Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflections on a Tiger Author

From the annals of my unpublished Yale Daily News work. The Amy Chua maelstrom has receded from the public mirror, but why not re-live the night she came to Berkeley College?

Amy Chua comes off as the tiniest bit neurotic – but in an adorable, high-powered, Wall-Street kind of way. On Wednesday, April 7th, Professor Chua read from her book, Battle Hymm of a Tiger Mother and answered around 20 questions from a 200-strong audience for the annual Asian American Heritage Month dinner in Berkeley Dining hall. While the content of her discussion was entrancing enough – she spoke candidly of her negative press coverage, the current state of her children, anecdotes of her own childhood, and her personal journey finding a passion for law – what stood out in starkest contrast to her media persona was, well, her real personality.

Chua walked on stage at 6:30 p.m., dressed in a two-piece black suit and wearing enormous hoop earrings. She seemed a bit nervous about the event: despite noting that it was nice to be back “on home turf,” she stumbled a bit with her own introduction, dotting her sentences with “ums” and “uhs” – not what you’d expect from a seasoned public figure after months of cross-country books signings and interviews. Her sense of pacing was also just slightly off: immediately after she finished reading an excerpt from her book, before applause could occur, she plowed ahead and asked the audience for questions.

From far away, Chua is pretty gorgeous. I had a friend sitting next to me say, “She is so skinny! I wish I could look like that when I’m 48!” Close-up, she seems to possess a perpetual sneer; when she listens or watches someone else, the resting position for her face looks more angry than happy, and her mouth is slightly open to reveal her teeth. It’s tiger-like, you could say.

You can also tell she’s sassy. Multiple times during the question-and-answer session, Chua would toss her head back to fling her bead-straight hair out of her face. It’s not a cute gesture, or a friendly one – think more practical, hardened and direct, and slightly overconfident.

But her tornado of personality is exactly the infusion of “real talk” the Asian American community needs. Chua isn’t a role model, per say—she’s too infamous to fill those shoes, except maybe with her children—but she’s not afraid to open herself up to the public eye and voice her opinions. Coming from a culture that values social harmony at the expense of direct, unfiltered, (and oftentimes) helpful criticism, that’s a step in the right direction.

For all of Chua’s idiosyncrasies, she’s breaking the bamboo ceiling because of her brashness. And for that, we’ll forgive her — even if Sophia, her oldest daughter, did decide to go to Harvard over Yale.

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