Review: Life article allows for sensitive reflection on culture and violence
On July 22, 2015, Toronto Life published a feature by Karen K. Ho titled “Jennifer Pan’s Revenge: the inside story of a golden child, the killers she hired, and the parents she wanted dead” that proceeded to go modestly viral. Despite the gratuitous title, the piece intelligently and empathetically focuses on the life of Jennifer Pan, a first-generation Asian-Canadian. Her struggle to live up to the expectations of her “tiger” parents resulted in deceit and, eventually, an attempt on her parents’ lives that left her mother dead and her father barely surviving.
Her trial, along with most of her accomplices, wrapped up in January, and resulted in sentences stretching decades into the future. About half a year later, this piece came out. It caught my eye when some of my friends shared it through social media. Some expressed horror, and some made a quick joke out of it, the kind I figure are made out of deep-seated personal anxieties.
I read the article thinking it was going to be over-dramatized and heavy-handed, but it really had its nuances. It was sensational and moving, but in a different way than I had anticipated. Really, I would argue in a good way.
In the comments section on Toronto Life, I was surprised to find a plethora of intelligent, sensitive and useful discussion. Ho’s piece had opened the floodgates not to simple bashing of tiger parents and Eastern culture—though there definitely still was some of that —but to a forum that tried to understand tiger parents, their kids and how the dynamic of this particular crime wasn’t black and white. Both the victims (Jennifer Pan’s parents) and the aggressor (Jennifer Pan, for orchestrating their murder and seeing it through) are culpable for committing wrongs, be they physical or mental.
While I agree with such a splitting of blame, I think it’s hard for young people facing authoritarian parenting to conceive of how this cultural divide can ever be bridged. Luckily, in this case the discussion on culture is not oversimplified. Some sense of respect is shown for the values different ways of living life can provide. The top commenter on the piece, Alexis M., had this to say: “I have virtually no grievances left with my parents. I have a stable job and a stable life, which I attribute in large part to the educational opportunities that I was given by my parents, and though my mother still throws barbs at me whenever she can about how I’m not living up to expectations… it feels entirely innocuous to me now.”
But the important difference between Alexis and Jennifer Pan is that Alexis was able to achieve what Jennifer could not, and that is where Jennifer’s problems truly began. Alexis is cognizant of this and admits, “had I not been able to achieve what I did, had I not been able to satisfy my parents, I might have [thought about killing them too].”
Behind the discussions, there are also serious confessions, in which posters liken themselves to Pan. One commenter, silvergenesis, empathetically stated, “I can understand where Jennifer is coming from… I was eight when I first had the thought that I wanted to kill my father.” The commenter then goes on in graphic detail about such fantasies.
Ho definitely casts a negative light on both Jennifer and her parents, but the circumstances she depicts also lead you to empathize with both parties. It’s the perfect setup, I think, for a sort of mentorship to blossom. For similarly-afflicted youth, reading about Jennifer Pan and coming to understand—though not legitimize—her story is an important first step to acknowledging the challenges that are inherent in reconciling their biculturalism. The piece depicts a present condition and demands self-evaluation, and the discussions that arise from it push us to be hopeful about the future.comments powered by Disqus