Asians: The Model Minority

On several different occasions while I was growing up, I remember my mother remarking, “I just love Indian children. They are so well behaved!” At the time, I just shrugged my shoulders. My mother was a teacher at the time, and I was a neurotic adolescent. So, while she had pretty strong opinions about teaching and child-rearing, I mostly had no opinions at all.

I could imagine groups of clean, smiling Indian children, trying their best to be polite. It fit the stereotype. My mother’s remark made a certain sense, even though it rankled a bit. Even then, it seemed wrong to predict someone’s behaviour based entirely on their race.

I also remember when I first met my husband at university. We would often engage in these long, philosophical discussions in my dorm room, and on one particular occasion, I made a comment about all Asians being good at math. Mike bristled, which surprised me at the time. “Not all Asians are good at math,” he told me. “That’s just as ridiculous as saying that all Caucasians are good at math.”

I didn’t quite get it. All the Asian people I knew were good at math (although, admittedly, I didn’t know many). What I didn’t understand at the time is that there could be many different reasons for Asians shining in the classroom.

For one, most Asians who immigrated to North America in the late 50’s and early 60’s (as his parents did), tended to be the best and brightest. They won scholarships to attend university in North America, so it’s natural that their kids might be particularly bright as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all Asians everywhere share this same talent, though.

Secondly, and the focus of this particular blog: the kids of many Asian immigrants were often forced to be good at math through repeated beatings and scathing verbal abuse. They were the best and brightest because their parents simply wouldn’t accept anything less.

You might recall a popular book published in 2011 called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. It became a best-seller because it promoted the idea that if you wanted your kids to succeed, you needed to push them hard. Everybody wanted their kids to succeed like Asian kids, so a lot of mothers took Chua’s advice and strived to be Tiger Moms too.

But at what cost? As it turns out, the lives of those Asian immigrant kids was not so great. Now that these kids have reached middle age, they are starting to speak out about their experiences, and this is the subject of Stephanie Foo’s incredible book, What My Bones Know, a memoir of her struggle to overcome complex PTSD as a result of her parents’ excessive discipline when she was growing up.

In the book, Foo describes how her mother would beat her with chopsticks, a tennis racket, a plastic ruler, a wire hanger – anything she could get her hands on – and often for the smallest reasons, like putting her foot up on a chair. Or opening up the plastic wrapping on a copy of People magazine before her mother could read it. Or failing to say she was sorry about any number of things, depending on her mother’s mood of the day. She was regularly told she was useless, ungrateful, and ugly. She was hurled down the stairs by her ponytail, kicked mercilessly, or threatened with a raised cleaver at her wrist, or her neck.

My husband tells similar stories. He was beaten regularly with the rubber Hot Wheels tracks many of us played with as children. When those weren’t immediately at hand, he was also just plain slapped or hit. He was told he was stupid, lazy, and useless. He was also waterboarded: held upside-down with his nose directly under a running tap. On some occasions, his father would strip him naked and then lock him outside the house for an indeterminate amount of time, even during the coldest days of February. When I asked how old he might be when this kind of punishment occurred, he said about 7 or 8.

Those Indian kids who my mother thought remarkably obedient and polite probably acted that way because they’d be beaten savagely if they didn’t. Those Asian kids who got high marks and achieved first place in every mathematics competition likely faced severe punishment if they failed. It shines a different light on all that good behaviour, on all those spectacular successes.

What I like about Stephanie Foo’s book is that, while she doesn’t shy away from showing the abuse, she also strives to understand why her parents did it. She knows the pressure they felt to succeed, having sacrificed so much to get to North America. She knows the traumatic pasts they were often escaping. Her parents had hard lives. They took it out on their kids. It’s incredibly sad, but also incredibly human.

