How to Raise Asian-American Children

By Dyske    May 15th, 2011

My Kid

My kid

The short answer is: I don’t really know. I don’t think anyone knows. So we need to make our best guesses, and that is what I would like to do below. Let me divide us Asian-American parents into two schools of thought. One school believes that we should teach our children whatever we know about our Asian heritage, which includes language, culture, values, customs, etc.. The other school believes that we should do our best to raise our children as Americans. Naturally, there are a lot of people who fall somewhere between the two extremes. Let’s call the first school, “bi-cultural school” and the latter “assimilation school”.

Statistically I’m not sure which school is more popular, but my own anecdotal evidence suggests that bi-cultural school is significantly more popular, at least among the first generation (immigrant) Japanese parents. My daughter attends a public school here in New York City and there are many Japanese parents. I’m one of the few parents who does not send their kids to Japanese schools on weekends, and I may be the only parent who does not teach Japanese to his child. Even my own parents are baffled by the fact that I do not. If my family was living in Japan, I would certainly teach my child English. The reason why I don’t teach my child Japanese has to do with the specific time in history and the context that my child will grow up in. Needless to say, I’m in the assimilation school.

Last week, New York Magazine published a thought-provoking article entitled “Paper Tigers – What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends?” The article meticulously analyzes what Asian-Americans experience in this country. The author, Wesley Yang, is a second generation Asian-American, and I do not believe he has a child. He writes from a point of view of a child and a victim. If he were a parent, he could not be so one-sided, since he would be partly responsible for what his children experience in the world. Although he covers a wide range of issues, parenting is left out.

Towards the end of the article, Yang reveals his own opinions of how Asian-Americans should behave in this country. He suggests that we behave more like the Americans. We shouldn’t be shy about getting (or demanding) what we want, but at the same time he suggests we should not do so by assimilating into the white-dominant culture, i.e., what white people find pleasant, comfortable, desirable, or appropriate.

For instance, he suggests we become more entrepreneurial and start our own businesses instead of working for white-dominant businesses. This makes sense. We could manage our own businesses any way we see fit. We wouldn’t have to smile if we don’t feel like smiling. We could even tell our white employees to act more like we do, and reward those who do. (One of my white American friends working in Japan told me that, this is essentially what is happening there.) If we work for a white-dominant business, naturally their rules, values, and appropriateness would dominate, and if we were to insist on being ourselves, and refuse to master their culture and values, we are not going to succeed.

Until quite recently, the world was racially segregated. We can’t expect the white people to undo over night their cultures, customs, and values which developed in the racially segregated world for centuries and over many generations. It would be silly if a white American went to work for a Japanese corporation in Japan and complained that their corporate culture favored Japanese customs and values. If he wants to do it his way, he should start his own business in Japan.

We cannot so easily change our cultures. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality. The question we should be asking as Asian-American parents is: How could we prepare our children for this reality?

The way I see it, culture is very much like language (and language is very much like culture); it is something you can learn and master, and you can master multiple cultures. We can master both Asian and white cultures. We do not have to give up one to master the other. Yang says in his article “Striving to meet others’ expectations may be a necessary cost of assimilation, but I am not going to do it.” He goes as far as to say, “I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all.” In my view, the problem is his pride and ego. As an Asian-American parent, this is where my biggest concern lies.

Suppose the British colonized your country; you could refuse to learn English to maintain pride and respect for your own country, but there is nothing wrong with learning another language either. The same goes for learning the white culture. Mastering it does not mean your soul has to assimilate into it. There are plenty of Americans who move to Asian countries because they are interested in learning more about Eastern cultures. This does not mean that they hate their own cultures, or that they need to lose their American soul. I suspect it is Yang’s insecurity or inferiority-complex that drives him to take on such a hardened attitude. It’s a defense-mechanism. I have met many second generation Asian-Americans who struggled with their own identities in their 20s and 30s. At least among the people I know, first generation Asian Americans do not suffer from this. Why? I have my own theories.

First generation Asian-Americans consciously chose to learn and master the American culture when they immigrated to this country. By that point, they were already sitting on solid cultural foundations of their home country. As they lived in the US, they experienced different values, points of view, behaviors, customs, appropriateness, etc.. They consciously observed and understood the differences. This is the critical part: Being conscious of the differences enables them to use them appropriately in different contexts.

In contrast, second generation Asian-Americans grew up not knowing what is Asian and what is American. To them, whatever the cultural environments their parents put them into were their own singular cultural experience. They are unable to determine where their own influences came from. And, when they enter the real world, they begin to realize that their own behaviors, values, and ways of communication and expression are not the norm. They have to essentially go back in time to sort it all out, but this isn’t easy because both cultures are so inextricably fused by that point. This, I believe, is what leads to their identity crisis in their youth.

When children learn two languages simultaneously in their early childhood, their brain structure becomes physically different from that of monolingual children. This is touted as a benefit, but I am skeptical. What is beneficial is determined by the market, what the world will be like when they grow up. Many people misunderstand the theory of evolution to mean that there are fundamentally and universally superior qualities. (This misunderstanding gave birth to Social Darwinism.) Who is “fittest” is not determined by any universal qualities but by the changing environment. It is possible that the world our children will be living in would favor the bilingual brain structure but the opposite scenario is also possible. Therefore, I’m skeptical of any such “scientific” claims about “benefits”. I believe that this inextricable fusion is what leads to the confusion about their own identities. Because the fusion of two different cultures and languages is physical, it becomes impossible to determines the sources of their influences, so they can’t use them individually and effectively, and eventually give up by saying “Fuck all y’all”.

In my view, growing up in an Asian family in the US is similar to growing up in a Hasidic community in that it ill-prepares you for the real world, and sadly it’s worse than growing up in a Hasidic community because at least they are more aware of the differences between their own culture and that of the outside world, and they also have their own support system. This problem is made worse by sending Asian kids to schools like Stuyvesant High School in New York City where the majority is Asian. (However, just for the record, I do not support race-based school admission policies. Schools have no business using race for that. I’m suggesting the parents to think carefully about where they send their children.)

I believe it would be better for my child to master the American culture first. I would like to put her on a solid cultural foundation first. If she becomes interested in learning Japanese or more about the culture of Japan, she can consciously choose to do so on her own will. I believe this would enable her to use both cultures appropriately and more effectively. I also believe that having a solid cultural foundation would make it less likely for her to have an identity crisis in her 20s, although some degree of that would probably be unavoidable.

This practice of mastering one thing and using it as a foundation to explore others can be seen in many fields. Great chefs, for instance, usually master one cuisine and then explore other cuisines to create fusions of their own. Constantly moving your family does not make your children masters of different environments; it just makes them insecure and even neurotic. It’s better for children to have a solid foundation/home from which they can safely explore the world. At the beginning of your career, it’s better to stay put in one city and build a solid network of friends and colleagues before you start exploring different cities. For the same reason, it’s usually better to attend college in the city where you plan to work. If you graduate from a college in LA and move to New York for work, you would have a significant disadvantage compared to those who went to school in New York. Steve Jobs did not start out doing a bunch of different things. He used his success in his computer business as a foundation to explore other industries like entertainment and telecommunication. Children are not like computers; just installing a bunch of different things doesn’t necessarily make them more successful.

