To the Editor:
Reading Katherine Zhang’s column (“On the pitfalls of Asian parenting,” 11/02) reminded me of a classmate I had in section. Every week, he made sweeping generalizations based upon his interactions with one minority in one homeless shelter in one zip code for one summer — when the class examined poverty spanning five generations across the nation. Any attempt to refute such a half-baked argument devoid of objectivity would have only fed a vicious cycle of ad hominem debate.
Thus, I question the logic used by a writer who, in the first paragraph, claims to have no experience in the field she judges, yet is nonetheless well-equipped to understand the “disadvantages of a traditional Asian-American immigrant upbringing” by mere exposure.
First, “Asian” is a misnomer for a behavioral practice which would more likely reflect an immigrant phenomenon. Survival — another possible definition of success — is key for the acclimation of many immigrants to a new environment. When this environment promotes the pursuit of wealth as readily as it does happiness, it is practical for some parents to push for career tracks offering better guarantees for survival — especially when financial security is the most tangible gauge of success.
Narrowly attributing this behavior to Asians too easily brings in a racial factor and, even when assuming the writer’s usage of “Asian” signifies “East Asian” alone, haphazardly lumps disparate cultures into one category. Perhaps the writer should refer to a census instead of “Joy Luck Club” material, and compare the percentage of second generation Asian Americans with two-plus degrees versus their third generation counterparts — then look at the composition within those numbers of Chinese and Korean Americans versus Japanese Americans over time. The story of Zhang’s mother’s friend’s daughter is a symptom of an individual parenting technique, not a symptom of the daughter simply being Asian. And stating the extremely obvious, there are bound to be as many science-loving pre-med Asian American students as there are non-Asian ones.
Second, the writer’s inability to wholly define terminology prior to assessment both undermines her integrity as a columnist and highlights her oblivion to history. Zhang’s ethnic heritage and proximity to other Asians does not grant her license to loosely throw around phrases, like “traditional Asian parent” and “Asian model,” that carry a wide range of possible connotations.
Many more flaws exist regarding the writer’s assumptions about parenting, a child’s cognitive ability, and the American freedom to culturally assimilate. Those academic discussions aside, the column’s extrapolative nature and absence of concrete evidence prevent a legitimate discussion of the pitfalls of Asian parenting.
Sharon Moon Hwang ’04
Nov. 2, 2005