#FreshOffTheBoat? I Liked It

Some quick, unedited thoughts in reaction to tonight’s premiere (FINALLY) of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat because I want to know your thoughts. I’ll go first. (THERE ARE SOME SORT OF SPOILERS…)

  • I liked it. I thought it was funny. I like the kind of funny where I laugh out loud, and I laughed out loud. And my sons who are 15 and 13 sat down with me to watch both episodes and laughed, related, and repeated lines.
  • Constance Wu’s portrayal of the mother Jessica Huang was lovely. She loves her children and her husband, but she isn’t going to take things lying down. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t one-dimensional. Hmmmm.
  • There were as many “jabs” at white culture/people as there were stereotypes of Asian/Taiwanese American culture. White people food, white people bowing, white suburban SAHMs talking loudly, fast, and over anyone else alongside the grandmother who doesn’t speak English, stinky Asian food, and Chinese Learning Centers (CLC, which of course my sons thought meant College of Lake County). I grew up calling white people and their food “Americans” and “American food,” which to some degree still holds true in American culture.
  • There were so many moments that sent me back to childhood. The stinky food thing. My sons started reminding each other about “the time you brought insert-some Asian food-here” to school and what reactions they received. My parents sometimes still talk about how their clothes smell after being at Korean bbq restaurant. The CLC thing never happened, but the push to excel meant my parents MADE Korean language worksheets and photocopied academic workbooks (I couldn’t write inside of them because they would re-use the book for my younger sister or make new copies of sheets when I didn’t complete them correctly) for us to do OVER THE SUMMER.
  • Yes, some of those things that rang true border on stereotypes, which is probably why I read many, many comments about how the show was good but not perfect…
  • But WHY DOES THIS SHOW HAVE TO BE PERFECT??? Why are so many of us Asian Americans adding that caveat? How many shows are perfect? I get it. This is the first show in 20 years featuring a family that looks remotely like mine so there is a lot of pressure. The pressure is real in terms of the network, etc. but it isn’t real in that the “Asian American community” does not, should not carry the burden of perfectly representing our story because there is no one story. I understand the burden in so many ways, but again I want to be held accountable and hold others accountable. How might we be perpetuating the stereotype of the model minority by expecting, even daresay hoping, this show, this ONE SHOW, would perfectly represent a multicultural community? It can’t.
  • I’m grateful the show took on double standards and the word “chink.” I was caught a little off guard when it happened because you never get used to that, and why should we. But when the parents defended Eddie and asked why the other boy, who was black, and his parents were not in the principal’s office for using a racial epithet I said, “YES!” Now, I don’t know how many Taiwanese parents would’ve done that, but as a parent and as an adult who still hears “chink” thrown at me or my family I appreciated the call out. For the record, I didn’t punch back because I wasn’t going to start something I couldn’t finish. I swore back in Korean.
  • It mattered to my sons. I was surprised that they wanted to sit with me to watch it live because who does that anymore. But there they were laughing and following along. They both agreed it will go into the DVR queue and when asked why they liked it both of them said they liked seeing Asians on tv. “The Asians. They are like us.” Yes, they are.

OK. Unfiltered, quick, off-the-cuff thoughts to jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear from all of you, Asian and non-Asian American!!

  • Did you watch it? Why or why not?
  • If you watched it, what did you think?
  • What did you like the most? What made you cringe? Why?
  • What were the things you resonated with? What didn’t you understand or get?
  • Whatever else you want to add. 🙂

 

 

Don’t call me Fresh Off the Boat

If you haven’t already heard, a new family is hitting the airwaves tomorrow (Wednesday 8:30|7:30c on ABC), and I am excited, nervous, curious, and afraid. It’s not every decade you get to see an Asian American family featured in an episode of a television show, let alone an ENTIRE television series, but that’s what we’re going to get with “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Did I mention I am excited and afraid?

The show is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, and you can read all about the show here. It is the story of an immigrant family experiencing culture shock as they chase after the American dream. I haven’t gotten a sneak peek; I’ve seen what the general public has seen.