Now the obvious question is: How do we put our children on the solid foundation of American culture? Many parents of the assimilation school have tried this and failed. Many Chinese parents, for instance, didn’t bother teaching Chinese to their children. The writer of the New York Magazine article never learned how to speak Korean either, yet the invisible influence of the Korean culture became obvious as he entered the real world. Why? Again, this is only my theory but most parents of the assimilation school exposed their children only to the trappings of the American culture, and were lacking in where it really mattered.

One example is Asian preoccupation with production. In the world of business, production is a sphere of the young and inexperienced. When you start working, you start by offering your skills, labor, and knowledge in how to produce things, whether it’s food, T-shirt, or computer software. As you gain more experience, you move up and learn how to strategize. Because the current business world is dominated by the West, the Easterners in general are behind the curve on learning how to strategize. The Westerners, particularly white people, have more experience in being strategists. Growing up in a family of strategists would naturally make you better prepared to be a strategist yourself. This is the type of cultural foundation that Asian-American kids are lacking.

Think about it. What do typical Asian-American parents do? They make their kids study hard, get good grades at school, and score high on standardized tests. It’s all about discipline and hard work, and doing better at things that can be measured and compared. The most important quality that strategists must have is creativity. Hard work and discipline does not make you creative, and creativity cannot be standardized and measured. Hard work and discipline are great for production but not for strategy. Asian-American parents are still stuck in their production mode of thinking.

Japan did that for decades and look where they are now. They are stuck. Being able to produce efficient, functional, and reliable products is just a matter of time and training. The Koreans have already caught up with the Japanese, and surpassed them in many ways. The Chinese will catch up with the Japanese quite soon too. Given that hundreds of millions of Chinese children are being educated with this production mentality, there is no point in teaching your children the value of hard work and discipline. We should not aim for any type of work whose productivity can be predicted and measured by standardized tests. There is no future in that.

During my first year of art school, I was technically the best painter and drawer. I could paint with photographic precision. One of my teachers said to me one day: “Do you want to be another one of those Asian artists on the street drawing portraits for the tourists?” Good question. What’s the point? There are millions of technically competent artists in the world. Why bother competing in that market? So, for the remaining years of my school, I stopped using my technical competence to create art. In other words, I stopped working so hard, and started having more fun. By the time we were ready to graduate, most students in my class achieved the same level of technical competence I had anyway.

When you are in the production mentality, eventually, you yourself become a mere product. Take professional illustrators for instance. For each illustrator to develop his/her own unique style and technique takes years but the trend in illustration comes and goes. The art directors who work for advertising agencies or publishers might love hiring one illustrator with a particular style one year, but drop him entirely next year. As soon as his style is out of vogue, he is dropped like a fly. To the art directors, he is a disposable product. It’s better to be in the position of art directors (strategist) than be in the position of illustrator (producer/product).

When you are poor and starving, you choose the surest way to make money. You don’t want to aim too high and fail. So, you don’t study English literature; you study accounting, computer programming, or nursing. White people can afford (both financially and emotionally) to study literature, architecture, art history, or advertising. This is what prepares them to operate at the highest levels of their culture. This is the advantage the Americans have. While the Asian kids are studying hard, the American kids learn to have fun, and when you have fun doing what you do, you tend to be more creative and do better than others. This is the American culture that our children need to be exposed to. By pushing our kids to study hard and score high on tests, we are just preparing them to compete with the billions of Asian children many of whom are literally starving. Our Asian-American kids are not starving, so their drive to study hard wouldn’t be as great as those starving kids in Asia.

The reason why most Asian-American parents cannot do this for their children is because it’s scary. Most of our fears come from lack of knowledge or experience. Most Asian-American parents do not have experience operating at the highest levels of the American culture. Most of us only know how to produce, not how to strategize. We teach our children what we know, and ironically and unfortunately, this perpetuates the problem of Asians being stuck in the production mentality. To break this vicious circle would require us to take the risk and let our children have fun, an unfamiliar territory for most Asian-American parents.

A lot of immigrant parents are afraid of losing emotional connections with their children. They don’t want their children to become too American or too foreign for them. In fact, I believe this is the most significant reason why many immigrant parents insist on teaching their native language to their children, even though they use bilingual brain advantage as their reason. They want to retain control over their own children. Their biggest fear is that their children would become so independent and American that they run away from home with their American lovers. But I would argue that this type of fear and insecurity is precisely what keeps our children ill-prepared for the real world in America. We need to let go of them, and offer our Eastern wisdom only when they ask for it.

40 Responses

  1. Charles says:

    I can’t say that any of the problems listed here or in the Wesley Yang article are issues that I encountered growing up. For the record, I am Korean, born of Korean parents in Korea, and I am fluent in both Korean and English (as well as in German, which I learned in high school). I am a graduate of Northwestern University, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and am currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University. I am a former Marine, play both the piano and violin, and am a member of Mensa, and while like many Asians I did very well on standardized exams and tests in school, I never really spent much time studying (less so than my friends, who are for the most part not Asian, aside from those I knew through church). The one time I listened to my mother’s suggestion to take a prep course for the SAT (this was in 8th grade; I was attempting to get into IMSA, the Illinois Math and Science Academy – I didn’t get in, but it wasn’t really a huge deal), it actually decreased my score 10 points from the last time I took it.

    My parents never pushed me or my brother very hard – the instance where I took that SAT prep course is perhaps one of two or three instances in my entire life where my mother (never my father) strongly suggested doing something academically-oriented (Kumon was another, and while I didn’t like it at first, I do grudgingly admit these days that it was a good decision), and while I listened for the most part, my parents knew that both I and my brother (who followed my example, not that of my parents) were willful and stubborn and thus left us to our own devices. Neither my father nor my mother can be considered assimilated (and their English, while passable, isn’t great – we only speak Korean at home), but they have college degrees from Korea and are from middle-class and fairly well-to-do Korean yangban families. The vast majority of our extended families are in Korea.

    So that does it for an introduction (my apologies if it was too long – I figured my remarks require context). I admit that the vast majority of articles written by Asian-Americans (and ostensibly for Asian-Americans) seem to me to address largely those Asians in the LA and NYC metro areas (where, not coincidentally, most of America’s Asians live and from where most Asian writers hail). But those issues are not Asian so much as they are issues that result from living in enclaves and – dare I say it – ghettoes. Many Asian parents push their children to be only productive and not creative largely due to their own backgrounds (most Asian parents who are 1st-generation immigrants, from what I understand, are not college graduates and many in fact may not have finished high school in their home country). “Most Asian-American parents do not have experience operating at the highest levels of the American culture” precisely because they have not experienced operating at comparable levels in their own home cultures. These things are experienced by other minorities living in enclaves, but is perhaps more exacerbated by the fact that these Asian kids actually do achieve at the levels their parents demand, and then they find themselves in uncharted territory when their newfound sense of self begins to conflict with what little culture their parents conveyed to them (I say little because cultural transmission cannot be done by force; I feel that it must be chosen willingly, and this would be why many 2nd-generation Asian-Americans only exhibit bits and pieces of their parents’ culture and a limited command, at best, of their parents’ language).

