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Community reacts to Tiger Mother

Three days before Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother by Amy Chua hit the shelves, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of her memoir with the headline, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” As a result, controversy regarding the book’s portrayal of the “typical” Asian household and the extreme parenting necessary to raise successful children soon raged across the Internet, raising eyebrows and questions within the Marlborough community.

According to Chua, the Chinese method of parenting requires extreme strictness, including forbidding playdates, demanding no grade less than an A on any academic subject and even using words like “worthless” and “disgrace” when scolding.

East Asian Societies Together (EAST) held a discussion about the memoir Jan. 26 at lunch, during which club members shared their experiences growing up in Asian households and their opinions on Chua’s book.

EAST co-president Nicole ’12 said Chua’s depiction of strict Asian mothers is not the case with her own mother.

“She wants me to have good study skills and not necessarily just good grades,” Nicole said.

Nicole said while her mother does encourage her to work hard, it is never forced, only suggested.

EAST member Sue ’12, on the other hand, said she sees some parallels between Chua’s depiction of strict Asian parents and her own family, though her parents have become more lenient with her than they were with her older sisters. However, Sue said that actual parenting varies from family to family and can depend on how long the parents have been in America.

“[Immigrant parents] don’t want you to live like they did,” she said.

Arlyn Alonzo, mother of Celine  ’11, agreed that generational status is a contributing factor.

“I believe that would be more prevalent in a first generation Asian parent as opposed to Asian parents who have been born or raised in the United States,” she said. “My parents, who were first generation Americans who immigrated to the United States, certainly saw education as a ticket to success for their children.”

Alonzo said that now, as a mother, she won’t go to the extremes that Chua did.

“I value a good education for my daughter, and that’s one of the reasons I’m sending her to Marlborough. But having spent part of my life here in the US, I also value that there are other experiences in high school besides just academics,” Alonzo said.

English instructor and EAST advisor Kyanh Tonnu said that she thought Chua’s piece was so exaggerated that it was supposed to be funny.

“I thought she wrote it with an awareness that people would read it sort of chuckling,” she said.

In light of President Obama’s Jan. 25 State of the Union speech, which challenged Americans to embrace this “Sputnik moment” of economic competition with foreign countries like South Korea and China, Chua’s book seems especially timely in examining how Asian families differ in ideals from Americans. Time Magazine recently published an article entitled “Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?” exploring the national potential for Chua’s parenting methods.

Both Alonzo and Tonnu said Americans’ fears of economic decline may have had some influence on the book’s controversy but that reactions to the age-old question of how best to parent is the main cause.

“Maybe it’s because we don’t have an answer to what good parenting should be, and that is why when someone presents a formula you’re going to get some that say, ‘Yes, that’s it,’ and others that say ‘No, that’s not,’ hence the controversy,” Alonzo said.