When news broke of Priscilla Chan’s marriage to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, you could hear a collective sigh from every Chinese-American girl in America, myself included. Not necessarily because we were envious of the bride, but in anticipation of the inevitable phone call from our mothers, asking if we heard of “this Priscilla Chan girl” and if so, why couldn’t we be more like her? Her resume reads like every immigrant mother’s dream: bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a medical degree from University of California San Francisco Medical School (one of the top five in the country); soon she’ll begin her a pediatric residency at UCSF. To top off her list of impressive career accomplishments, she’s now married to one of the youngest billionaires in history. In the age of Tiger Mom parenting, Chan is the ultimate success story to be retold to countless Asian-American, and in particular Chinese-American, daughters.
The English-speaking media jumped on the ZuckerChan wedding news — and Chinese and Chinese-American media followed suit. World Journal, one of the largest newspapers serving the Chinese-speaking population in North America, posted details about the nuptials, following up with a translation of the piece that ran on BuzzFeed Shift comparing Chan to Kate Middleton. Apple Daily, a major Hong Kong news organization, also covered it. Should any Chinese mom have missed the papers, Chinese TV news programs seized on the story, too, with every reporter quick to call out Harvard, UCSF Medical School, and the groom’s billionaire status.
Covering education and how the bride and groom met is standard practice in wedding announcements for high-profile couples. Chan stands out as the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong who exemplifies what sacrifice and good ol’ Tiger Mom-style parenting can achieve — even if we don’t know whether her parents adhered strictly to that style of parenting, she’s being held up as proof positive that the extra hours spent in cram schools (after-school programs designed to drill advanced level math and English coursework), the sleepless nights, and the constant pressure to succeed are all worth it.
My Chinese immigrant parents told me two things my entire adolescence: go to a good school and get a good job. Preferably I’d become a doctor. But whatever I wanted to do, they assumed I would adhere to the Confucian principles of respecting one’s elders and do everything they asked. And so I did. I attended a big-name Ivy League institution and started on a path toward a career in medicine — which I dropped after college. But if I were still in school my mother would have tacked a Chinese newspaper article about Chan to my wall. Instead, she called me to say it’s not too late to change careers to be more like her.
Chinese-American success stories that span both the English and Chinese speaking media are rare, which also makes Chan stand out. Chinese moms swoon over her fluency in Cantonese. Much to our parents’ dismay, many of my peers are barely fluent in conversational Chinese, having lost the language through years of English-only education. Retaining fluency is a sign that we haven’t become too Americanized and retain ties to our culture.
On any given weekend, Chinese moms will gather over steaming cups of tea at dim sum, at church, or over the mahjong table. While Chan is sure to be a hot topic this weekend, the conversation will inevitably turn to their own kids — who’s been accepted to what school, who’s getting married, and who’s having children. Never doubt the competitive nature of these conversations — always putting one’s best face forward is a huge part of Chinese culture. Having successful children, especially when compared to one’s friends, is to many the ultimate triumph. Suffice to say that when Priscilla’s mother Yvonne sits down with her friends, she wins. Perhaps the only thing Priscilla could have done better was marry another Chinese boy, but that’s easily forgiven when factoring in Zuckerberg’s immense wealth. She more than checked off all the boxes.
Detractors in the Asian American community will argue that Chan is perpetuating the model minority myth — and stories like this serve to perpetuate that myth. She is the embodiment of a model minority in many ways, but given the private nature of her public life, it’s unfair to place such labels on her. At the end of the day, I’ll remind everyone (including my mom and Chinese moms everywhere!) that she’s just a normal Chinese-American girl like myself with a successful career, a loving partner, and a fridge that includes both almond milk and Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce. She just happens to have a fancier fridge in a bigger house.