The Tiger Mom and Eagle Dad
My mother has always loved literature. She spends much of her time poring over the works of great Chinese poets and philosophers. She planted in me a deep appreciation for expression through writing.
I used to ask my mom all the time why she didn’t become a writer. She could only smile sadly at me, explaining that back then, that wasn’t an option for her.
When she was a child, China was the poorest it had ever been, and a majority of the population, including my mom’s family, were deep in poverty. Only children from affluent families could afford to study arts and humanities, since not many stable careers were offered then. She was one of the very few girls from her village to even go to school. She studied because her life, as well as her mother and sister’s lives, depended on it.
After beating all odds through hard work and dedication, my mother was able to immigrate to the US and begin working as an engineer. As much as she loved writing, she gave up her dreams for the sake of a foreseeable future. Because of my mother and father’s sacrifices, I could start my life with more freedom and opportunity than they ever had in their past forty years.
My parents’ story is shared by hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants as well, who come to the USA for a better life and for their children. However, the cultural and familial pressure that they had to bear often comes back later on in life for the individuals.
I’ve encountered the same stereotypical analysis of Asian parents - the tiger mother or the eagle father, who push their children to partake in academic activities regardless of whether the kids themselves want to or not. This could be the result of the cultural and familial pressure Asian immigrants experienced in order to come to the U.S. - if relentless study was what brought them success, they’re likely to hold their children to the same expectations.
In eighth grade, when I enrolled in an academically focused private school in a new area, I finally found myself surrounded by a diverse group of peers, some of whom looked just like I did, with parents that fit some of the stereotype. But I still felt lost, like I didn’t belong amongst the amazing Asian scholars with extremely strict households; I didn’t participate in math competitions, and I had never played at Carnegie Hall. I frustratedly wondered why my parents didn't push me to do all these things. Was it because I wasn’t good enough, or didn’t have enough potential to amount to anything?
But I soon realized that it was none of those things - in fact, it was quite the opposite. Given freedom to explore what made me passionate helped me to discover my love for artistic expression and activism. The more time I spent dedicated to what I loved - writing poems, making short films, studying psychology - the more I became confident in who I was. Then in ninth grade, I moved to a performing arts school in Los Angeles, and took up an internship at the ACLU. My world expanded. Encountering creatives and visionaries with deep passion made me realize the importance of my freedom to choose who I want to be. I had finally broken through the self-doubt and confusion that was holding me back, and stepped in the sunlight, where I could thrive without fear.
Even now, I often have people ask me if the pushy Asian parent stereotype still stands, or if their past makes me feel pressured to pursue certain paths rather than others. But again, for me it is quite the opposite - because of my mother and father’s sacrifices, I could start my life with more opportunity than they ever had in the past forty years. It would be a dishonor to give up my dreams when they have given me the freedom to reach for them.
My Los Angeles
My precious city.
Buildings that spring like bamboo shoots, a sun of great compassion, and of great wrath, because it still manages to burn through the exhaust clouds and contamination to bake my skin a deeper yellow and almost set my black hair on fire in the summers.
My Los Angeles, full of sound and silence. The deep, ancient echo of the buddhist temple’s ringing bells that whisper to me their secrets if only you’re willing to listen.