Growing up Chinese

One of my Chinese friends asked me to help her write an article about a story she read and how her life related. I don’t generally write other people’s stories as they are not mine to share, I usually only share my own tales and opinions. However, if a friend asks me to, and is willing to share their stories, then I’m willing to help write them. You’ll remember I shared a series of Chinese stories from a good friend a few years ago.

This new piece is from the perspective of a middle-aged Chinese woman and what it was like growing up as a Chinese kid in the 70s and 80s. She shares her story while also commenting on Amy Tan’s short story, “Two kinds.” Her story follows…

Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds” illustrates a reality I know quite well, how our Asian parents put constant pressure on us to be the best at what they have deemed important.

Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds” displays a reality I personally know quite well. My opinion on this matter being that Asian parents tend to be overachievers and put constant pressure on their children to be the best at what the parents themselves have deemed important.

The story talks about a mother who is constantly comparing her child to another, trying to mirror her child to another and these things are just not right. It can hurt and damage an already fragile mind. This abusive behavior can cause lifelong self-esteem issues as well as other mental health problems.

When parents insist on parading their children around like little trophies while trying to outdo one another, forcing this ridiculous competition upon them, the children simply don’t get to be children. They cannot form the bonds and friendships that may have otherwise been made. Instead of bitter rivals these kids could have been lifelong best friends, if only they had not been forced to fight each other and compete for their parents to accept them.

I believe this pressure Asian parents put on their children can and in many cases does have quite troubling results with the child at hand. Point in case, I have read that in China there is a huge rate of suicide. Though the causes of these suicides range from social, financial and age pressures, there are a significant number who end their own lives in large part due to unrealistic expectations and pressures that these children and young adults are exposed to. This isn’t some new phenomena, here is a Guardian article from 2005 that talks about this same topic.

I believe that women are put under more pressure than men. On the one hand they expect us to be the perfect housewife so that a “good man” would want to marry us, while on the other hand they want us to be perfect at some skill like the violin. Historically, us women were simply expected to be a good wife and get married off, now we are expected to be that, but also able to work and excel in a career.

All this puts young women under immense pressure. She has to be perfect, beautiful, and able to please her man. I recall reading a book where the woman was simply bred to be a wife. Men wanted to have sons and a woman was viewed as another mouth to feed, an expensive burden to be had until she could be of service to another man and thus become their mouth to feed.

That itself puts the young woman under pressure. She has to be perfect, beautiful, and able to please the man. I recall reading a book where the woman was simply bred to be able to be a wife. Men wanted to have sons, and a woman was viewed as another mouth to feed, an expensive burden to be had until she could be of service to another man and thus become there mouth to feed.

I believe that in certain rural areas of Asia where technological and other forms of advancements have yet to arrive, women are still living under these conditions. It seems that a large portion of these suicides also stem from women falling in this category.

There are two sides to every story. In Two Kinds we are not given a clear history of Amy’s mother. We do not know what she was exposed to, how exactly she came to make it to America. We are given a mere glimpse into her past stating that she came here upon losing everything.

There are two sides to every story. In Two Kinds we are not given a clear history of Amy’s mother. We do not know what she was exposed to, how exactly she came to make it to America. We are given a mere glimpse into her past stating that she came here upon losing everything.

Though it is not my intention to justify the behavior of these parents, one can review their past to try and understand what makes them be this way. Allow me to call upon my own personal stories to attempt shedding light on this.

Though my family story differs from Amy’s, we do share similarities, similarities that you will find in many Asian households here in America and across the globe. The common thread is one that is not only shared by Asians, but by most people that come to America. We came here because we wanted a better life for our family.

Growing up I was pressured to do well. Chinese people (as do many foreigners to this country) believe that in America you have all the opportunities in the world available if you are willing to work for them. It baffles our people to see so many Americans homeless, living off of the Government and simply not “making it.” Hard work, dedication and sacrifice is all that it takes to make it in America. Americans are just unable to appreciate this. But Asians understand, they come here and after a generation or 2 they have doctors in the family.

Growing up I was pressured to do well. Chinese people believe that in America you have all the opportunities in the world available if you are willing to work for it. It baffles our people to see so many Americans homeless, living off of the Government and simply not making it. Hard work, dedication and sacrifice are all it takes to make it in America. Some Americans simply are just unable to appreciate this. But Asians understand, and they come here and after a generation or 2 they have doctors and lawyers in the family and so on.

