We are not that kind of Asian Daughter. And though we are trying to figure out how to be daughters on our own terms, we struggle daily under the weight of our prescribed daughterly duties. Our families haunt us. In every decision, every choice, every feeling. We wrestle with whether to tell them anything (good or bad) about our lives because they’ll find some way to criticize, some way to tell us we are not enough. Sometimes, when we think we can handle it, we agree to spend time with them. We have weekly meals with them. We may even give them the gigantic wedding of their dreams for all their friends to admire. At times, we may even allow them to parent us. But at the most unbearable times, the times when they demand too much, expect too much, and give too little, we have been – and have to be – ready to say no, to threaten back, even to abandon them. Because we refuse to give up our selves under the threat of disapproval or disownment. Their parenting, their ways of loving, we find unsustainable.
Asian American parenting has become uncomfortably hyper-visible this past week. Amy Chua’s provocative piece on her parenting practices actually has very little to say that is worth very much though. Her facts are wrong. Her assumptions pretty ignorant. Her “philosophy” and suggestions thoughtless, with remarkably little reflection on the deeper reasons why she does what she does and the very disturbing implications of what she does. But what she says matters, not because she is right or her ideas have any merit, but because her actions and beliefs reveal a dimension of the startling horror that can be Asian American life.
What is scary is that this is a reflection of Asian American parental love. Love wrought out of conditions of institutional racism, war and empire, colonialism and capitalism – a world that steals dignity, displaces entire populations across the world, necessitates desperate strategies of survival, and demands too much sacrifice from those who already have so little. Living under such conditions, we are left with this translation of love – the meticulous management of our personhoods, through regimented time, through endless criticism, through power and domination. All to prepare us to live and “succeed” in a world laden with these deathly conditions.
But Ask a Model Minority Suicide is right: the stakes for this kind of game, this kind of investment, this kind of love, are really high. Sometimes people jump off bridges. Sometimes things die.
We could not ask ourselves to die. We could not discipline ourselves into what is necessary to “succeed” in this world. And we could not ask others to die, their bodies – poor, migrant, brown, criminalized, othered – forming the ladder for our climb to perfection, to the upper-middle class, to capitalist wealth and success, to whiteness. Because we now know the kinds of death that are required in this process of creating perfect model minorities. So it has become an impossible path.
We refuse to be loved in this way and to love in this way. If this is our way of loving, then our lives and our children’s lives are deeply impoverished. We must hope our imaginations help us to find other ways of loving and living. Because all our lives depend on it.