Forget Tiger Mom. Success Is About Skechers and the Ethnic Food Aisle.


We the American people can finally rejoice. As you may have heard, Amy Chua (aka Tiger Mom)’s new book The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
is officially available. Finally, the lowly unsuccessful (by cultural
upbringing) people can finally unlock the treasure of drive and
determination and make it in America.

the already sensational read, pot-stirring Chua and her
co-author/co-parent/husband Jed Rubenfeld identify three qualities
exuded by minority cultures that have led to their success in the US
while also highlighting a handful of cultures and subcultures that
supposedly prove their point.

has caused a lot of accusations regarding race-baiting and racism and
race-supremicism. But Chua and Rubenfeld are not wrong about how success can happen in
America in immigrant and minority populations. I’m not here to make any group (but especially white people)
feel better about themselves because the mean ol’ Asian professor lady and her Jewish professor husband say
they’re not good enough. I am, however, concerned that by celebrating a
narrow definition of success in America, Chua and Rubenfeld are propagating the shitty ideals that have led to so
much failure in America.

the record, Chua and Rubenfeld don’t exactly say anything that is
particularly controversial. Condescending? Yes, but not controversial. The three “unlikely traits” they highlight are (as quoted from the book’s Amazon page):

are taught that everyone is equal, that no group is superior to
another. But remarkably, all of America’s most successful groups believe
(even if they don’t say so aloud) that they’re exceptional, chosen,
superior in some way.
are taught that self-esteem—feeling good about yourself—is the key to a
successful life. But in all of America’s most successful groups, people
tend to feel insecure, inadequate, that they have to prove themselves.
today spreads a message of immediate gratification, living for the
moment. But all of America’s most successful groups cultivate heightened
discipline and impulse control.

So, superiority, inferiority, and discipline. That’s it, I think.

can get down with discipline and impulse control (because that’s how I
was raised), but I’m calling bullshit on the first two points regarding
the superiority and inferiority complexes. They are redundant—they
simply highlight the fact that minorities are the minority (um, thanks for clarifying?). Let’s recall the summary of that first point: “All of
America’s most successful groups believe (even if they don’t say so
aloud) that they’re exceptional, chosen, superior in some way.” Um,
yeah. If a capitalist American definition of success guarantees that
not everyone can be successful (there’s got to be a bottom for there to
be a top), of course the small percentage of successful people are going
to feel special.

In terms of inferiority, it’s not that minorities feel
inferior, it’s that we know we have to work much harder to gain
recognition in America. Proving oneself is a fact of life for
immigrants and minorities, successful and unsuccessful. Yes, it sucks,
and it’s a huge problem in America. It’s how doctors who saved hundreds of lives in their home country wind up working at call centers or driving cabs. Chua and Rubenfeld’s failure to mention the systematic
oppression that prevents success is just ridiculous.

But I guess the part about The Triple Package that is most difficult to swallow is the privilege with which it was written. As Keli Goff at The Root explains, Chua and Rubenfeld’s work is off-putting because of its limited scope and narrow definition of success:

is something extremely condescending about two people of privilege
writing a book about how they “earned” their privilege, in part, by
being privileged enough to grow up in the right kinds of communities,
with, presumably, the right kinds of people. There is, as I see it, a
fundamental flaw in Chua’s argument. It seems that she and her husband
define success in very limited ways.”

am happy for Chua and Rubenfeld, two incredibly successful individuals,
but it gets my goat when people who have access and an understanding of how success in America works don’t call out the system’s failures or work to change it
for the better. To wit, check out this useless Today show interview in which the duo exasperatedly wonder aloud why
people are making such a big deal about the “cultural groups” aspect of
their book—ANSWER: IT’S THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK—and then make sure
everyone knows they’re not racist because they highlight black subgroups too, you guys.

Inspired by Chua and Rubenfeld’s new work, I present an alternative triple package: three benchmarks — by no means universal but based on my casual, personal observations as a first generation Sri Lankan American — for what I think it
takes to be a “contender” in American society.


think we can all agree that buying Skechers is not a very
fashion-minded decision. Skechers are sort of like the Nickleback of
shoes; they are incredibly successful and no one knows the fuck
why, and people that buy them are in the unenviable position of
justifying their purchase. Skechers is its own aesthetic. In the
Great American Athletic Gear Race, they’re not even on the playing field — and
they don’t care. But goddammit, they get the job done. They keep your
bare feet from touching the ground, and they are comfy as hell. Most
importantly, minorities swear by them.

it comes to working a job when you’re on your feet for 10+ hours
whether in food service or the medical industry, your feet need some
relief and so does your wallet. It’s the ultimate act of not buying
into America’s almighty consumer culture, but rather, buying into a
caricature of it. Skechers represent the sacrifice necessary to make
it in America—clearly your eyes are on the prize if you’re willing to win in a pair of Shape-Ups.


is different when grandparents live at home. Often, immigrant
grandparents just join their children in their homes because 1) why
waste money!? 2) that’s kind of just how it is. Growing up, undergoing
puberty, facing social pressures, leaving home for college — it’s all a
very different experience when there’s a third generation in the house.
It’s difficult enough to grow up with the strict set of expectations set by some immigrant parents. Now imagine an extra set of expectations from Grandma (whose standards in my case were literally colonial). The pressure is kicked up a notch and, in turn, many sons and daughters work that much harder to meet expectations.

There is a certain idea of familial duty and respect that is instilled
from the get go, being partially raised by, living with, and eventually
taking care of grandparents. It’s hard to have a big ego when
giving an 80 year-old woman a bath and coming face to
face with the future (location of your breasts).

Ethnic Foods Aisle and White-Collar Crime

too long ago, having bottled butter chicken, peanut sauce, or even soy
sauce in a regular grocery store was completely unheard of. Guaranteed,
in some places it still is. But we did it. The growing presence of
minority cultures has made it to the board and now basmati rice is right
next to the Uncle Ben’s in many American grocery stores. It’s the
ultimate minority triumph. As far as the supermarket is concerned, your people aren’t ethnic — they’re just, like, people.

it’s the ultimate indication that minorities hardly gain acceptance or
success on their own terms. It’s about assimilating into a
consumer-oriented American culture, like how people who have lost their
mothertongue-infused accents are more likely to succeed.

For example, if
you mention you’re Hindu and people respond by talking about yoga,
congratulations, your culture has made it in America. If you mention
your culture to a white person, and they say, “OMG, I know the best
hole-in-the-wall [insert your culture here] place,” your culture has
made it. But if there’s one real indication of successful assimilation
into white America, it’s if people from your culture have been charged
with white collar crime. If they were in deep enough to commit a CNBC-level crime, it still means they were in. Congrats, a member of your minority group has insider access to big, important things — that’s definitely a mark of success in my opinion. You did it.

The Triple Package may teach people how to be successful in America, but it’s only according to a definition of success based on privilege. Ironically enough, that definition is rooted in the same form of “success” that colonial-era European powers imposed on their territories. Which then led to the fall of many former colonies and forced people to seek better opportunities in America in the first goddamn place.

So thanks, but I’ll stick to my own triple package.

Photos via ValeStock/

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