And I am hopeful but I am holding my breath.

Eddie’s family looks like mine in the way all East Asians can get lumped together under the umbrella of Asian Americans. We look alike without actually looking alike. The family featured on the show has roots in Taiwan, which actually is an entirely different country than the one my family and I immigrated from (South Korea, which is different than North Korea). But for all intents and purposes, Eddie and his family are my family.

Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NEVER ON TELEVISION. Yes, Lucy Liu has a role. Yes, John Cho had a leading role in a romantic comedy that was canceled (Selfie, if you didn’t know). Yes, we Asian Americans can also claim Steven Yeun in The Walking Dead. Yes, there are other Asian American actors currently on network television but I would have to Google them in order to name them. If you are white, Anglo, or can pass as either you have just about everyone else. Seriously.

Even growing up in the church, God, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all depicted as white. Think Sistine Chapel. Think felt story boards. I hear Burl Ives’ voice in the Bible story audio cassettes my parents bought me and my sister. The only time God wasn’t white was when He was Black, thanks to Bill Cosby.

No one sounded or looked like me because the underlying message I got was that no one wanted to sound like or look like me. It wasn’t all that underlying. I may be 44 years old, but the teasing, bullying, and physical harassment were memories formed well into my 20s. Classmates making fun of my name, my eyes, and my nose, and laughing at what they thought I might be eating or the way they thought my family might speak. Boys in the form of grown men driving pick up trucks slowing down screaming racial slurs at me as I walked the neighborhood, driving back around just in case I didn’t understand the first time.

“Go back to where you came from, Chink! Gook! This is America! Learn to speak English. Did you hear me? Love me long time.”

I don’t know how Eddie’s story pans out in the series, but I found solace, courage, and healing in a group of Asian American Christians as an undergrad. This thoughtful group of college students from all over the country understood me in a way other friends had not. They understood my faith in Jesus and the complicated experiences of growing up as an immigrant or as the child of immigrants. Our collective pain and our collective joys became our inside jokes. We had lived through common experiences that set us apart from the white students (and the black students), and we shared words in our mother tongues, food from our mother’s kitchens, and lecture notes and study guides when we could. We knew what it was like to be the foreigner, the stranger. We understood the enormous pressure to succeed because of the great cost our parents had paid. We understood no one wanted to be like us (unless they thought we all set the curve in the classes); that was going to be up to us. We had to learn to love ourselves as God had created us. Imago Dei. In His image.

So those jokes, those were the jokes we made about ourselves for ourselves. FOB or “fresh off the boat” was a label we applied to ourselves even after so many others had been forced upon us.

Those were our jokes, our jokes to tell ourselves in the safety and loyalty of one another.

I’m hopeful non-Asian American America will finally learn to laugh with us and stop laughing at us, but I’m still holding my breath.

In Times Like These We Are All Americans. Not Really. Let’s All Be Human.

By the time I finish editing this post, the name of the third victim killed in the Boston Marathon bombing will be making its way around the interwebs. Look at how the news media writes about her, her country. Please take a look at the comments on those stories. Maybe you will be surprised. I’m hoping to be surprised by our humanity, but so far not so much.

Because in times like these, we are actually not all Americans. Tragedy, despite what newscasters might have us believe, can often be quite divisive. I’m well aware of the many random acts of kindness, and how Bostonians literally opened up their homes and shared their resources. But when you heard about the bombing, did you think, even for a moment, “I hope the perp isn’t (fill in the blank with your choice of race, ethnicity, citizenship, etc.).”? I did. Remember Virginia Tech. That was only six years ago. The South Korean government apologized on the shooter’s behalf.

In times like these, the “other” is always to blame.  Don’t forget the erroneous reports about a Saudi national being held for questioning. Unless you are an American, and dare I say look “American”, your involvement, your presence may be called into question. There were plenty of people on the scene that looked like Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols. One comment on a news article read: “…we have enough problems without involving the Chinese.”

But the Chinese are involved. In fact, the world is involved. As far as I know, the Boston Marathon draws an international running community together. And she was there to watch, just like thousands of other fellow human beings.

