Amy Chua, is back with her latest book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. The book has been criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes, with the The Guardian claiming “The fact that Chua and Rubenfeld belong to two of the eight groups focused on gives them license to make the sort of statements other authors would shy away from”. Chua rightfully has hit back at allegations that her new book is racist, claiming that most critics have not even read the work.
Chua, who was born in Illinois to Chinese parents, wrote The Triple Package with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, a fellow law professor at Yale. What Chua and Rubenfeld argue is that a “triple package” of a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control is what promotes the upward mobility of a group of people.
The book focuses on eight communities considered to be outperforming others in the US: Lebanese, Nigerian, Iranian, Indian, Cuban and Chinese immigrants, as well as Jews and Mormons.
The Triple Package isolates three qualities shared by the communities: the sense of being exceptional or feeling superior, having insecurity, and impulse control. The theories proved that the outperformance was “not genetic, it’s not racial and not biological”, Rubenfeld said. “It shows something is going on in the families and the cultures of the second generation kids.”
ASIANS and Asian-Americans constitute more than 50% of the students at America’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and 19% at Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities; and Indian Americans have the highest median household income of any ethnic group in the United States.
These and other similar statistics, as provided by the authors of the Triple Package, are the basis of this book, which attempts to discover why certain ethnic groups are more successful in specific aspects of American life. Why are so many Mormons prominent businessmen? Why are there so many Nobel prize winners who are Jews? Why are there more Chinese and Korean classical musicians?
Overall, Triple Package is an interesting read, offering a mix of history, academic studies and anecdotal evidence.
Ms. Chua kindly chatted with us from across the pond and she was as lovely as can be!
It turns out that it’s just not true that Asian Americans have a higher rate of suicide. They actually have a much lower suicide rate.
ASIANCE: Did you think you were going to get the reaction that people thought your book was racist? How do you prepare for people’s negative reactions?
Amy: It is really hard. My first reaction is that I feel horrible and depressed. Sometimes I feel, “What did I do wrong?”
I guess it’s something about the way my parents’ raised me or my personality but after a few hours I start to think, “This is ridiculous!” If Asian Americans are worried about exploding the model minority stereotype and if I have something that is important and interesting to say, I’m not going to stop myself from doing it because I think someone will be angry with me. That would be the ultimate reinforcement of the model minority stereotype. You are too meek to stand up for what you believe. You just go along with what other people say. I worked really hard at these ideas and I put in a huge amount of research. I’d like to think that I found new ways of looking at things that are sometimes run against conventional wisdom.
It is kind of painful when the blow back comes. It’s always “OUCH!” I don’t know if I can handle this or I’m getting too old for this (laughs).
It’s important to really be strong and have a loud voice if you want to get conversation going and start changing the way people think about things.
ASIANCE: Did you know that you were going to be such a culture icon such as “Tiger Mom”?
Amy: No! (laughs) I chose the term Tiger Mom simply because I was born in the Year of the Tiger. It was supposed to be funny. Tiger’s are brave and loyal and rash.. I’m a little rash (laughs). My children thought no one would be interested in my memoir. They said, “No one is going to care. You are not a famous person!” The fact that it took off like that, was just nuts! Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a coffee shop and people will be referring to the term and they’re not even Asian. It’s surreal experience. I like owning things! I stand by it.
ASIANCE: Maybe with the rise of China and China being so popular, it piqued people’s interest?
Amy: That absolutely had something to do with it. My friend said that had it been a Romanian mother or an Irish mother, it might not have had the same reaction. I just hit that crazy nerve.
ASIANCE: It was perfect timing!
Amy: That depends on the way you look at it (laughs)
ASIANCE: Bad publicity is good publicity?
Amy: That part I like. I’m honored to have a platform, but what’s frustrating is I don’t know how to handle the power of the internet and social media. There will be something quoted about me that’s absolutely not true (like I think some groups are superior) and it will be Retweeted 2 million times! That part is very hard to deal with. I feel like if I work hard, I can manage this. I feel totally out of control with some part of the message that is out there. Even with this new book, I feel a pretty big frustration of this book being characterized in a way that is almost the complete opposite from what is meant it to be.
