Throughout the years of having brought Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and every other shade of yellow to my Caucasian mother’s house to meet the family, she’s never once batted an eyelash or given me an odd look (although she did laugh the time the Cantonese guy asked if our dog was for dinner).
I remember having to teach her how to say my first crush’s name (Fangzhou) when I was eight. But just because she has been a blessing in my life doesn’t mean that dating Asian guys has been easy. Far from it; the only more difficult task I will ever face in my life will be the day I give birth to my kids.
Once you get beyond the factor of actually getting my hands on some hot piece of Asian man, that same Cantonese guy stood by and let his fobby (Fresh Off the Boat) Tiger mother tell him that he could “work off some steam” by taking me to bed if he wanted, but there was no way in Hell he was dating me. The Viet parents never knew about me; neither did most of my other Asian ex-boyfriends‘ parents.
So when I started dating my current Asian boyfriend, having had experience with fobby Asian tiger moms, I was terrified that she would hate me, especially since I knew that she harbored resentment at her born-in-Beijing son being so Americanized. I remember my heart pounding as he drove me up the driveway. The first few minutes were tense, and then he did the unthinkable: he said that he and his stepdad were going to go out and bring back a Philly and I was going to stay there with his mother, alone, until they came back.
I was terrified and wanted to gag him with his citizenship papers and strangle him because I knew from his stories that his mother was a demon from Hell, but now I’m grateful that he did that. In the time that they were gone, she took me into the kitchen where she was making our (Chinese) dinner and we had a woman-to-woman chat about China, Chinese people, Buddhism, and how awful it was that her son was a Twinkie (he brought a PHILLY to her home-cooked CHINESE dinner).
She ended up telling me that I was more Chinese than her son; she said that she always knew he would bring home a white girl, but that she could rest in peace knowing that he brought home a white Chinese girl. She told me, “You more Chinese than my son. He bad, very bad. You good girl, good Buddhist. You good Chinese. Okay, you date my son.”
She stood in front of me and told him that he needed to start saving up money for our marriage and she sent me home with her two-foot golden Buddha statue as a present.
What this woman wanted to know was the same thing that most objecting fobby tiger moms want to know when their sons bring home white women: “Is this girl going to trash my son’s heritage or is she going to preserve it?”
In my case, she knew that it would inevitably be ME that would insist on naming our (hypothetical) son Tianliang instead of Allen and putting him in a Saturday school to learn Mandarin calligraphy. She knew that I would take away her son’s steak and feed him proper Chinese food from my own kitchen. She knew that I would be able to keep pace with Chinese religious and cultural rituals. She even loved that I was so deeply religious that I wouldn’t eat meat, because she said most Chinese don’t even do that.
The real kicker was when I described how I made one of my favorite Taiwanese dishes (three-cup chicken).
Fobby tiger moms don’t necessarily want you to be of the same ethnicity; they’re just terrified that you’re going to take the Asia out of their sons. I’m not saying that you’ve got to convert religions or learn a new language to get them on your side (although same religious values and being able to address her with the proper titles in her own language does help), but I am saying that you’ve got to make an effort to show her that you have no intentions of stripping her precious boy of his heritage.
She’s terrified of you, not because you’re white, but because you’re different.
Put yourself in her shoes. Many immigrants came to this country to escape poverty and war. The things that they learned from their mothers and grandmothers don’t exist here. They have no idea where they are or what they’re doing. Their sons come home doing and saying strange things that they don’t understand.
You’re one of THEM, the others, the people who are making their sons neglect their heritage. If I were one of those moms, I’d be terrified to the point of wetting myself if you walked in the door. If you can cross that barrier, if you can show her that her boy’s not going to starve in your kitchen, if you can show her that you’re going to take care of him like she does, then you’ve just unlocked the biggest gate between you and acceptance.
That’s all that any mother wants for her son: to know that he’s being taken care of.
In my case, the fobby Asian tiger mom was so enamored with me that she completely ignored my several tattoos (one of them very large), something that definitely has been known to get in the way (it stopped the Korean from taking me home).. She also didn’t care that I was about to move to Thailand for a year to teach. All she was concerned with was how she could get this “perfect Chinese girl in white girl body,” satisfaction for both her and her son, to be a more permanent part of the family.
She knows full well that her son might ignore her, but that when it comes to me, whatever she says goes. If we end up getting married and she wants a traditional Chinese ceremony, it’ll be “YES MA’AM! Wei, go put on your Mandarin suit. Do it now. Now or no nookie for a week.”
Ever since I came to Thailand, she keeps telling him, “Wei, you marry this girl. I like her. Good Chinese. You so bad, Wei.”
Keep in mind that I don’t even speak Mandarin…
It’s a daunting task to gain the fobby Asian tiger mom’s acceptance, but in the end you’ll thank yourself for it. If you don’t make her realize that you’re not some evil “dog turd yang guizi witch” come to steal her son, then you’ll only end up in one of two places: either shoved in the background as a forgotten and forbidden toy, or with a demon tiger of a mother-in-law from Hell who will never stop breathing down the back of your neck until she dies. Neither situation is terribly pleasant.
The important thing to remember is this: she’s terrified that you’ve come with a bucket of whitewash in hand, and only YOU can prove to her that her son is in safe hands.