She was a Chinese graduate student at Boston University, not much older than my own daughter, and very much like many of the college and university students I interact with through my work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In fact, before turning on the news I knew through Facebook this young woman had attended an InterVarsity graduate student fall conference. She had friends. She had a roommate. She was known. And she was loved.

This morning I heard a talking head on the television say that her name had not yet been released because her parents had not yet told her grandparents. Her parents were concerned the grandparents would not be able to handle the news.

In a culture like ours, where free speech and an individual’s right to bear arms like a battalion headed into war are sacred, where news and misinformation are often confused for one another, where the news cycle never stops on any front, it may seem odd to want to keep such important, personal, yet devastating news from loved ones when people are wondering “who is the third victim”. But for Eastern culture, familial ties run deep and are visceral. Perhaps it is because we in America expect to see a grieving loved one bravely face the cameras or give the media a quote or statement. We respect the grief, but we want to be allowed to be a part of it. But for this young woman’s family, the grief might just physically overcome the grandparents. Or perhaps, her activities here could call her entire family into question under a government in a culture that seems so unlike “ours”.

We may never know all of the details of her life, but that shouldn’t make her less human, less a victim, less important. I do not know if she and I shared a faith in Jesus, but in times like these I don’t care whether or not she was an American. She was my sister, bearing the image of God just as the unnamed Saudi national, Martin Richard and Krystle Campbell.

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

 

Thoughts on Leadership While the Nail Polish Dries

I love nail polish. It’s a low-commitment, low-cost vanity/beauty splurge that when used properly forces me to slow down and not do a whole lot. Which is why I am typing slowly and not moving my feet right now – pink on the toes and a french mani.

And when life slows I can breathe, pray, think and reflect.

Tonight I’m thinking a lot about leadership – the privilege, the joys and the costs. In a matter of a week’s time I saw how God was using me to develop a new generation of leaders (Pacific Northwest Asian American InterVarsity students, YOU ARE AMAZING!) and how God was still buffing and shining the rough edges of my leadership. There were moments of fear and confidence, of joy and anger, of front-door leadership like “fill in the blank with a Biblical patriarch) and back-door influence (Ruth, Esther, Mary, the Samaritan woman, the bleeding woman, the servant girl, etc.).

All while rocking lavender nail polish (last week’s color), telling funny family stories about rice cookers and kimchee refrigerator, and wearing a bra, which apparently is still enough of a novelty that as I head into the final week before I speak on leadership fails at the Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Leadership Conference next week, I reminding myself of how important it is to remember God created me and knew me before I was even born as 1.75-gen Korean American Christian woman, let alone a wife, mother of three, writer, speaker, yoga junkie and nail polish addict.

Gender or ethnicity doesn’t trump my identity as a Christian, but they are integrated, enmeshed in blessed and God-ordained ways and in broken and needing Jesus’ redemption ways, because Christians are not meant to be eunuchs. Embodied. Gendered. Which for me means wearing a bra and the great option of many nail polish colors. My seasons or micro-seasons of leadership are acutely tied to my physical state – pregnant, post-partum, nursing, PMS, exhausted from the gift and plain old work of raising children, peri-menopausal, and all of that is tied to my gender. And my embodied, gendered life is also wrapped and engrained with the values and mores of my Korean ancestors with a clashing or enhancing palette from my American host. How can that not affect, change, impact, enhance, and challenge my ability to lead?

It does. It’s not all negative, and I’m not surprised…unless I meet and talk with someone who has never considered her/his leadership through their cultural/racial/gendered lens.

What lessons have you learned about leadership, your own and that of others as well as how you are perceived and how you perceive others? Need some time to think? Do your nails.

 

 

Leadership #Fail and Other Fun Lessons

I’m actually better at talking about my lack of success than about my successes. It’s who I am – Christian Asian American woman. I was taught Christians are humble. I was raised in an Asian American home where we spoke and considered community over the individual. As a woman I learned that speaking up meant being labeled as Arrogant. Aggressive. Ambitious, other “A” words and just other words with negative connotations.