    Personally, I think in terms of both Korean and American cultures, I think (at least that’s what I tell myself, and so far it appears to have convinced everyone else I know), and it was never really a problem having both mindsets in my head at the same time, since in my opinion they were both forms of perspective. Sure, when given a “do you think like an Asian?” quiz, I would unintentionally score strongly as “Asian,” but I would be able to articulate my thinking on why I answered the way I did (almost to the point of convincing others that my answers were correct), but I could also understand (regardless of whether or not I thought that way) why others might have answered differently. I think much of any Asian-American “identity crisis” has to do with a limited ability to handle multiple perspectives, which applies to most people, but perhaps affects Asians more strongly because of the very strong differences between Asian (e.g. Korean/Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese) and Western (e.g. American) perspectives.

    We also need to consider popular media. Think about most “guy-meets-girl” films, and not in any racial context. Many of these films show that the good girl, the heroine, almost always picks the good guy, not the ludicrously handsome guy, not the absurdly rich guy, and not the so-well-connected-it’s-evil guy. And what is her choice based on? Character. She chooses the guy with heart and character. He may not be able to promise her much, but she gives him her heart anyways. And while we know that this isn’t how it always plays out in real life, we have to remember the lesson behind such media – it’s all about character. I think this lesson is lost on many Asian-American parents, for a variety of reasons: 1) they themselves are too focused on making money to put food on the table and their kids through school, 2) most Asian cultures do not have an intrinsically religious character anymore (or even distinctly religious traditions) and as such this emphasis on the “goodness” of the human person is lost, and 3) Asians have been in competition (war or otherwise) since time immemorial and as such the formative basis for many Asian cultures and the mindset of many Asians (in Asia and everywhere else) has much to do with out-producing the others (and let’s keep in mind that the strategizing types, the Sun Tzus, get less attention among their Asian contemporaries, and as such are proportionally fewer and thus Asians tend to give the appearance of being more monolithic/hive-like).

    My parents are strong Catholics (and by extension so are my brother and I), and my mother has repeatedly told me (and my brother) that more importantly than anything else, she wanted us to be good people. Being a good person was more important than being wealthy, more important than power or prestige, and in the end, the most important thing (because being a lawyer or CEO will not get you into heaven; only being good will do so). This doesn’t mean we were told to be pushovers (because honestly, being a good person these days is actually more difficult than not) but rather the opposite: to choose what we stand for, what we believe in, and fight for it. Character (which perhaps my parents subconsciously hoped would translate into being prestigious and productive leaders of society) was what was emphasized in my family, not achievements or test scores. Inevitably, I am certain my parents felt some social peer pressure when talking with other Asian parents (mostly at church) and when the conversation inevitably went to talking about whose kid is doing what, but to that end, my brother and I were not problem kids, and for the most part (up to the end of high school, and to some extent into college) we out-achieved all of the Korean kids at church, by a long shot. And while the emphasis on character was given some impetus by our Catholicism, it actually has Asian origins: my maternal grandfather was an education minister for our region of Korea in the 1950s and 1960s, and it was he who emphasized character and integrity to my mother and her sister (though my mother seems to have taken more strongly to these lessons). Character was emphasized as the origin of everything else that was considered to be “good” – respect for elders, achieving to the best of your ability, and all that – but these others were second to character.

    Where the hell am I going with this? My point is that this article, with many others that discuss social problems encountered by Asian-Americans today, is still very much stereotypically “Asian” in that while it criticizes measurements of achievement as limited and a socially backward way of achieving acceptance and influence at the highest levels of American society, it compares “Asian-ness” to “American-ness” or “assimilation” or “Western-ness” as if these were things that could in themselves be quantified. Many Asian-American parents (and many young Asians) want and demand some sort of formula for being “accepted” when there in fact is none. These things are not extremes that can be measured or predicted, merely points on a personal gradient. Where you are on that gradient is not fixed and can be adjusted for the situation or context in which you find yourself. Perhaps this is indicative of my own arrogance from knowing that I am smarter than everyone I know (including my own parents), but if there was anything to be said to Asian-Americans, I think it should be this: be respectful and mindful of your elders (it’s common fucking courtesy, something that many FOBs, among others, seem to lack these days) and by extension your roots, but don’t think that you have to either obey/apply it all or disregard it all in your own life; instead pick and choose what works for you and what, in the light of new information you might gain in your own personal experiences, doesn’t. Your life is your own and therefore you are not bound to one extreme or another. This is something that I think people have to understand on their own, and it is not an Asian-specific thing; many Asian-Americans seem to think that we’re the only ones facing such issues en masse, but that is only true because there is an apparent disconnect between “East” and “West” in terms of culture and philosophy that most Asian-Americans, while capable, seem unwilling to integrate the two into their own lives.

  2. Shen says:

    As a second-generation Chinese American living in the states, I think you addressed multiple issues here on which I’d like to voice some of my own thoughts. I’ll refrain from giving a lengthy biography such as that of Charles but I will say a few things, i.e. though born in China, I grew up in first a college town and then the suburbs of Atlanta. My experience as a child was interaction mostly relegated to other like-skinned people but since undergrad years of college I have grown much more social and more inclined towards diversity.

    Biography aside, let me address a few important issues that you discussed:

    1. “Culture is very much like language…it is something you can learn and master, and you can master multiple cultures”

    I agree with the fundamental message of this sentence; I know of many people who can speak multiple languages and have no problem being a representation of each culture when the circumstance demands it. I agree that Wesley Yang portrays himself as different from the rest of humanity in a positive light despite the fact that it clearly has not done him any good. Of course, like most people, he has to justify his own actions to not have to deal with the sad truth that at least trying to integrate with both aspects society may have been a better choice.

    One note I’d like to point out though is that culture is very much like language because language is fundamentally a part of culture. I have noticed this on numerous occasions when I interact with some of my Chinese friends in Chinese. Inevitably, we’ll relate something to a well-known Chinese person or a Chinese saying that has historical significance. These references inevitably tie in to the culture for I know if the same references are made in English to most Americans, they’ll be thoroughly confused.

    2. “In contrast, second generation Asian-Americans grew up not knowing what is Asian and what is American.”

    This overarching statement really defines only a sub-segment of population where the family has given strong conflicting culture values to that of the usual American culture. The keywords are “strong” and “conflicting”. When I grew up, my family never had a “strong” or extremely “conflicting” view to how the external world operated. The former was mostly because I had an equally if not stronger influence from friends, the TV, and the school. The latter was likely because my parents gave me the freedom to do various things; in other words, I was not confined to endless study sessions with them watching my back.

    3. “I believe it would be better for my child to master the American culture first. I would like to put her on a solid cultural foundation first.”

    Mastering one culture does not mean that you have to sacrifice mastering another culture at the same time. I have friends who grew up in the states but regularly went overseas every other summer to East Asia for a few months. Now that they’re older they clearly have the ability to operate in either place. In fact, my humble opinion is that not giving your child an early start in cultural education is a severe disadvantage. Why do I say this? Simply because children learn languages much more readily than adults can; this has been shown to be true by various neurological studies.

    I have met a number of people including some of my friends who have expressed regret that their parents did not emphasize learning their native language when they’re younger for a similar reason that you expressed here. Now as adults they have to struggle hard to learn pronunciations and vocabulary that they could easily have built up at least as a foundation when they’re younger. I know that you mean the best for your child and don’t want to introduce cultural conflicts at a young age but do you want to introduce a possible huge obstacle for your child later in life due to lack of foundation in the other culture just due to this early fear of multi-culture confusion?

    4. “But I would argue that this type of fear and insecurity is precisely what keeps our children ill-prepared for the real world in America. We need to let go of them, and offer our Eastern wisdom only when they ask for it.”

