations” that X immigrations do X.

I hope to one day read a book with a non-white protagonist and see it as a story about the common human experience. I know that it is through identifying with groups that makes us a unique civilization, but I feel that, more than ever in our current age, we should bond with each other as common members of the human experience. I fondly remember my dad saying once, after watching an American movie, “It’s interesting that movies really all talk about the same things, the same things about being human. Sure this is an American movie, but it affects us too.”

I’ll admit that I’ve fallen through the holes into ethnic writing more than once. I’m currently working on a submission to Ricepaper Magazine, an Asian-Canadian literary/art magazine centred on, well, ethnic writing. The second-generation Asian-Canadian experience also featured prominently in the first few drafts of my novel-in-progress, but I have since forced myself to eradicate that element.

For once I’d like to see non-white protagonists doing mundane everyday book-worthy human things, whether that be staking out the hottie at the bar or going on a quest to find the One And Only Sacred Cow Statue. How do you feel about ethnic writing?

All images used are public domain.

Children of the Immigrant Experience

"Chinese at Work on C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) in Mountains, 1884" (Library and Archives/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada).

“Chinese at Work on C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) in Mountains, 1884” (Library and Archives/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada). Creative Commons License.

Thanks to the positive response to last Saturday’s post, “On Losing My Language”, I’m starting a little mini-series called “Children of the Immigrant Experience.” This is to continue the thought on Saturday’s post that we have now moved from the issue of the immigrant experience to the children of the immigrant experience.

I believe my generation is a unique one and our concerns haven’t been adequately represented in social discourse. We’re going things and being disillusioned by things our parents and grandparents never thought of. Especially as a child of immigration, it is often difficult to identify myself. Am I part of this group, or am I part of that group? Should I be a part of a group at all?

Hopefully I’ll address the cream of the crop in coming posts. So far I’ve come up with the following topics:

  • Children of the Immigrant Experience: Why I Avoid Ethnic Writing
  • Children of the Immigrant Experience: On Losing My Culture
  • Children of the Immigrant Experience: Staunch Individualism vs. Group Identification
  • Children of the Immigrant Experience: Asian-Americans/Canadians and Academic Success

Heh, I considered becoming a Political Science major a very long time…so that might rear up its head again here.

A Chinese supermarket chain in Vancouver. Times have changed.

A Chinese supermarket chain in Vancouver. Times have changed.

I began writing “Why I Avoid Ethnic Writing” today, so it may be up by tomorrow. I’m looking forward to all of your responses to these topics, and would appreciate it if anyone could contribute any ideas or suggestions. I am a child of the immigrant experience, but I am only one child, so I am certain my experience isn’t mine alone nor is it the only experience.