But talking about failure gets tricky. It means airing out dirty laundry. It means showing vulnerability and need and weaknesses. It means being honest and accountable.

And in my book it means being a leader.

Sometimes we are to be like the servant girl who twice calls out Peter as one of the disciples. The Apostle Peter, the Rock, denies Christ for a third time, failing to align himself and own his relationship to Jesus.

“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72 TNIV

We’ve all failed miserably, and there are many times I’ve failed and wept. Too many times I’ve wept because I got “caught” in my failure and not quite ready to deal with the consequences and learn from my failures. Finding out I’m human shouldn’t be, but too often is, unnerving.

Next month a group of incredible Asian Pacific Islander women leaders will gather in Los Angeles to learn from one another about Leadership Over the Long Haul. (Registration is still open, to both men and women, and it is going to be an amazing time. Think about it!)

And I have the privilege of speaking on leadership failures and success. Not hypothetical failures or case-study failures. My failures.

Sounds like fun, no? The trick is I have a time limit. The Lord is merciful!

What are some examples of your real-life leadership failures? What did you learn about leadership? About yourself? About God? About others?

Identity Formation & Barbie

I grew up with Barbie and her knock-off cousins. My sister and I had the townhouse with the elevator. The pool. The dream house. With all of the furniture. The remote-controlled Corvette.

The collection finally made complete after a family trip to the Motherland where, in the Itaewon shopping district, we found the perfect outfit for our blonde, blue-eyed and busty dolls – a Barbie-sized hanbok (traditional Korean dress). All Barbie needed was some major surgery, hair dye and contact lenses and she would look just like me and my sister on New Year’s Day.

So when my firstborn came of age I vowed to never buy her a Barbie. She received them as gifts and we did let her keep a few, including Mulan Barbie, and I even broke out my vintage Barbie Dream house and furniture.

I still have the dream house and furniture in the basement, as well as the Barbie hanbok. But hen again, there is a lot of other garbage in my basement.

Admittedly it is a love-hate relationship with Barbie because for all of objectification and stereotyping, she was a part of my childhood which included more friends who looked more and lived more like Barbie. And I wanted friends. I wanted to belong.

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So when friends posted this link about an ‘adoption Barbie’ I needed a few days to digest it all. The doll has been around for a few years, but the conversations around adoption, identity, desire, broken cultural systems, cultural appropriation, family, assimilation, gender preferences, and citizenship are ancient. Take a look at the Bible and read about Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman, and a host of other Sunday School classics with grown-up eyes. In many ways, as we
Americans open our eyes to human trafficking, we can see how the world has not changed in how it sees women and girls. We are a commodity that can be dispensed of or used for the benefit of others.

But our genuine desire to find ways to connect our personal stories and experiences can make the adoption Barbie seem rather innocuous of even helpful as a way to commemorate an adoptive child’s “gotcha day”.

My husband and I have been a part of three adoptions, vouching for our friends and writing letters for their case files. We have celebrated with many more friends who have journeyed years through adoption, some with unconditional support of their families and some with reserved support.

And as a mother of American-born Korean children I notice the abundance of blonde dolls and Caucasian role models.

Seriously. Why do you think I went out and bought a copy of Sports Illustrated?! Sports Illustrated?

JEREMY LIN!!!

Years ago I cried with a friend as I told the story of how my daughter wanted a doll with ‘pretty hair’, which I learned was code for blonde hair. I’m still waiting for an Asian American American Girl historical doll. I just don’t know how they would market Jade – the Japanese internment doll. (In my mind, Ivy doesn’t cut it. She’s just Julie’s best friend.)

So the adoption Barbie doll makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me confused. What do you think? Great idea? Weird idea? Savvy marketing? Opportunistic?

And how many of you still have a Barbie or one of her accessories from childhood?

No judging.

May is a Good Time to Talk about Vitamin L

Today is my one-year anniversary on vitamin L, and it’s finally time to talk about.

I struggle with anxiety and clinical depression, and I take vitamin L – or Lexapro to be exact – to treat it. It’s been one year since I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of always feeling on edge about almost anything.

