My Thoughts on Wesley Yang's NYMag Feature "Asian Like Me": What a Long, Strange Trip
Hey look, another volley in the unending culture wars over Tiger Mom! This one, "Asian Like Me" (or, as it's titled in the interior, "Paper Tiger") is written by Wesley Yang — no relation, as far as I know, he's of the Korean branch of the clan. It's on the cover of this week's New York magazine. And it's a very strange article.
There are pieces of it I agree with, but it's wrapped in so much self-indulgence and reconstituted and redirected self-pity that those useful and interesting bits end up bobbing in the prose like drowning castaways.
I guess this is how I'd respond: The counterposition to being a good little Tiger Cub isn't a defiantly proud lack of success. And celebrating your inability to engage with the world and its rules doesn't automatically make you a genius—in some cases, it just makes you a misanthropic asshole.
Paragraphs like this:
"I wanted what James Baldwin sought as a writer—'a power which outlasts kingdoms.' Anything short of that seemed a humiliating compromise. I would become an aristocrat of the spirit, who prides himself on his incompetence in the middling tasks that are the world’s business. Who does not seek after material gain. Who is his own law."
Makes me feel like the author doesn't really understand the context of James Baldwin's writing...or, for that matter, his own. Especially since his cultural analysis of the Tiger Mom phenomenon has the same lack of examination of class that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother does, only from the other side.
You see, plenty of people go to Rutgers not because they're seeking to become "aristocrats of the spirit" — free of Ivy bullshit and Tiger parent hyperexpectation — but because it's one of the top 50 or so colleges in the world (ranked ahead of Brown in the most recent Academic Ranking of World Universities) and because it's affordable...if they're paying for their own education.
My wife, for instance.
Her parents didn't even go to high school, immigrated to the U.S. with nothing but debt in their pockets, and ran a series of restaurants with middling success, which she and her brothers toiled at throughout their teen and young adult years.
Although her parents had neither the desire nor the resources to send her to college, she saved her money from multiple part-time jobs and ended up being the first person in her family to ever get a university degree — then went on to get her Masters at Duke, also on her own dime. My in-laws — God love them — are the inverse of Tiger parents; all they ever wanted was for Heather to get married and have kids and not work as damned hard as they had to all their lives. Well, two out of three ain't bad, I guess....
Anyway, my point is that the interesting things Wesley Yang has to say in this article end up getting suffocated by his solipsism. A dead giveaway is his failure to interview any Asian American women for the story — which, perhaps, is due in part to his embrace of the that sexual success can be conflated with financial/professional/ontological success.
The two don't necessarily go hand in hand, man.