Chapters 5 & 6 are important. It includes the pluses and the minuses of certain traditional Asian parenting methods. For example, the suicide statistics. It turns out that it’s just not true that Asian Americans have a higher rate of suicide. They actually have a much lower suicide rate. Even when you get to the 15-24 year old women, it narrows to the national average. That surprised me! The American Psychiatric Association says that. It’s just interesting the power of the media and the message that is out there. These are US government stats! I double checked and thought, “Am I getting something wrong here?” but it’s true!
I actually think this could be a good moment for the United States. Everyone still wants to come here! I’m with America! When the immigrants come to America, that is when they hit the home run!
ASIANCE: You are friends with Wendi Deng. Would you say she’s a Chinese Tiger Mom?
Amy: We met after the whole wall street journal headline (Chua became an overnight celebrity in 2011 when The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of her Tiger Mother book under the headline “Why Chinese mothers are superior”). So many people have been so mean to me and she’s always been so nice. I love her two daughters. She’s someone I really like.
My definition of it is not the same definition for others. To me a Tiger Mom is someone who has high expectations for their child, yet still loves their child and will sacrifice anything for them. For me, it’s a favorable term.
I do see her as a form of Tiger Mom. I think it’s been hard for her. When you’re in a very privileged context, it’s very hard not to raise spoiled kids. It’s very important for her to raise kids that are very respectful and moral. I would say she is in the best possible way.
ASIANCE: How do you know when you’ve pushed your child too hard?
Amy: Oh yes! For me, I have so many regrets but in the end, if I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing. I wish that I would have understood with Lulu a little better, when she was between the ages of 13 through 17, that it really had nothing to do with me. I was really about being a teenager. If she would come home and I would say, “ok time to study for the math final”. She would say, “Get out!” I think my regret, was that I didn’t realize it was part of being an adolescent. I have gotten much better with that!
I think the best kind of strict parent has to be a great listener. There are studies that show if you put all these expectations on your children but don’t explain why, it creates all this anger and disappointment and depression. Every time I expect something of my children, I explain why. I feel like as soon as you’re losing touch and you can’t communicate anymore, I think that’s a signal to pullback or reverse course.
ASIANCE: What did your parents do when raising you that you absolutely wouldn’t do in your family?
Amy: Surprisingly, it was the social aspect of it. We actually don’t do corporal punishment because my husband comes from traditional background and that was his contribution. What I really wouldn’t do is make the rules so strict, that the children have to lie to you! That was the one thing. If my mom would just let me go to this party that goes to 11pm, then I wouldn’t have to tell her I’m going to the library. And I did some dangerous things, like getting in someone’s car.
On the academic front, I’m tougher because my children are more spoiled. I’m true to my stereotype on the school front. My husband will say, “Wow this is so creative!” and I’ll say, “Oh this is so disorganized”. When they get the paper back and they get all these comments, I’ll feel gratified.
ASIANCE: I’m sure you’re daughters will appreciate you when they’re older
Amy: I’m a very social person and I do believe you need to enjoy life. I like having students over and I’m very social. Life isn’t worth living if you’re just working all the time and deferring gratification all the time so that you never get the gratification..Work hard all day and then go out with your friends for drinks. Hopefully they get some balance and feel good about themselves and have a reason to celebrate.
ASIANCE: What do you see for the future of America?
Amy: I see my book as something optimistic. I think America is the most resilient country on the planet. Even some of this terrible anger against me with what I write, I feel if people are that angry, it’s bugging them. They know at some level that something might be a little bit off. I feel like there are some things recently, like our test scores aren’t so good, the rise of China, we didn’t do that well in the wars we were in and America has almost done best when it has to prove herself.
Sometimes when you become a hyper power and you’re unrivaled you can become a little complacent. I actually think this could be a good moment for the United States. Everyone still wants to come here! I’m with America! When the immigrants come to America, that is when they hit the home run! It’s almost like people from other countries believe in America more than we believe in her.
ASIANCE: Give us girls 3 pieces of advice to women in American. What 3 pieces of advice would you give us?
Amy: Find a significant other who finds your sense of humor. I think laughter is the key to good parenting and good relationships because there are a lot of rocky times. Make time for that laughter because that fixes things.
Never don’t do something out of fear. The things that have ended up being important to me are the things I almost backed out of! Or even some of these television shows, I just bite the bullet and I’m always glad I did it.
When you’re feeling really bad, try to look really good. When I feel like the whole world is angry with me, what I really want to do is to get into sweatpants, crawl into bed and not shower for three days. I’ve always thought no, that’s only going to contribute to a negative self image.