My pressure was less centralized, unlike Amy I wasn’t expected to be a prodigy in any given area. My mother did not force me to sing or cut my hair like Shirley Temple. My mother simply wanted me to focus on and excel in my studies. A childhood lesson that still influences me as can be seen by the fact that I am in school now as an older adult.

In “Two Kinds” we have her mother and father present at Amy’s piano recital, in addition to many of their peers. This not only subjects Amy to the pressure of performing for her family, but she is also being scrutinized and subjected to approval from the whole community. An unfortunate side effect that Asian families often bring on themselves.

Which brings up an interesting point. It’s not only parents that pressure the children, but society pressures the parents as well. What we see in Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” is merely a subset of the whole. Bear in mind, it’s not only Chinese people, but Korean, Japanese, Indian, and so on. This is not only an Asian thing, but we sure do it well! Western families also pressure children and young adults, but it’s not anywhere as rigid and stern as it is in an Asian household.

I attended a Korean child’s first birthday party, and at that very tender age, even the games parents setup for the child to play involve power, status, success and money. There is one game where the child is setup at one spot, then a few crawling paces away from the child are little gadgets that represent something for their future. The child is coaxed and guided towards the symbols, then depending on what gadget they choose, it represents what they will have in life. And this starts before the child even understands what any of these things mean. From that very young age the child begins to experience societal pressures and judgements.

If the child chooses an object not in line with the family, it’s not a good thing. If they choose “wealth” then they are praised. Let me remind you, this all happens t a 1 year old child. Its a game of course, but many people are watching and judging this “game.” The pressure begins so early in our culture.

In “Two Kinds” Amy Tan is obviously older than this 1-year-old child, and she has the sense to understand right and wrong. These terms both being relative of course. Amy understood that rebelling was “wrong”, but she opted to not comply with her parents’ pressures.

She attended her piano classes, but she didn’t try to learn past the basics. Knowing her teacher could not hear she probably felt that she could mess around and never get caught.

The main reason my mother pressured me to do well in school was so that I could have a better life. She struggled and worked very hard to get food on the table. She didn’t want that for me.

During the 1960-1970s, before I was born, my mother would have to wake up at 3am in the morning. She would then walk about 10 miles (2 hours walking) while carrying a long stick on her shoulder. On the stick there was a basket in front and behind her. Inside each basket were heavy tools to cut crops.

Besides starting her morning so early and walking so far, she was forced to be in the 100-degree beaming sun and in the hot stream water for many hours cutting crops. Then she needed to head back home and cook for her family. After she was done cutting crops, mom would head home with the same baskets on a stick. Now the baskets would include some of the cut crops weigh about 110 pounds. She would have to hurry home before the sunset. This was a long day, but her work was not done yet. Then she would have to dry the crops in the remaining sunlight, refine it in a stone machine and then cook it for the family.

In addition to carrying the crops, my mother would also carry stone & bricks in her basket weighing up to 120 pounds to construction sites. Eventually, mom shortened her travel time when she learned how to ride a bicycle. There weren’t any machines back then and these were the only ways to make a living. Even my sister had to start farming when she was about 7-10 yrs old. It was a very difficult life back in China for my family.

When we first arrived in America, my parents would struggle to earn a living by working in factories. My mom would saw fabric together to make a lousy 10 cents per fabric. My father would sew buttons on for just as little pay. Eventually they had enough money to open up a Chinese takeout restaurant.

The health insurance in China is not as good as America, fortunately my mother came to America and was able to monitor her health or else she may not be with me today. It could be because she has worked so hard that she became unhealthy.

I remember my mom preventing me from going out when I was around 12yrs old because she was afraid that I would hang out with bad people and become influenced by them. She would lock the front door and hide the key. We lived on the first floor of a not very good neighborhood, so the windows had gates and locked up. There was no way out at all. Never mind the fire hazard, she thought this way I would concentrate and focus on my schoolwork instead of consistently thinking of going out.

Living in NYC I have been exposed to many different types of people and lifestyles. I have met Spanish people, Black people, Indian people, White people and a wide array of people from many other cultures. I have also been exposed to a number of different Asian cultures as well. We are a new generation, and though we try to be different from our parents, you can still see those tough lessons come forth on occasion. I know that our parents have always wanted the best of us, and I appreciate that. But I do hope that I keep the great qualities of my parents while dropping the not-so-great qualities of that older generation.

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