For many years, I likened being raised by my Asian Tiger mom as being raised in a prison—a beautiful one where the warden allows you to pick out the interior but the warden gets the final say of what that prison looks like, what your schedule looks like and what you get to do within those prison walls. While you are able to pick out the color of your walls, the bedspread, your clothes, if you wanted to explore out of the prison walls, there’s an electric fence that shocks you back into the prison, back into submission– a desensitivity training so to speak. And if your soul isn’t strong enough, you crack, develop bad habits or you end up in the psyche ward.
Fast forward to COVID-19, one where we individually and collectively are on constant lock-down and are expected (voluntarily) to submit to the ‘prison’ of our homes and surrounding areas, probably for the next few years to safe. Thank you to all the tiger mothers and fathers out there for rearing us the way that you did.
While other children were being coddled, looked after and had more free time than we did, growing up you had us on a strict regime, one that would be fit for a soldier in military camp. Yes, we might have moaned to our friends and loved ones about being dragged from our advanced placement classes, to our piano or violin lessons to our Chinese lessons and to all our other extracurricular activities and having to study 2-3 hours each night to get our straight A’s so that we didn’t embarrass you. But that dedication, rigor and structure you provided is helping us to keep us on a routine, one where we don’t have to think or pay attention because we know we have to adhere to a fixed schedule.
Thank you for raising us in an environment where a disapproving stare was actually a form of love, a judgmental look of disdain helped us to quickly get back in line, and a harsh word with a form of advice really meant you loved us. We know that it was your duty to see us succeed and become self-sufficient in the world. It has helped us to constantly realize that we need to do better, to perform better than the rest and provides us with the motivation that we need in spite of the uncertainty and negativity of our US environment—one where the news blares the increasing COVID-19 numbers rising, where each individual state’s governors are trying to instill order for their states and the world looks at us in horror.
If you didn’t want you us to succeed, you wouldn’t have found the time to criticize us in the first place. You were in the process of preparing us for a functioning role in society with financial and commercial success in society. And as a result, we are not staring at the TV waiting for the numbers to change in horror, looking at the stock market rise and fall , or the unemployment numbers rise. Instead, it’s like a light bulb turned on, “Wait! This is familiar to me. All of you can fail but we’re not going to. In fact, we thrive during difficult times and make the most of anything, regardless of what people say of us.” Instead we ask our brethren, “how much did you make in the stock market?” “Did you get an increase in pay? “haven’t you gotten funded by your start-up yet?” We’re pushing ourselves and each other to succeed.
Thank you for making us perform for the aunties. While the pressure to perform was immense, we know that we were walking billboards of how much was spent on music, athletics, arts, linguistics and sciences—our performances and our grades of straight A’s a testament our parents dedication to our success and an indicator of how rich our parents were. You knew that we could subsist in the Asian way and that we would become functioning adults when we got older. You knew that keeping on our performances would always get us through life.
Thank you for instilling in us that Asian guilt, one that we’ve ridiculed or tried to not feel so many times. It has been so necessary during this time. It’s that guilt that allows us to feel empathy to others during this time—ones that lost their jobs, ones that can’t seem to figure out how to pivot to be self-sufficient, ones that are paralyzed with fear, after almost 5 months of lock-down. That Asian guilt—that sinking feeling that tugs at your heart strings because you aren’t doing something that meets your or the Aunties’ approval and makes you do something you don’t want to do—has helped us helps us show up in this world to be functioning adults, to find creativity and do what is necessary to feed our children, and to come up with strategies so that we’re living a really good life on the other side.
I am doing well during this time, and I have talked with my other fellow Asian Americans reared by their Tiger parents. They also are not letting COVID- 19 stop them from success. My esthetician, a Tiger-parented child, developed an online wellness course with her friend, another Tiger-parented child, to keep both of them positive, focused and motivated. As an added benefit, it helps others too and most importantly to keep food on the table. What’s inspiring is that she and her friend are thinking and actually creating other ways of making money—offering wellness products, beauty products and more in her online store. My acupuncturist, another Asian Tiger-reared cub, created virtual office hours to cover wellness routines with her clients during lock-down and finished a book that will be publishing shortly. I have talked with others who have focused on work, their home life and it was business as usual.
So this tribute is to all you Tiger parents out there. You gave us the work ethic, the rigorousness, the mindset, drive and skills to pull off being successful. And while embarrassment for failing plays a role in us thriving and that we’ll be the gossip of all our family, we’re doing well now compared to the rest of the US population and it’s all thanks to you.
The self-declared spokesperson for all Tiger Cubs out there