    Keeping your child on a tight leash with just Asian values will definitely not cut it for this “real world”. However, merely waiting for the child to realize that there may be benefits to Eastern wisdom and then asking you for it is also not the best route since the child may not realize that you have anything to say until too late. The worst thing is to not communicate with your child on a deeper level just because you’re afraid that you’re diluting the child’s grasp in the “real world”. You as an Asian-American parent can offer that unique perspective which can benefit the child whether he or she realizes that or not. The key is to provide your wisdom without smothering outside positive influence.

    That’s it for now. I may think of some more later.

  3. Chris Lee says:

    As a second-generation Chinese-American I would also like to voice my opinion on the issue. Although I admit it is very important to learn the English language, if for no more than to communicate and such, I believe it is equally important to teach children the language of their people. I, for one, had parents who chose not to send me to Chinese school or to speak any Mandarin with me at all, and as such 18 years later I am unable to read, write, speak or understand so much as a word of Mandarin. I feel this loss very heavily, and when I try to speak with my grandmother, for instance, I sometimes literally need one of my parents translating. I have only a passing knowledge of my family’s cultural history, mostly confined entirely to things like Chinese New Years. My Asian friends joke that I’m a “twinkie”- yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I hate being that. I recently actively began trying to learn Chinese but it is very difficult. I even tried taking Japanese, with some better results, but learning Kanji (my main reason for taking the language) is difficult bordering on impossible.

    If any Asian-American parents are reading this, I can only say, PLEASE TEACH YOUR CHILDREN THE LANGUAGE!! They will thank you over and over again when the grow older.

  4. Dyske says:

    Hi Chris,

    Hearing your story makes me feel sad. The reason why you want to learn Chinese is not because you feel passionate about the Chinese language or culture, but because the society expects you to speak an Asian language. You want to know Chinese because you don’t want to be called a “Twinkie”. Because you are “yellow on the outside”, you want to be yellow on the inside also. Such societal expectations and pressure are products of racism, but you feel you need to give into them. Why? You are an American; You shouldn’t be expected to speak Chinese or Japanese, but the society does because most Americans think Asians are foreigners even if they are born here. Don’t give into such racism. Be unapologetic about who you are.

    I know many white Americans who studied Japanese on their own because they felt passionate about it. And, they all speak decent Japanese. I studied English because I felt passionate about it also. If you have a passion for a foreign language, you can learn it on your own. The only reason why you are blaming your parents for not teaching you Chinese is because you are not passionate about it. If you are passionate about learning it, you wouldn’t blame your parents. It’s only because you feel you HAVE TO learn Chinese that you are blaming your parents. You don’t actually WANT TO learn it. If you actually feel passionate about it, you would have so much fun studying it that it wouldn’t occur to you to blame anyone.

  5. Dyske says:

    Hi Shen,

    The cultural influences on our identities is a very subtle mechanism, yet they are very deep and strong, which is the point Wesley Young presents so convincingly in his article. Our sense of self is not a “neurological” matter. What may be positive neurologically can be a negative thing for more psychological matters like identity, self-image, and self-esteem. If what you are suggesting is all around positive, the parents should move to a different country every year. It is also shown in various studies that such constant displacement has adverse effects on children and can make them more neurotic, although they might be able to speak 10 different languages fluently. Again, my priority is the other way around. I want my child to be secure and have a firm sense of self more than I wish my child to have superior abilities or skills. Asian parents (and Asians in general) focus too much on the latter, and not much on the former. Insecure people in general focus on acquiring tangible skills and knowledge because they feel that just being who they are is not attractive enough for others, so they try to seduce others by acquiring indispensable skills and knowledge. This is why typical Asian parents want their children to excel academically and become doctors and engineers. Unconsciously, the parents are passing down their own inferiority complex. Out of their own insecurity, they become so focused on acquisition of tangible skills that they stay blind to the psychological damage they are causing to their children.

    From my perspective, many second-generation Asian Americans have sense of self that is so fragile that they give into societal pressures and expectations easily, and their primary concerns are with what they SHOULD be, not what they WANT TO be.

    I was born and raised in Japan, so my sense of self has a solid foundation. Abandoning Japanese and studying English does not make me feel self-conscious of being called a “Twinkie”. In fact, I would be very proud of myself if I can ever master the Western culture so well that people would describe me as a “Twinkie”. Because my cultural sense of self is so solid that such labels wouldn’t make me feel insecure (in fact it would make me proud). The same is true of the white Westerners who move to Asian countries because they fell in love with the Eastern cultures. Just because they love to study Eastern cultures, it does not mean that they have some sort of self-hatred. I would imagine that they would be pleased to be described as “white on the outside and yellow on the inside”.

    Another good analogy is our sexual orientations. Men who are insecure about their own sexuality are more likely to be homophobic, and would feel offended if anyone were to even joke about them being gay. If your sense of sexuality is secure, you wouldn’t care. Think of Hollywood actors who are willing to play the roles of gay men. They feel proud when they can portray gay characters convincingly; it’s a mark of being a great actor. But if they are insecure about their own sexuality, they would not take up such roles.

    Such insecurity about one’s own identity and sense of self is socially crippling and no amount of tangible skills and knowledge can compensate for that. As we grow older, and begin to lead and manage other people, tangible skills and knowledge become less and less important. Feeling comfortable, being at peace with who you are is far more valuable at that stage. People like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama don’t need to be fluent in Chinese. We have to remember that there are only 24 hours in a day for everyone. If you spend some of those hours studying Chinese, you are giving up your chance to learn/experience something else. It’s easy to take for granted what you already know, and whine or lament over things you could have learned, but that only happens to those are not willing to let their own passions guide their own lives. They are guided by what they SHOULD learn, not what they WANT to learn, so they constantly whine and regret over things they could have learned.

    So, to me, the most important thing I want to encourage my child to do is to follow her own passions. Just as the common saying goes, do what you love, and everything else will follow. It may not always work out but it’s a pretty good piece of advice. And, I’m not going to get in the way of her passion by forcing her to study Japanese, unless she feels passionate about learning Japanese.

  6. The Yellow Man says:

    You are making a big mistake my friend. Suppose you were born in Britain and your brother was born in France, would you call your brother a Frenchmen? An Asian who is born as an Asian will die as an Asian. He can’t become a White man no matter how hard he may try. Do your kid and also yourself a favor and teach him his own language. Otherwise he will end up as a worthless piece of bread which looks like a bread but doesn’t even taste like bread. Know what I mean? Peace.

  7. Dyske says:

    If my family was living in Europe, I wouldn’t do what I’m doing. I would probably teach my child Japanese. Europe is not diverse like the US. Even though they are intellectually eager and ready to embrace diversity, the reality is a very different matter.

  8. imranahm says:

    This is a very well-thought-out article. This burning issue must be equally prevalent in all immigrant communities in the United States, at least up to the first and second generations.

    On the author’s proposal that Asian parents should embrace American parenting norms, I think it is important to consider the background and values of first generation Asian parents. These parents have certainly had a solid cultural foundation back in their home country. Some of the countries that they might have come from have been modernizing fast. The economies have given so much room as their relatively few resources would allow. The result was that the resources would end up getting allocated to limited fields. The economic opportunities would become analogous to pre-existing or resulting social ranks. With that also came mammoth rat races. The need was for ‘production’ culture, i.e. value would only be placed in tangibles, and a stringent social ladder. This is a factor contributing to the emigration to Western countries in the first place.

