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Return of the Tiger Mom

Internationally famed author Amy Chua on dealing with death threats, being bullied for her ethnicity and how Trump was a catalyst for her new book

brunch Updated: Aug 25, 2018 22:59 IST
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Hindustan Times
Amy Chua,Tiger Mom,pushy parent tribe
Amy Chua, best known as the Tiger Mom, gained the moniker after writing her best-selling memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother(Photo: Fadi Berisha photography )

Her controversial 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother caused an uproar like no parenting book has: criticised vehemently for its borderline cruel, strict child-rearing approach to her Chinese-American daughters. But little did Amy Chua expect that it would lead to racial slurs, accusations of child abuse and even death threats in the years to come.

“It put me – and my whole family – in the public eye. But it also opened so many exciting opportunities. The firestorm was extremely rough at the beginning, but seven years later, I wouldn’t trade the experience. As always, I find that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” says Amy. “We survived! And more important, both my daughters are thriving and happy. They are both kind, strong young women with huge personalities and wonderful senses of humour, and I’m incredibly proud of them.”

Group dynamics

Amy had never read any child-rearing books as a mother and never intended her book to be a parenting book in the first place. “I often wonder if I should have edited it more,” she says in hindsight. “But as many have pointed out, it’s the fact that the book was so raw and unfiltered that made it unusual.”

Although her editor and publishers wanted her to do a follow-up to that gigantic bestseller, the Yale law professor has instead written a very differently personal book. Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations looks at the destructive power of political tribalism and how it is affecting America.

“I’ve experienced misogyny in my field, but I’ve used it as a way to inspire myself and perhaps be a role model for young women” – Amy Chua

Amy explains that she wrote this book for two reasons. “The first was about three years ago.I was on a television news show, discussing Ukrainian nationalism. Afterwards, I saw a bunch of mean Twitter posts saying, ‘Why is the tiger mom talking about nationalism?’ I remember thinking to myself, ‘That’s it. People don’t even know I’m a Yale professor!’ I told my publisher that I was returning in my next book to my area of academic expertise, which is foreign policy and political tribalism. That was before Trump was in the picture, and little did I know how relevant the topic was going to be.

“Second, last spring, just a few months after Donald Trump became president, I was teaching my usual class on international business, making a point that I’ve emphasised for 20 years, which is that because the political dynamics in developing countries are so different from our own, we often get our foreign policy wrong. So I was describing how in certain conditions populist leaders with no political experience can sweep to power, stunning the establishment, by tapping into deep currents of social resentment – and I suddenly stopped.I looked up, and there were 80 students staring at me, all thinking what one of them finally said: ‘It sounds like you’re describing America.’ The passage was actually about Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.”

Us and them

In her book, Amy expounds on how America is being pulled apart by tribal divisions and how the ‘super-group’ (America) is being split by race and class. “In America today, every group feels threatened,” says Amy. “Whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives – all feel their groups are being attacked, bullied, persecuted, discriminated against. And when people feel threatened, that’s when they become more insular, more defensive, more Us vs. Them – more tribal.”

Amy Chua’s new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, explores the destructive force of political tribalism

Growing up in Indiana, Amy, whose Chinese parents emigrated from the Philippines, was often bullied for her accent being different – something she faced even years later when studying at Harvard. “I’ve always been an outsider, and I think what I’ve tried to do throughout my life – both personally and in my writings – is to turn being an outsider into a source of strength. One of my favourite lines from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is: ‘Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.’”

She shrugs off the question of facing misogyny in her field. “Oh, I’ve experienced plenty! But I’ve tried to flip it, and use adversity and insult as a way to inspire myself to accomplish more, and perhaps be a role model for young women down the road.”

Inspired by the works of authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Svevo, John Kennedy Toole and Dave Eggers, would she like to try her hand at fiction next? “Yes! But I’m bad at coming up with a plot,” she laughs.

From HT Brunch, August 26, 2018

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First Published: Aug 25, 2018 21:40 IST