Last spring I finally sought out the help I needed all along, and took some concrete steps in overcoming depression and the cultural stigma mental health issues carry within the Asian American, American and Christian cultures. And that is where I find convergence, because May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and it is also Mental Health Awareness Month. I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up being taught directly and indirectly that suffering was part of life and dealing with suffering meant swallowing it, sometimes ignoring it whole.

Tracey Gee in More Than Serving Tea writes:

In the Asian worldview, suffering is simply an assumed part of the way the world is. Sickness, disease and famine are accepted as natural part of life. In contrast, the American worldview sees suffering as an abnormal state.

In many ways, I suspect what we saw in Japan and how the Japanese reacted to the earthquake and tsunami was the Asian worldview playing out in realtime. I recall hearing news reporters almost gushing over how the Japanese would stand in line waiting patiently for emergency supplies. Other reports mentioned how there were no reports of looting despite the crushing need for food and water. No one person’s need to overcome the suffering was greater than another’s. The nation collectively swallowed suffering, saved face, upheld harmony and moved forward.

Reporters, in trying to draw a contrast, would allude to the perceived and actual chaos and looting that followed disasters here in America. But what 30-second television spots didn’t go into is that our worldview here in America is different. “How could this happen in America?” was a phrase oft repeated as images of looting, devastation, scarcity and suffering flashed on our screens in the aftermath of Katrina.

So growing up, I was a bit confused about suffering. My church upbringing addressed suffering as being temporary because one day all our tears would be washed away. I believe that, but what was missing was addressing the present tears and the sadness that haunted me. There weren’t enough church retreats, revival nights, youth group meetings, prayer meetings and praise nights to string together to keep me from the depression and anxiety.

I prayed. Sometimes I would pray for the ability to endure the sadness and suffering. Other times I would pray that it would all just go away, but when prayers failed to act like a holy vending machine I realized I couldn’t “Christian” my way out of what was going on emotionally and mentally.

Too bad it took so long to learn that lesson, but it’s been learned. I’ll probably have to learn it again sometime soon.

Anyway, last year when I first when on Lexapro I thought about writing about it because the other reality is that Asian American young women have the highest rate of depression than any other racial/ethnic or gender groups. While I technically no longer fit the “young women” category I am the grown-up part of that demographic. Depressed Asian American young women don’t necessarily grow out of their depression any more than I could pray my way out of clinical depression.

But where can we talk about this? Despite commercials and advertisements for antidepressants attempting to depict treatment, it’s never really that easy. I hesitated for years to seek medical help because health insurance, drug coverage and pre-existing conditions are things that the grown-up me worried about. I read stuff on the internet about different drugs and their side-effects, and there were great on-line threads but I wondered if there would be a real-life community for me to talk about this journey. And ultimately, I figured if I wasn’t suicidal I could suck it up, and I did for a long time.

Standing in my kitchen last spring, crying and feeling like the world was heavy and overwhelming forced the issue. I didn’t want to enter into my 40s swallowing that kind of suffering. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want untreated depression to be a legacy I passed on to my daughter (and sons).

I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I had the prescription filled right away, and I endured the transitional 2-6 weeks of nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, etc. for the drug to help my brain chemistry re-set. I slowly shared with friends about my vitamin L and I am finding that I am not alone. Asian American young women may have the highest rate of depression, but they don’t have to go untreated. We just never talked about it.

So where can we talk about depression, swallowing suffering, avoiding pain and seeking help? I suppose we can talk about it right here if you want and if you’re willing.

Being American

Last night when I was reacting/responding to Maureen Corrigan’s book review (Peter said I looked like I was getting ready to sharpen my claws. I didn’t know I had that kind of look.) I couldn’t stop thinking about her line about being an American reader.

“But the weird fascination of Please Look After Mom is its message — completely alien to our own therapeutic culture — that if one’s mother is miserable, it is indeed, the fault of her husband and her ungrateful children. As an American reader — indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’ — I kept waiting for irony; a comic twist in the plot; a reprieve for the breast-beating children.”

