Ellen Wang

Meet Ellen Wang who shares her take on filial piety, why it’s important to her, and the deference she has for her parents.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

I was born in Taiwan, raised in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia (third culture kid!) and have lived with my husband and son in Cambridge for the past 10 years. My pronouns are she/her/hers.  I am a former educator (k-12, higher ed, and CBO), and currently work in education philanthropy.  I am passionate about social justice, relationship building and giving back. My hobbies are vintage and ethical fashion, and my dream is to open a women's lifestyle boutique that carries ethically made and sustainable fashion lines and has a philanthropic mission. 

2. Why do you think there is such an emphasis on filial piety in your culture?

Filial piety has been a central value in traditional Chinese culture, rooted in Confucian philosophy, although it's a fairly common aspect to many Asian cultures, and to some extent, various immigrant cultures. For me, the idea of unconditional respect and deference for one's parents and elders is not without its tensions,  I remember growing up in two different worlds - at school where I was encouraged to speak up and speak my mind, but at home, I was expected to be seen and not heard. To this day, even as a grown woman, I struggle with this when I interact with parents, but the older I get, I try to come at my relationship with my parents and elders from a place of gratitude and peace.

3. When did you learn to value this part of culture and why?

From a young age, I witnessed the ways in which my parents helped their parents, and younger siblings. Sometimes, there were requests for financial support, but other times, my parents just offered, because they could. For my family, filial piety was demonstrated through financial support, as my parents did not live in Taiwan with their parents. While my family was solidly middle class for a big part of my childhood, my parents experienced financial hardships , from which they never quite recovered, around the time I left home to attend college in the US. I had an inkling of the kinds of sacrifices they made to pay my college tuition, and I made it a point to start sending them money as soon as I had a job at 21.  Now that my brother and I are both successful in our respective careers, we financially support our parents. Part of it is out of necessity, and to some extent obligation, but most of it is because I can and want to - it a concrete way in which I can care for them. In many ways, it is my parents who instilled in me the desire to give back - not just to my elders, but to those whose experiences have historically been marginalized or erased, by centering their voices and investing in their communities.