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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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Lebanese success is more than the Triple Package

Uploaded: Feb 19, 2014
I am not a big fan of Amy Chua's earlier book in which she introduces the techniques of "Tiger Mom" parenting, but my lack of enthusiasm is mostly out of self interest. Having spent the last 12 years assisting ailing parents, I foresee some benefit to having my children still like me when I am frail, decrepit and reliant upon them for care.

But Ms. Chua's new book, The Triple Package, initially intrigued me, as it is the vindication for which I have been waiting for 30 years! My husband is Lebanese, which, according to Chua and her co-author/spouse Jed Rubenfeld, makes him a member of one of the eight most successful cultural groups in America today. Thirty years ago, all I heard was he was dating me for a green card. Chua and Rubenfeld have proven what I have known all along, it is I who got the better deal in this marriage.

I bought the book looking forward to reading more about why my husband is wonderful. Much to my disappointment, in 225 pages of text, the words "Lebanon" and "Lebanese" appear on only ten pages. In 70 pages of footnotes, only one page with nine citations relate to the Lebanese. The Lebanese are referred to as "an obscure example" of a successful immigrant group. The authors never make much of a case as to how the Lebanese share the other cultural groups' Triple Package traits of superiority, inferiority, and impulse control, so I am compelled to share my own observations of Lebanese traits that explain their success.

The Lebanese have a habit of speaking simultaneously in at least three languages. While this tends to be annoying to those of us who have mastered only one of those languages (English), are struggling with the second (French), and have completely given up on the third (Arabic), this multi-lingual neuroplasticity has been shown to not only delay the onset of Alzheimer's, but, I am convinced, fosters creativity and a unique sense of design and aesthetics.

Secondly, Lebanese are chameleons. Lebanon is a very small country, so they are knowledgeable about the rest of the world, even though the rest of the world is completely ignorant of them. The Lebanese have an intuitiveness that allows them to insinuate themselves into other countries and cultures. As the Phoenicians traded around the Mediterranean in ancient times, the Lebanese now accomplish this on a global scale fostering business by bridging cultures. At age 17 my husband's grandfather left Lebanon on a boat headed to South America. He mistakenly disembarked in West Africa, but proceeded to build a life as a trader there, importing and exporting goods for both the English and African communities. There are long standing Lebanese communities in locales as disparate as Michigan, Ecuador, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Iraq, and Australia.

The Lebanese are as widely distributed as they are social, always seeking ways to connect, both within their community and with the local population of their adopted country. And, all Lebanese seem to be related to each other. A typical introduction might be, "This is my cousin, Najib. His wife's cousin is married to a cousin of my sister-in-law." I would be hard pressed to identify such a relation!

Geographically the Lebanese are at a convenient location for trading at the meeting point of Eastern and Western civilizations, but it also places them squarely in the pathway of a litany of invading armies and political strife. For approximately 4,000 years, each generation has seen the country occupied and destroyed. The Lebanese identify with the myth of the phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes, as each time they somehow rid themselves of the most recent invaders and rebuild.

Lastly, their success must have something to do with their fondness for garlic.

Like the Lebanese, the seven other groups that Chua and Rubenfeld describe in their book have rich and complex cultures that contribute to their success as populations in the US. To reduce these cultures' attributes to three traits (which appear to result from variations on "Tiger Mom" parenting) is an oversimplification that does not truly illuminate the story behind their successes.

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Posted by Thomas, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm

I like this perspective better than Amy Chua's triple package theory!

Posted by Debbie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I have not read Amy Chua's latest, but I can tell that I already prefer yours!

Posted by Karen, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

I love this kind of story! I remember listening in to the fourth grade reports as students told the stories of a relative's journey to California...inspiring accounts of courage. We are so fortunate to live in a place where talented people come from all over the world to find the American dream.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 7:30 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Thomas and Debbie, for reading and commenting!

Hi Karen, I remember hearing one 4th grader describe how her father lived in a "camp" and then came on a boat by himself from Vietnam at age 16, and rented a room in a boarding house in NYC while he worked his way through high school and college. I had met her dad before, but now looked at him in a whole new light, having never imagined that back story.

Posted by Kirsten, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm

What a shame Amy Chua does not tell more about the Lebanese story in her book. I am curious Sally whether you think any of her three traits do apply to the Lebanese story. I was surprised that cultures from Cuba to Vietnam were all linked together under this rubric under this value umbrella.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Kirsten, for the comment and question.

The three traits of the Triple Package are superiority, insecurity, and impulse control. While the Lebanese are very proud of their beautiful country, rich history, and resilience, I would not describe them as feeling superior to everyone else.

Insecurity is a common characteristic of immigrant groups. They are learning a new culture and ways, and initially they will feel insecure. I have not, however, observed in Lebanese families the parenting practices the authors describe, such as shaming children if they earn an "A" instead of an "A+" or making kids fearful that they will bring dishonor on their families if they are not perfect. The authors claim these parenting practices contribute to the feelings of insecurity and anxiety that motivates these groups to be exceptionally successful.

The authors argue that impulse control is also instilled by parenting practices that emphasize discipline, self control, and perseverance. The Lebanese that immigrate to the US do tend to be disciplined individuals as it is very competitive to earn admission to institutions of higher learning and later job offers, but I have not observed Lebanese parents emphasizing these skills to the extent described in the book.

I think the multiculturalism of the Lebanese has much more to do with their success as an immigrant group than the Triple Package. I would suspect there are subtleties and complexities to the other seven cultures that the authors overlook in their attempt to impose a one size fits all reason for their success.

Posted by Firoozeh, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 21, 2014 at 6:52 am

Author deserves honorary Lebanese citizenship!
Lovely article and very accurate. Keep writing, Sally!

Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:29 am

The backstories inspire us all! Thank you, Sally!

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thanks, Firoozeh!
So does the Triple Package explain the success of Iranians in the US?

Thanks, LJ, for reading and commenting!

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