Besides being confused about her line about kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction I am wondering, quite honestly, what Corrigan meant by being an “American reader” because she and I both are just that.

Until college I grew up understanding that being American meant being White/Caucasian/of Eastern European descent or being African American, which was very different than White American but still American.

It meant apple pie (which I don’t recall actually making unless it was the frozen variety until adulthood) and baseball (which we didn’t grow up watching). It meant your ancestors were either connected to Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island. Being American meant no one asked you where you came from or where you learned your English or told you to go back to where you came from or to learn English.

So, while I know many of my readers tend to be a bit shy about commenting on the blog publicly because it can be a bit crazy out here I am asking all of you to comment, however brief it may be, to help fill out the picture of being American.

When you think of being American what comes to mind? Who do you imagine? What does being an American reader mean? How do Americans see things, experience things, communicate things?

Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan: What the Frak is Kimchee-scented Kleenex Fiction?

Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan,

What the frak is “kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction”? What does that phrase even mean?

Were you trying to be funny? (Fail.)

Were you trying to let listeners and readers know you “know” Koreans? (Fail.)

Were you trying to be clever and/or charm us with your use of alliteration? (Fail.)

And why, after a week of comments on the NPR website  where you take Kyung-sook Shin’s novel “Please Look After Mom” to task, has there not been a response from NPR or from you, Ms. Corrigan? Surely you would want to explain yourself and this misunderstanding. After all, you are just a critic who didn’t like the book, which you pointed out has sold 1 million copies in the author’s native South Korea and is set to hit the shelves in 22 other countries. Your opinion is just one of a million, and clearly no one at Knopf asked your opinion before claiming the U.S. rights to the translated version so I’m certain you would be sorry if you offended anyone even though that was not your intention. I’m sure of it.

So why not just come out and say it? You could probably cut and paste or adapt a version of the standard non-apology.

Or maybe you or NPR could come clean and and apologize because Ms. Corrigan your review did offend and continues to offend real people – not the fictional characters you clearly did not connect with in the novel. Some of us are actually American readers, by the way, who might even be able to bridge what appears to be a cultural gaping hole in your understanding of Korean/East Asian mother guilt, family values and shame even as you poo-poo the novel as “Korean soap opera decked out as serious literary fiction”.

You offend those of us “ladies” in book clubs all across America (I’m in two of those book clubs of American readers, btw) who read all sorts of books we like and dislike and suggest or read only because it was on the book club list which is our ticket to a fun night out, and not all of us would see the message of this novel as “alien”. (Couldn’t you have phrased that better? Maybe you tried “foreign” but perhaps that was too literal or obvious?) You offend me because throughout your review you allude to your POV as “an American reader” but I am an American reader and I “get” the message and nuances of this book by reading the excerpt. I am not an American woman (whose ethnic and racial heritage I do not know) who was “indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’.”

I am an American reader who learned that taking responsibility meant a deep connectedness between my happiness and my mother’s, but I don’t want to wallow in the cross-cultural self-pity you describe. I am hoping you will understand that I just don’t get what you don’t get. This is a novel that you read in English but was written in Korean by a Korean woman who grew up in rural Korea and then moved to Seoul (!). The words were translated, but I’m not sure you want to do the work to understand the characters and their culture and their point of view or even get a deeper sense of the author’s voice, which is so obviously different than yours. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like “The Tender Bar” that much now that I think about it.

I can gather from your critique you are missing the things that make novels connect with its reader and thus earns its place on a bookshelf or top 100 list. Surely much in the plot and prose has been lost in translation because the words “mom” and “mother” don’t carry the same weight and meaning as the Korean words “uhm-mah”, “uh-muhn-nee” and “uh-muhn-neem”. Three words to describe the relationship between a mother and her child. Three. But you don’t get that because you, Ms. Corrigan, are an American reader as am I, but we read with different eyes, hearts and connections, and I’m trying to understand you.

So, let me ask my question in a different way.

Do you really think Korea’s Kleenex smells like kimchee? Because if you do you’re just silly.

Translation: Jung-mahl mee-chus-suh.

Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?