    If we contrast that to perhaps the United States, we see that society and culture evolved enjoying an abundance of resources. This goes back to the first European settlements in the New World. Consequently, we can see that the prosperity and industrialization of the US has comparatively started early and been slow. The American approach in economic opportunities has been more relaxed. This resulted in a social ladder that was roomy. As a result Americans could have been able vouch for a vast range of economic opportunities. The origins of the ‘production’ and ‘strategy’ might as well be in the economics.

    Whether traditional Asian parenting is inferior in America is a debatable issue. It is important to note that recent economic trends have lead to changes in not only traditional American parenting, but principles in the education system as well. The economy has been stagnating for sometime and as the range of opportunities narrow down, American parents and other elders would increasingly be looking at Asian models. Immigrant Asian parenting acquiring traditional American traits is inevitable. As for Asian parents, age-old customs and habits might not only be ‘baggage’ too heavy to get rid off, but also be of use in America.

  9. Su Chin says:

    Have you asked your daughter if she was interested in picking up the language? I never forced my kids to pick up mandarin, but because I had so many mandarin (and I don’t even speak it myself) children DVDs lying around, that they asked if they could go for lessons, so they could understand.

    My friends’ half japanese kids speak Japanese to their mom and English to their Aussie dad, With ease. I really don’t see any issue for kids to learn their mother tongue, since they pick it up so easily. Unlike stupid adults like me… 🙂

  10. Frank Luo says:

    Adults are not stupid. But the faculties that were not used as children fade away as the neural connections that were not exercised during the period of the brain’s growth toward maturity shrivel and fall away.

    Part of the reason that it is really hard to beat people who have been doing something since they were little kids. Their brains have grown to suit whatever it is they did — whether it is dance, art, or learning other languages. It’s all the same.

  11. Non Asian Tourist says:

    When I speak to any dog, I can’t help but speak in my first language, my mother’s native language. This comes naturally to me – there is no thinking involved. When you speak to your child, no such impulse arises for you to speak Japanese? I presume not, but what are the deeper underlying reasons for this?

    Your essay, while it brings up interesting points, fails to deal with any psychological reasons why you might not want to teach your child to speak your native tongue. Perhaps because my father never taught me his native tongue (not the same as my mom’s and also a European language), I am somewhat cynical, and I read your essay as a twenty-seven hundred word rationalization for why you are failing to convey your native values and culture to your child. Perhaps due to some trauma associated with Japan.

    Or maybe you are just like most dads who tend to have less of a role in a child’s upbringing and/or are just less verbal, which brings me to my second issue with your essay. You don’t seem to really delve into the nuances of what typically happens with second generation Americans vis a vis their parent’s native language. I suspect that most families with a Japanese mother, the children learn Japanese. When the father is Japanese, however, they are probably far less likely to learn Japanese. If that is the case, then the reasons are better understood/rationalized along gender lines.

    Finally, I just want to say that I sincerely hope you change your mind and give your daughter the change to learn Japanese when she is still young. Later, she can then decide to either ignore this skill, or develop it further.

  12. connie says:

    I just want to say this was a great read, and without getting into too much detail I’d just like to tell you that you’re not the only one who can see what you see I see it too, but don’t be surprised that more people will disagree than likely agree, judging from what you wrote though it seems you probably already understand that. Unfortunately true diversity is always met with resistance and the proof is in the pudding so to say, if most people were practicing true diversity the world wouldn’t be in the shape that it’s in, especially our local society could do allot better but anyway like I said I think you already know that . Your path might be lonely but it’s nobel never the less through I fear it will take some time for the rest of the world to catch up with you (and I) but I’m optimistic, as long as there are people like you in the midst of the crowds of others.
    stay strong and keep the faith that one day folks will stop clinging to division.

  13. Andrew Yen says:

    I’m surprised quite a few of the responses focused on the issue of whether or not the ancestral language should be learned young or not, and even moreso at the insistence that learning the language is critical to a child’s upbringing in dual-culture family. However, they seem to miss the point the author made in that he isn’t forcing his daughter to either end, but simply allowing her the freedom to come towards the decision to learn Japanese on her own, when she knows she wants to. This distinction between obligation vs passion is a sore point in Asian-American circles since quite a few personal conflicts tend to arise from that dichotomy. Sure, having to learn the mother language early will gain you proficiency and earlier access to understanding one’s heritage, but, and the author did hint at geographic context, is this necessarily a good thing?

    Personally, my understanding of Mandarin Chinese is terrible, but I don’t dwell on that and lament that some window has closed on me forever. I am fully aware of my choice not to pursue it because I came to realize that I just am not interested in the language. Yes, I have had a childhood with Sunday Chinese courses that were hellishly boring and ended up adding very little to my general understanding at the language. Fast forward to college where I took Mandarin as a foreign language credit and I had to convince the teacher to not put me on an accelerated learning course because I implicitly told her I was not “that kind of Asian-American”. There seems to be some assumption amongst teachers that we all grew up in a bilingual household and communicated thusly. Not true for me. While my parents did speak their native tongue at home, they didn’t necessarily do that towards me, and never demanded I reply back in the same tongue, so I grew up used to their vocabulary and syntax but tend to converse in English with them. I believe the term for that is receptive-bilingualism, but I digress.

    Anyhow, I did manage to convince the language dept that my brain doesn’t work that way and was allowed to take the course at a normal pace that allowed me to think about the language more thoroughly. I don’t regret that I didn’t take the language more seriously as a child because whatever I may have gained then could be done at a time when I am truly interested in that sort of thing, and I believe that is slowly turning around for me. If there would be a reason I would like to pursue learning Mandarin is because I have a growing interest in Mandopop and I would benefit to understand the lyrics both in meaning and how they are constructed that differs from speech.

    I don’t like to think of culture as a chore or something to marked off a to-do list. A lot of it has to come from inside oneself and where they want to go with it. That is not something for others to decide just on the basis of appropriateness or connecting. Give them their space, they can come to their own terms with it.

  14. Ben says:

    I’m your typical white American with American-born parents. My grandmother is German and is the most recent immigrant in my family. I think the value of learning multiple languages at a young age is undervalued. It’s more than a second language and a key to cultural understanding. In my opinion, it builds awareness in young people. It helps us see through the chaos of politics in our respective countries.

    The day I realized I was 20 and had no strong second language was the day I got a little upset with my parents. American culture praises English as the winner of the “language war” (for lack of a better term) and does not naturally condone the study of other languages. Therefore, expecting a child to choose when it’s time to study that second language will most likely be a disservice to him or her in the future… just my take on it.

    BTW, I live in China and speak Mandarin Chinese. None of my family members speak a second language… sadly.

  15. JM says:

    Hi there,
    I’ll keep this brief and get straight to the point regarding language.
    Why deny your child the opportunity to be fluent in another language from the get-go?

    Why the conflict? For Europeans being multi-lingual is the norm.
    Why do we Americans complicate matters

    As a child of immigrants and an immigrant myself I do not understand the conflict.
    If a child is schooled here through high school, the culture is ingrained and it is American; no denying that
    I completed high school in the Carribean and am always amused when people born there but raised here
    claim to be Carribean, and ‘act’ Carribean, or what they perceive to be Carribean.
    They are not, and I tell them so.

