A foreign accent is a sign of bravery

Only one week after our blog-turned-book, My Mom is a Fob, had come out, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother took the world by storm, raising controversy and quickly scaling Amazon’s rankings to #1 — her favorite number. The day I had my book signing at Book Passage in San Francisco, she was addressing a crowd at Berkeley (no wonder the media was absent at my event).

The more I hear about Chua and tiger mothers, the less I want to comment on extreme Asian parenting being “right” or “wrong” (except I’ve actually read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother from cover-to-cover — and quite enjoyed it); and while many people have asked me to write a “rebuttal” post, I can’t help but draw numerous parallels between the two non-fiction books (both published by Penguin publishers). Both quote the ridiculous things Asian mothers say to their children; both demonstrate a clash of eastern values and western upbringing; both exhibit our parents’ obsessive compulsive tendencies for excellence and perfection; and despite the brutal honesty and bubbling pressure, both unveil the underlying love our parents feel towards us, through their endless sacrifices.

The catch-22? Chua must despise and look down upon me with disgust (just as she looks down upon anyone who plays guitar instead of violin, enjoys bowling instead of tennis, and studies at a non-ivy league school), since she writes in her book what she once said to her daughters:

“Never ever make fun of foreign accents,” I’ve exhorted them on many occasions. “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country. My parents had accents—I had an accent. I was thrown into nursery school not speaking a word of English. Even in third grade, classmates made fun of me. Do you know where those people are now? They’re janitors, that’s where…” (Chua, 86).

Now I just hope that people can see how our book exudes bravery — bravery in the form of fobby wisdom, light-hearted humor, tough love, and eventual understanding. Bravery manifested through the fact that our generation has redefined the once-derogatory term “F.O.B.” and fully embraced (not diluted) our cultural differences. Bravery shown through so many people who can share their personal stories with an increasingly critical (yet sometimes callous) world online — with pride. Chua speaks against provincialism; only truly open-minded Americans can understand how My Mom is a Fob stands up for our first-generation moms with confidence. The last chapter of our book is titled “Why we still love them” — please give it a shot.

To quote a paragraph I’ve written in the book:

“…The overarching story to be told is that of our immigrant parents raising us, the first generation, in a world apart from theirs where cultural and language barriers make day-to-day communication a challenge and mutual understanding a lifelong learning process. My mom’s efforts do not go unnoticed nor do I feel alone in my experiences. At some point, you’ll probably think to yourself, ‘My mom does that, too,’ and we’ll have accomplished something meaningful: showing you that there is nothing to be embarrassed or frustrated about. We are all embracing a fobby generation together—with a bit of patience and a lot of laughter.”

Without any cause and effect, the kid who made fun of my accent in grade school went on to Harvard. None of us turned out to be janitors.