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An Asian American artist’s response to Amy Chua’s article

As an Asian American, Amy Chua’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal about why Chinese mothers are ‘superior’ made me want to punch a wall. My parents, in an attempt to be balanced, wavered between Chua’s draconian methods and more moderate ‘western’ methods, and I am thankful, because if they had forbidden me from being in the school play or refused to let me play guitar, I would have literally committed suicide or run away.

This is not hyperbole, it’s the honest to god truth. Chua seems to believe that children are empty vessels or completely mindless pieces of clay to be moulded in her own image of ‘succesful person.’ In any case, I have always known I wanted to be an artist and play rock music. My parents could not have beat it out of me, and thankfully they didn’t try very hard to do that.

I don’t understand the Asian American parent’s conviction that violin, cello, and piano are the only instruments worth playing. I don’t understand the Asian American parent’s disdain for the arts, with classical music being only a means to attain prestige, not a means of self-expression. Of course, I’m speaking in stereotypes because Chua’s original article also speaks in stereotypes. But there are bits of truth in what she is saying.

I’m lucky that even though my parents mildly tried to dissuade me from pursuing art as a career, they never outright forbade me from doing so, and now that I am actually doing just that, they have been incredibly supportive. All I can say is that I’m terrible at math, there was never a possibility that I would have become a doctor or lawyer or investment banker, and had I been a scientist, I would have gone into paleontology or something like that, not exactly where the money is.

My moment of validation came with the economic crash of 2008. Many of the children of my parents’ friends, who were to varying degrees raised in the way Chua describes, lost their investment banker jobs. They had done everything by the book, going to Yale and Columbia and such, getting prestigious jobs, getting married, having kids, getting mortgages, and then the crash hit, and they were devastated with massive obligations hanging over their heads. A good many of them probably questioned what the hell they were doing with their lives.

One of them went into business for herself, inventing a line of patented shoe liners (sounds lame, but she’s doing it on her own terms, and that’s rad). I myself lost a few freelance publishing gigs during the crash that were decent jobs, but they weren’t exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It was like a kick in the ass getting me to take more control and be more steadfast in the pursuit of my own interests.

I know being able to choose your own path can be a privilege, but that’s precisely why I felt obligated to do so. So many other people can’t choose what they do with their lives. I am so thankful I never followed the path that my parents tried to nudge me towards, and I am glad they didn’t nudge too hard. Don’t get me wrong, I know raising children is difficult, and there is such a thing as being too lax as a parent, but Chua is an extremist in one direction, and sometimes, being a kid is also pretty difficult.

I am glad that people like Andrew Liang, C. Spencer Yeh, Randy Yau, Dustin Wong, Bonnie Jones, Nam June Paik, Li-Young Lee, David Choe, Margaret Cho, and the countless Asian American artists, poets, actors, chefs, musicians, writers, and dreamers past and present weren’t raised in the way Chua advocates, or if they were, I’m glad they made it through and have contributed their voices to the world, despite people like Chua trying to bully their children into bland passivity.

I earn just enough these days to pay rent, eat the way I want (I am no longer on food stamps some of you might be interested to know, although I still legally qualify), and take a Bolt Bus up to NY every once in a while for band practice or to see my parents. I have shit credit and I can’t afford to buy stuff on the most part, but I am truly happy.

I am surrounded by great, passionate people. I get to tour with my band, I get to travel. I feel secure and safe, I have no stuff, no mortgages, no bloated standard of living, no children to worry about, so I don’t have much to lose.

I am doing what I want with my life, I can draw and make music whether I’m living in a shack or couch-surfing around the country, and luckily I didn’t go to grad school, so I don’t have much debt. I have a great sister, amazing friends, and yes, wonderful parents. Chua may see me as a loser, but I really am the most successful guy in the world.