    The attitude is different, the approach to life, the ‘can-do’ attitude – distinctly American.
    Even in the Carribean-American, Asian-American subcultures – they are still undeniably American

    Your history is Asian, but you are American, they already coexist peacefully, so just accept and offer your child as much they can to sur…… and be

  16. Hoko says:

    And that is why I’m stuck with over-controlling parents today as its one of the main reasons…

  17. Iris says:

    yup. you can agree with the writer, or with his 2 forms of assimilation..or acculturation. but the fact remains you are creating a handicap for your kid.
    Yes language is essential to understand a culture..but that is besides the point. speaking two languages is a must, and it will be the norm in the future. 3 languages is already required. you might want to deny it but the fact is that your kid will grow, not in an all white American country, your kid will grow in an immigrant country. Where is he/she goes to L.A. she will hear Spanish , mandarin, or whatever. She will not only hear English. Yes English is the official language but no the only one. In the job market who would you hire, two ppl with the same qualifications the difference is that one can speak 2 languages the other just English. Do your kid a favor and teach him as much as he/she can , you are denying him the choice to grow up already with an advantage. learning a second language is as essential to a kids education as going to school. idk if i get my point across. or if it makes sense. thanks.

  18. passerby says:

    Responders like Iris clearly didn’t read the bit where the author said he is NOT concerned about ‘achievements’ and ‘accumulation of skills’ for his daughter, but a sense of self-worth and security. I grew up in Singapore, so we had this whole sort of discussion—especially since bilingualism with English and your ‘mother tongue’ is *mandatory* in the country—and the “advantage” arguments for anything always make me cringe. They reek of desparation, of truly seeing everything as a race that has to be won, and the selfish attitude of putting MY child and MY family first regardless of what they really feel, and seeing everyone else as a competitor.

    And I hate that kind of attitude, and I think imranahm nailed the origins/basis of this ‘production’-oriented, competitive, ‘make the most out of everything’ thinking.

    And despite all this… I’m gonna say that it’s still possible the author’s kid will lose out from not trying out language learning for a couple of years early on, BECAUSE the lack of ‘superior abilities or skills’ that could have been acquired at a young age can, in this economic climate, lead to a lot of insecurity in later years that doesn’t crop up earlier.
    And why bilingualism over other skills that could be learned (like other good ol’ white american kids)?
    Because face it—more than other Americans, Asian-looking Americans would be far more expected to understand another language, and they’d probably be judged doubly for not having that. Is it fair that European migrants don’t have this expectation forced on them? Probably not.

    There’s a line between “building security and self-confidence through choice” and “developing essential skills through some level of force”.
    But I wouldn’t also assume my kid intuitively knows what’s best for their future self-esteem at age FOUR – and for something like language learning, how would the kid know if they haven’t tried? If not classes or parental interaction, then I’d like to know how you intend to present your kid with both sides of the situation, against the overwhelming childhood desire to conform to everyone else’s culture despite it not necessarily being the best for security and self-esteem in the long run.
    Nobody’s saying it has to be forced down all the way, it’s just a more concrete way of letting someone try. Not all interests have to be innate or pre-formed.

  19. Anon says:

    Wait, you speak a foreign language and won’t teach it to your kid? >:< As a half white half asian child who was brought up in the United States, one of the things I regret most that I had no control over was that my parents didn't speak a foreign language at home! It would have been like getting a language for free! Now if I want to talk to _anyone_ on my mom's side (besides my mom obviously) I need to learn Chinese, which is a huge pain. Do your kid a favor and speak another language at home! You don't need to actually teach them, they will pick it up through baby magic. Although, it looks like it may be too late already. :[ I know you said you don't know if society will favor the bilingual brain but you yourself said, there is nothing wrong with learning a second language (in reference to English colonization), you would have just been making it easier.

    On another note, my cultural experience was similar to the one you described in the paragraph 'In contrast, second generation…". However I didn't have an identity crisis, and if you are right (that they are a result of not knowing what part of one's "singular culture" is Asian and what part is American) then my guess is that it is because my family made frequent trips to visit my mom's family. Combine this with going to visit people in America, and it was pretty easy to get an idea. (Too bad I couldn't talk to anyone while I was there. :[)

  20. Marielle says:

    I am a second generation Asian-American just like yourself and I wholeheartedly agree how you “school” your child except for one thing. The language. I believe that you should teach your child Japanese before teaching her English because

    1) English will come naturally when she starts going to school here in the US, when Japanese won’t;

    2) It’s easier for her to learn the language when she learns it when she’s younger;

    3) Optional Japanese course in public high school is mediocre, trust me;

    4) When she goes visit Japan, she will able to communicate and not feel let out;

    Despite my reasoning, don’t believe what the poster Iris said. I believe in teaching foreign language to your kid/s, but it’s no way a “must.” It isn’t a requirement cause your kid would do fine in America as long as she speaks/understand/write the official language, which is English. Most (if not all) American billionaires are only fluent in English.

    Also, I think that most Asian-Americans do know the difference between being an “Asian” and an “American.” Hardcore parenting of Asian immigrants are quite distinguished from softer white American parents’ parenting. And the culture — I can see the huge difference; and truthfully, I like the “American” culture a whole lot better because in my opinion, American culture is much more open-minded compared to Asian culture.

  21. Monex scam says:

    .The Asian family has certain expectations for their children and the children know what is expected of them. Many families expect the children to use the capacity they have for learning to achieve high marks in school.

  22. Beanie says:

    I don’t normally post comments, but I felt so strongly about this that I felt compelled to say something. Like Chris Lee, I really wish that my parents had taught me their native language. My parents were like Dyske and thought that it would be best to be assimilated and they did not want to force me to do anything.

    I dont think Dyske or others who grew up abroad can ever really understand what it is like growing up as a first generation American. I grew up “assimilated”, but as I grew older, I became more interested in my cultural background. Wanting to speak Korean has nothing to do with giving into racism and societal pressure. I regret never being able to have a conversation or become close to my grandparents before they passed away. I regret still not being able to converse with my parents in their native tongue.

    It is not so easy for everyone to pick up a language as an adult, particularly when it is a language that people expect you to speak perfectly like a native. When a white person tries to speak an Asian language, they get positive encouragement. When I learned German, I got lots of encouragement. But when I tried to learn Korean, I was chastised for speaking it so badly and even my own family had little patience to speak with me. I’ve accepted that the only way I’ll ever learn is if I move to Korea.

    There are ways to teach your kids your native language without forcing them. Their curiosity can be encouraged, they could be taken on trips to your home country and spend time with family, you could just speak to them in your native language and they will become used to it (though once you start in English it will be hard to ever change back).

  23. L says:

    I am a Caucasian Canadian, and so I claim no expertise on this subject. I came across this article and couldn’t stop reading it because I found it very interesting having some insight into the immigration experience. I wonder though if the tension between cultural identity some immigrants experience derives from the American perspective on immigration. In Canada the perspective towards Immigration differs vastly from the American perspective, from what I understand. In Canada we fully respect that immigrant’s have their own culture, we appreciate all immigrant’s desire to maintain their cultural practices, and encourage they do. Canada with holds the idea that you do not have to choose your nationality, you are equally both Canadian and wherever you came from. You cannot segregate parts of yourself “I was this, but now I’m assimilated.” In America you are said to be American first, you bring your crayon and throw it into a pot, where it melts and “assimilates” into a dull uniform colour. In Canada you bring your crayon and we ask you to draw with it and make a mural!!! Celebrate all parts of who you are! Learn from ALL cultures you encounter in your life, whether it be the culture you came from, the culture you live in, or just the culture you visit on a vacation. Every culture has value, every culture offers great things to the world! What needs to happen is not for anyone to assimilate but for all people to celebrate the differences everyone has to offer, to learn from these differences, and to decide based on your internal compass what values you possess, while still respecting the values of others. Oh…and please don’t deny your children the opportunity to do just that, teach them about where they come from, and teach them to have an open mind!

