Tigers are part of the kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Carnivora. They belong to the family of Felidae; they are part of the genus Panthera. A tiger’s ancestry can be traced using genetic analysis and tracing the phylogenetic relationships between its evolutionary relatives. Once, I dreamed of a tiger and ran my hand through its fur, felt potential thrumming within its veins, felt the inherent wildness deep within its heart.
My mother often spoke to me of hidden potential, the kind that lies deep within you. It’s the palpable kind of potential that thrives in the territory it’s claimed. I was good at piano within a range of notes, but I had the potential to become better outside of that range. Taiwan had opportunities, but there were more opportunities in America. Opportunity and potential are distinctly related; they can be traced exponentially. Substantiation and self-worth are transparent, an invisible line. Draw a punnett square, you’ll find that there’s no escaping the need to pursue self-actualization in each generation. The X will always have an exponent attached.
In Silicon Valley, the kids are made of matter, the kind of matter that exists only in liquid form. They conform to fit their environment. You can try diluting their yellowness, but they’ll keep reacting, keep combusting, keep making products. Sometimes, there’s so much orange that one often forgets that there are stripes at all. All of us bleed red, the red of opportunity, the red of the American Dream, the red of orange on our skin, tanned from the California sun. Once, I played the piano for an hour each night, wanting to achieve something, something more than letters on a sheet of paper--because I believed in potential, and I believed in achieving a territory of self-worth. We laughed at our tiger mothers, mothers who made us do at least twenty math problems a day and play the piano for three hours each night, but truth was, we believed in our potential just as much as they did. Regarding her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua describes her parenting style as a firm belief in the power of pushing her children to their fullest potential, and it was the principle we were all founded on.
I was never a particularly bright student--I wasn’t smart in the way others were, I didn’t ever truly get things the way others understood them. Most of the time, I just couldn’t remember facts, and grammar rules, and didn’t look at teachers with a spark of intelligence. I was just there, a presence that no one really knew what to make of. So I pushed myself to become better, because I knew that that was what my mother wanted me to be: the most exceptional version of myself I could be. While others spent one hour studying for the upcoming math test, I spent three. There were ratios in my ability to perform and my ability to work hard enough to perform better. And I knew that it was this orange that characterized me, but for me it was more than that. It was the willingness and capacity to grow. It was American progress, the Manifest Destiny of there always being room for expansion, room to move until one could settle in the right spot.
The “model minority” doesn’t exist, but the work ethic does. Many have misunderstood the drive, the motivation, that immigrants have in a country not their own. Because yes, it was about getting good grades, and knowing how to do math problems, and playing an instrument, but it was also the concept of opportunity, the desire for meaning. Talking about tiger moms may seem like a joke, but I’ve come to understand it as the belief in potential. Our tiger moms came to America because they knew that there was something in America that had the potential to be better. We’ve come to associate discipline with oppression; that’s not the case. The kids in Silicon Valley just want to matter. They dream of mattering in the scope of the world, and I think people have often misconstrued that to the point where it’s become ambiguous.
I live in Silicon Valley, a community of immigrants. Our mothers pushed us as far as we could go, and even then, farther. I remember my days as a child, wondering why the things I accomplished--the tests I’d scored well on--were never enough. But I realize now that we, the second-generation, are the products of dreams. We’ll always keep reacting, keep combusting, keep making products, because it’s why our parents came here--so we would have the opportunity to. Inherent wildness lies within us; when someone breaks us apart into our simple compounds, the essence of our multiple components, they’ll see our stripes and know what it means--that we’re tigers, dreaming. Because being orange isn’t just a state of being; it’s a kingdom, a phylum, a family. It’s an individual, it’s a people, it’s a nation.
Valerie Wu is a sophomore at Presentation High School aspiring to work in the Foreign Service. Her work has been featured and/or recognized by Susan Cain's Quiet Revolution, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Huffington Post, Teen Ink, and various local publications.