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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
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?
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.
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?