  24. Kaye says:

    I’m also Caucasian and Canadian, first generation on one side, second on the other. I’m an anglophone, but did my primary education in French and am so thankful for it. Later on I learned Spanish, took some Japanese, and picked up some Malay and Setswana, but none with the same ease. Many of my friends had school in French, hung out with friends in English and spoke Cantonese, Japanese or Punjabi at home. I was a bit jealous (also when we did the dress a paper doll in traditional dress thing – I’m mostly English but always went with my bit of Scottish ancestry – what’s do English people wear?). As the above poster notes we have quite a different attitude here around multiculturalism – it was celebrated in school, I mean overtly celebrated.

    Anyways my comment is really about language learning. Much much research shows it is significantly easier to learn a language prior to age 8 and that generally outside of childhood one can’t learn it without an accent. Where I am everyone (perversely given the above) begins learning the second language at least by age 9 – I started 100% in French at age 5, and gradually learned English writing and spelling at age 9 (but spoke it at home). It was literally effortless to pick up French, whereas my other languages entailed far more effort. And having two languages – opened so many doors, and also enabled me to think in different ways and learn other languages later on.

    It is such a gift to learn languages young. To deprive a child of this is truly unfortunate. I think of my Japanese-Cdn friends who are trilingual – and how much that has enriched their lives and perspectives.

  25. Fried Sushi says:

    I came to this site for some laughs but I was mesmerized by Dyske’s article….what really caught my attention were the responses. By definition, I am a first gen Japanese, however, all I have ever known is life in America. I went to public schools in the midwest and received my college degree from UM (Mich.)

    My question to all of you is how can a Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese person have the same “Asian” experience in America? Please don’t tell me it is because we all look (the) same ;-P

    In reading the threads, there is no differentiation between Asian cultures…kinda like lumping all the brown folks with straight black hair into one group and calling them “asians”….wait, isn’t that what the white folks do?

    Growing up, it sucked being the “oriental” kid but it was better than being Chinese or Vietnamese…I know it’s not PC but it’s the truth. I don’t think the playing field is equal to all asians. So whether you assimilate or go bi-cultural, the decision has nothing to do with your success in America.

    Anecdotally, my college friends all feel biculturalism is very important, especially to compete in a global market. My blue-collar friends insist on assimilation or “git out.” Me? I’ve done both. My parents insisted on a bicultural upbringing and I insisted on assimilation. And as every kid eventually realizes ( at 42), yes, the parents were right.

    You know what makes America great? America takes the best from all cultures and wraps it in red, white and blue. In other words, by sharing our culture, we assimilate.

    Dyske, please send your daughter to Japanese school. She might hate it now, but she’ll thank you later.
    It is not your decision on who she wants to be. But it is your obligation to give her all the tools of education.
    Remember, even if she dyes her hair blonde, she’ll always be an asian to American eyes.

  26. Mikako says:

    I’ve never lived in the United States, so I can’t claim much knowledge in that area. However, I grew up in South Korea, and attended an international school. I never had a formal Japanese education until I came back two and a half years ago.

    And you know what? Though I don’t regret my experiences, I have to admit that sometimes I wished I went to Korea at a later age, or went to hoshuuko or something, so that I could have been more fluent in Japanese. I worked like hell to get my Japanese up to scratch, but it came at the expense of less time for other studies.

    I think that if you have the ability or the opportunity to be able to teach your child Japanese (or whatever your native language may be), you should, even if s/he never becomes fluent because it’s like depriving them from their cultural heritage. There’s a world of difference between learning about Japan from Western eyes and from Japanese eyes, and I think the best part of being multi-cultural is that you get to see from both perspectives. Same thing goes for looking at the Western world.

    And I think more importantly, I think it’s sad for the child and also your parents if they can’t communicate effectively without a translator (you). That was one of the most frustrating things for me as a kid, because even though I could speak rudimentary Japanese, I couldn’t express my thoughts or emotions effectively to my family, and misunderstandings DID occur. It may have exacerbated my teenage emo-ness. :/

  27. Junko says:

    Being an Asian kid living in America is not an easy thing to do. Your kids even more so than you. Teach them Japanese does not make them less able to survive in America, whether, it opens up new doors to them in the future, AND it strengthens their relationship with your parents. Who knows, your kids might actually WANT to learn their father’s and grandparent’s language and culture, but you are blocking their way.

  28. john lee says:

    I am a second generation Chinese American and I am raise my children to be multicultural and multilingual.
    What I would like to know is how to teach my kids to deal with racist taunts that strike at the very core of their being. I won’t tell them to ignore it like my parents did.

    A little background about me: I grew up in a Chinatown until I was about 8 years old then moved away to the suburbs. At first it wasn’t a shock since I had white teachers and saw white people on tv while living in Chinatown. Then I encountered racist harassment from blacks and white and I have never felt comfortable around non-Asians even to this day. I punched one kid and that stopped one harasser, but somehow I became reluctant to use violence afterwards to the others, perhaps due to my parent’s discouragement.

    My parents never forced me to learn Chinese. Although I grew up speaking Cantonese, I learned to read, write and speak Mandarin by myself because I wanted to read this funny comic Old Master Q and got tired of asking my mom to translated it for me. It also set the foundation for me to be better able to learn Japanese later in college because I had already overcome the hurdle of memorizing the meanings of hundreds of Japanese characters. I was searching for an identity and lived in Taiwan and Japan for a few years by living a few years. In the end, I concluded that I am who I am and recognize the limitations of being neither 100% this identity nor that identity.

    I think that white america still views us as foreign no matter how assimilated we act.
    I feel it was a tremendous benefit for me to learn Chinese, not because of the marketable skills aspect, but because I can read and hear opinions of real Chinese people and better understand the culture of my parents not lost in translation. Also I can travel freely around China and communicate with ease. Finally it’s something I can hold on to as a core part of my heritage.

  29. john lee says:

    I would like my kids to learn the language, but also master white culture to be at ease and have the social tools to advance in a white dominated culture or corporation. I also hope they don’t become burdened with the negative baggage from explicit and implicit racist messages from the media and SOBs (sons of bigots) at school. I love the Grace Lin books for kids. The illustrations in her Asian-themed childrens depict Asians in a realistic manner, and not in the typical caricatured manner.

  30. A. S. says:

    Check back in thirty years and see whether what yopu are doing is one of your child’s biggests regrets.

    No, I can’t say it will be fershirr. But I’ve seen enough immigrant kids who thought so to be fairly certain of it.