So, what does all this mean? I guess it means that you should never assume someone else has it easier than you unless you’re able to walk a mile in their shoes. I think it also means you should try to appreciate all the good things you have in your own life. You might not get the highest marks in school, or the job promotion at work, but at the very least, you know your parents care about you (at least I hope you do!) Many Asian kids didn’t have that same assurance, and they still suffer because of it.

Rhubarb Root

The very yellowish rhubarb root and its tart red stems

It was around this time of year that I baked my very first pie. I was 22 years old at the time, and a university student. Although I had baked cakes and cookies before, I had never yet attempted a pie. It just seemed too challenging. I preferred to stick with safer baked goods.

However, that summer I happened to be housecleaning for an older cousin of mine, and after my chores were done, she decided to show me how to make a pie. I remember carefully breaking up the butter into little crumbs and then mixing it together with the flour. My cousin watched over my shoulder the entire time to ensure that I had the correct ratio of butter and shortening to flour, knowing how important that was for the creation of a tender, flaky crust.

We then filled the pie with strawberries, and – you guessed it! – rhubarb from the garden. We sprinkled the strawberries and rhubarb with sugar, put it in the oven, and I have to say, that pie was pretty darn good!

But! We did not use rhubarb root. We used the tart, reddish coloured stems of the plant, to the great relief of both our palates and our intestines! For, while rhubarb stems are fibrous and tart, and no doubt good for the liver, the root is very bitter and yellowish, and is a highly regarded laxative for the intestines.

The Chinese pinyin name for rhubarb root is “Da Huang”, which means “Big Yellow”. Of all the yellow rooted herbs in Chinese medicine, this one is considered the most powerful, and the most yellow! When we make our GCG tincture, which includes rhubarb root, it tends to stain everything yellow. We have to be so careful of our clothes, since even bleach can’t eradicate a strong rhubarb stain.

So, why is rhubarb root considered “big and powerful”? Because it’s an excellent purger of heat, infection and stagnation in the lower body. It doesn’t just cool inflammation, as many other detoxifying herbs do, it also kills bacteria, stimulates blood circulation, and stops bleeding. It works well for people with strong constitutions, and yet is also gentle enough for people who are weaker. Basically, it covers pretty much any health problem in the lower body. It’s magnificent!

First, there are it’s well-known laxative properties. While other herbs, such as senna leaf, buckthorn bark, and even aloe vera leaf can purge a little too strongly and create cramping or laxative dependencies, rhubarb is gentler and can be taken for long periods of time without causing problems. This means that it works a little more slowly, with its effects not occurring until 6-8 hours after ingestion. However, because it doesn’t affect the small intestines, there is no issue with cramping, and it also doesn’t interfere with the normal ingestion of nutrients. [1]

It has broad spectrum antibiotic activity [2] and its ability to increase blood viscosity and stop bleeding make it an excellent remedy for bloody intestinal problems, like dysentery, or intestinal abscesses [3].

It protects the liver from damage, and increases the excretion of bile within just minutes of ingestion [4]. And its ability to stimulate blood circulation makes it an excellent herb for the heart, increasing oxygen consumption in the cardiac muscle, while also reducing heart rate and blood pressure [5][6].

Rhubarb root has even been used to successfully treat acute pancreatitis. In a study done with 100 patients who had pancreatitis, doses of straight rhubarb root – nothing else added – resolved the condition in almost 100% of cases after just 3 days. In this case, 30-60 grams of rhubarb root were given every 1-2 hours until symptoms subsided [7].

You can see why rhubarb root is revered in Chinese medicine. There’s plenty of reasons why you might want to keep some rhubarb root in your cupboard. Just make sure you don’t put it in your pies! You’ll be wanting to use the stems for that.

1. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1998; 251:256
2. Ibid.
3. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Journal of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine), 1982; 2:85
4. Xin Yi Yao Xue Za Zhi (New Journal of Medicine and Herbology), 1974; (5):34
5. Chang Yong Zhong Yao Cheng Fen Yu Yao Li Shou Ce (A Handbook of the Composition and Pharmacology of Common Chinese Drugs), 1994; 226:323
6. Zhong Guo Zhong Yao Za Zhi (People’s Republic of China Journal of Chinese Herbology), 1989; 14(10):46
7. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Journal of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine), 1982; 2:85


Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different. Surrender.


