Things People Say About Asian Parents

I was sitting in the stands at a kids’ sporting event the other day when I overhead bits of a conversation between some other parents:

“That school is too competitive. All they care about is grades.”

“They don’t do well in football. Ping-pong or chess, maybe!”

“Even in preschool, they teach Chinese. We don’t need that.”

Those remarks caught me off-guard. It was a weekend, and I just wanted to relax and watch my son’s game. At the moment, I didn’t know what to say, but I can tell you that I felt distinctly uncomfortable.

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I live in Silicon Valley, or as old-timers like to call it, the Santa Clara Valley. Having spent most of my life here, in many ways I’m a local, too. I remember when there were more apricot orchards than Apple employees, and I’m saddened that the cost of living has made it too expensive for many long-time residents to stay here.

If I were a Tiger Mother, would that make me any less deserving of basic human courtesy?

We Asian Americans are not a monolithic group, and I don’t subscribe to the kind of parenting philosophies made famous by Amy Chua. I’m saddened that many of the “good” schools have become hotbeds of pressure cooker academics where teen suicide is all too common. I’m sure the Bay Area isn’t the only place where this is happening. It could be LA’s San Gabriel Valley or Flushing, Queens in New York.

But because of the way I look (hello, I’m Asian!), I also feel the ire of people who assume I’m a Tiger Mother. And if I were a Tiger Mother, would that make me any less deserving of basic human courtesy? I am rankled by how these comments have a thinly veiled racial aspect to them. In Silicon Valley, talking about a school as “overly academic” amounts to code words for “overly Asian.” These comments amount to what are often called microaggressions in racial discourse: passive-aggressive, or even humorous, statements that can be retracted or back-pedaled if the person is confronted about it. “Not like you” or “Hey, it’s just a joke. Chill out!”

These conversations put me between a rock and a hard place. In my casual interactions with other parents, I don’t go looking for confrontation. I want to keep the focus on my kids and their activities. Usually the people who make these comments aren’t close friends, but they are acquaintances in such a way that I’ll run into them at another game or birthday party or school fundraiser. They are generally upstanding citizens — hardly the kind of hooded monsters the word “racist” conjures up. Even nice people can have biases, whether they are intentional or not.

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When it comes to our kids’ education, it’s natural for parents to have strong opinions — especially when they are concerned about changes. But can we have these discussions in a way that is respectful and conducive to dialogue?

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