  31. Fried Sushi says:

    Hey John Lee, you had the answer. When you punched the kid, you finally spoke their language. Of course it’s beneath you….but so is the situation. Therefore, take advantage of it. Let your kids join a karate class or some other form of self defense. Just the mere notion that they know any martial arts will give them a wide berth in regard to bullies.
    I survived growing up in Detroit when everyone was losing their jobs to Toyota. I fought every day. I had to because I have to look at myself in the mirror every morning. I would rather die than be bullied – and behaved in that manner. Eventually, no one ever bullied me again.
    Bullies are animals and only pick on the weak and isolated. Prepare your kids not to be one of them.

    If it means anything, a lot of us have been through it and I feel for you.
    You can also tell your kids fat kids, kids with glasses, tall kids, short kids- they all get picked on – it’s not a race thing – it’s just a kids thing. High school will be the hardest time. College is where they will find peace.

  32. Asian Canadian says:

    I’m an Asian Canadian, and I actually agree with Dyske.

    Canada’s policy of “multiculturalism” means that many new immigrants don’t bother to learn English – and so many Canadians in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, etc. will take one look at your Asian face and expect you to speak an Asian language – regardless of where or how you grew up.

    When my friends and I started job-hunting after university, we discovered that we had to either (a) completely fit in with Western culture (body language, facial expression, willingness to drink alcohol, etc.); or (b) prove that we could compete with fresh Asian immigrants in terms of our foreign language skills and qualifications. Even if we had spent all our lives in Canada, the standards that applied to Caucasian Canadians just didn’t apply to us – we weren’t the “kids next door.” On the other hand, Asian immigrants would ask us to switch to Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, etc. – and become extremely frustrated if we were less than fluent.

    Thus, I can understand why it is important to teach your child a second language in Europe, Canada, and other places where anyone who looks “Asian” is never going to be held to the same standard as a native. But on the other hand, I also think it’s wonderful that the United States can create an environment where just blending in is possible.

    If I ever had kids, I would be overjoyed if they didn’t look Asian. If they did, I would feel obligated to force them to learn another language just to save them the annoyance & discrimination that results otherwise…

  33. thab says:

    As a Chinese Malaysian, I don’t understand what all this handwringing is about. Maybe because over here, the Chinese are a large minority in a multiracial country. We’re used to living in a multicultural environment and don’t feel like there’s a chasm between our culture and the world outside. Tbh, I think Americans and Canadians are complicating things unnecessarily. Don’t know if other Malaysians feel the same way though; just my personal opinion.

  34. Mike says:

    Kids are not going to want to learn anything they’re not interested in. It’s my belief that many things that are good for them have to be forced upon them, like eating vegetables. Now, the question is whether to teach them white culture vs. Japanese culture.

    I personally feel that teaching both cultures and the ability to switch when in different environments is a key to Asian American success. Like you said in more elegant words, you have to act white to succeed in a white world. But why is it that I see so many Asians that identify only with white culture so self-hating? I think it’s because American culture looks down on Asian culture to such a large degree. Asians are portrayed as weak, goofy, nerdy, ugly and foreign in American media. To prevent our children from thinking the same things of themselves, they have to learn the truth from us. Some of the angriest, rebellious people I’ve met were Korean adoptees to midwestern, white families. I’ve met about 8 of them. That’s not a large sample but it leads me to believe that there’s some correlation.

    First option, teach both cultures and when to switch back and forth. Second option, teach Japanese and exclusively white culture. I really don’t buy that learning two languages messes with identity later. In contrast, the non-caucasians that identify as caucasians that do not know their native tongue are the most self-hating and confused about identities.

    Take it from and Asian American that had to learn his parents’ native language later in life. Teach your daughter both and let her decide, when she’s mature enough, if she’d rather stick with English only. I would’ve thanked my parents so much if I could converse fluently with my relatives and with the people from my native country. It would’ve opened up so many more opportunities too.

    I remember when I was young, I intentionally avoided people of my race. I’m sure you don’t want your daughter to be like that.

  35. Mike says:

    By the way. I think you’re way too hard on Japanese culture and way too complimentary of American culture. They both have their good and bad qualities. When I was in Japan, I didn’t see a shortage of creativity and when I’m in America, creativity yes, but lots of selfishness and bad manners too. A mix of both would be an incredible society.

  36. Andrew Brown says:

    As a current ESL/ELF instructor at Sook-Myung Women’s University, Korea, and a English BA, TESOL MA major, I can promise you that all research in sociolinguistics encourage those with extra-American heritage to pursue the wisdom and understanding of all cultures in affiliation to the family, which most importantly includes language.

    It is certainly an identity struggle, but it is worth it both for the persona and the level of intelligence. Much research points to those who are BILINGUAL and MULTICULTURAL to have a huge advantage in general learning ability than those who are mono-lingual and mono-cultural. In short, bilingual-multicultural students most always score higher on tests or obtain higher salary professions than those multicultural students who are mono-lingual.

    Hope this helps.

  37. Dyske says:

    Hi Andrew,

    What you are saying does not surprise me. Asian cultures are known for producing over-achievers. Asian parenting style is generally more disciplinarian, and focus on things that can be tangibly measured like test scores and income. The more disciplinarian the parents are, the more likely that they would teach their children to be bilingual.

    Asian cultures are also more socialistic. They think less about who they are, and more about conforming to their societies. Asian parents and societies condition their children to think that not conforming to their societies leads to miserable and lonely lives, although they themselves don’t know what it is like to live outside of the conformity. They pass on this fear of unknown to the next generations, because every generation is too chicken to try breaking from the conformity that is expected of them.

    All this fear comes from the survivalist mentality that is common in poorer, less advanced cultures. For many Asian parents, especially for the parents of our generation and before, survival was/is their top priority because they themselves struggled to survive. The surest way to guarantee your survival is to focus on things that can be measured and compared tangibly like academic achievements. The last thing they want their children to do is to be artists who can create art that truly represents who they are, to find their true selves that cannot be compared to others. Such a pursuit has no guarantee of survival and materially comfortable living.

    The emphasis on conforming is also part of that survivalist mentality because we humans used to be much more dependent on others for survival. Just think of how family structures have changed over the past several centuries. Now the minimum unit of survival is a nuclear family. The more advanced the culture is, the less dependent we are on conforming.

    The Western cultures are generally more advanced in that we see less of this kind of survivalist mentalities. This was quite obvious to me when I moved to the US where everyone around me encouraged me to pursue art. And more interestingly, everyone discouraged me from pursuing technical perfection which is what Asians typically pursue in art (again because it’s something that can be tangibly compared). They encouraged me to find who I am; what is unique about me.

    Here is an interesting article about “Top five regrets of the dying”. Take a look at the number one regret. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

    I’m not concerned about my daughter surviving. I don’t want to pass on Asian survivalist mentality. A big part of the reason why I moved to this country is to escape that sort of petty way of living. I don’t want her to live a life of servitude and constant comparisons and competitions with others.

  38. laly93 says:

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  39. ChuckRamone says:

    In the end, I think it’s still best to try to raise a child with a balance of the two, and to try to achieve it while they are still young enough to absorb it all. I think you’ll find that a lot of fully assimilated white Americans have a sense of loss. A lot of them obsessively search their family trees to find where they came from and become interested in the Old World where their ancestors originated. They probably envy the “culture” that some immigrants have. But of course, don’t limit them to some ethnic enclave.

  40. ConsiderThis says:

    “White people can afford (both financially and emotionally) to study literature, architecture, art history, or advertising.”

    Because, you know, they’re all rich, those white people. They can all afford to go to college, some just don’t, because they’re too lazy to.