“Where in your life have you demonstrated resilience?”

It’s a question our instructor, Alexa, asked us this past week as part of our compassionate resilience training.

I paused and thought about this for a beat, a note of panic rising in my chest as I searched through the dark woods of my memories for an example to share.

I found it a tough question to answer. It’s not that I haven’t gone through hard times. In fact, I often feel like I’ve spent my entire life stumbling from one disaster to the next. But have I ever demonstrated resilience?

The short answer to that question is a big, fat “No”. I feel like a failure. Tears come to my eyes. I’ve always tried so hard. How is it that despite all those efforts, I’ve still managed to do so badly in life?”

As my tears begin to flow, some of my classmates pipe up. They tell stories of shock and trauma. Of abuse and isolation, and how they’ve managed to pull themselves back up again despite their circumstances. They tell stories of the resources they tried to access, sometimes incompletely, but always making the attempt. They tell stories of how they stumbled, but still moved on as best they could.

Is that what resilience is? The mere survival of difficult circumstances? I’ve always thought of it differently. I’ve always pictured it louder, with a more triumphant ring of success.

When I look resilience up in the dictionary, it says: “the power or ability of a material to return to its original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity,” or “the ability of a person to adjust to or recover readily from illness, adversity, major life changes, etc.; buoyancy“.

These definitions suggest a return to wholeness, with an unchanged spirit. Like the bad event never even happened. That’s how I’ve always thought of it too. That if you can’t bounce right back to the way you were before, then you’re clearly not resilient and you’ve failed.

But as the stories of my classmates keep coming, they describe something rather different. They detail all the ways they tried to survive. The ways they managed to find some sense of control over difficult events. The steps they took to make themselves feel better, even if only for a moment. Success, when it came, was often far into the future.

And as I begin to reflect further, I think to myself, “Didn’t I do that too”? Didn’t I seek out someone to talk with? Didn’t I start meditating? Didn’t I learn to be with my feelings, rather than constantly pushing them under? Didn’t I create a safe space for myself where I could retreat when times were tough? Didn’t I keep going, despite everything?

Traditionally, my way of dealing with life’s many crises was to criticize myself, often quite severely. It was to deny my feelings and push myself even harder. It was to hate myself for all the mistakes I’ve made, and chip away at my sense of strength and self worth until I was left with nothing. But I am changing. Little by little, I am growing. This time, I didn’t do that.

Slowly and persistently, I have become more resilient.

As my classmates continue to describe their own pain and all the little sparks of resilience that followed, I allow some compassion to flow towards myself, as I’ve learned to do. I soften my heart, and show myself some tenderness, recognizing that I’ve always done the best I could.

Suddenly, my perspective starts to shift, and instead of seeing a life filled with stumbles and mishaps, a new and different narrative opens up. A narrative where I’m not necessarily a failure, a helpless victim bouncing from one crisis to the next, but more of a steadfast warrior. As a woman who has somehow managed to keep going, despite everything, with a heart that’s still beating. With a body that’s still breathing. With a spirit that is still warm and open.

Yes, I am resilient too.

In the past, I’ve always thought that if I wanted to be strong, I had to be hard on myself. But I’m gradually learning that resilience only comes when I can show myself some softness. When I can recognize that I am still a good person, with good intentions, who may have made some mistakes, but is still beautiful, and valuable, and unique, nonetheless.

And when I remind myself of this, the tears stop flowing. My chest opens. My shoulders become less tense and I find I can breathe more deeply again.

The world is full of hardness. This time, try something different. This time, see if you can soften towards yourself. See if you can crumble, so wildflowers grow where you are.