BkRev # 1647. Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self. (2014). Alex Tizon. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 247 pp. Price $27.00. ISBN: 978-0-547-45048-3
Reviewed by: Miriam Cummings
Undergraduate Advising Office
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University of Colorado Denver
As institutions of higher education become progressively more diverse, it becomes increasingly important for academic advisors to develop an awareness and appreciation for cultures other than their own. Developing an appropriate, enriching, and liberatory multicultural awareness goes beyond tokenism and fetishizing; rather, a value for diversity and inclusion should be expressed through an open mind, a listening ear, and a keen eye. An open mind actively attempts to shelve assumptions and preconceived notions about students based on stereotypes. A listening ear seeks to understand individual students, their stories, and the unique and multifaceted identities they carry. And a keen eye is watchful for experiences and patterns of domination students encounter, both inside and outside higher education. Reading Alex Tizon’s Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self is a captivating and useful tool for advisors interested in developing such competencies.
In Big Little Man, Tizon takes readers on a journey of personal identity development informed by history and contemporary sociology. Tizon’s intimate autobiographical work is at once intensely personal and wildly generalizable. Tizon thrives in a specificity that, counterintuitively, serves not to alienate the reader, but instead to highlight threads of common humanity. Tizon succeeds in making what may be novel or foreign to the reader relatable.
Tizon arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines at the age of four, and throughout his life, grappled with questions of what it means to be Asian, what it means to be a man, and what it means to be an Asian man in the U.S. This winding expedition through stages of racial and gender identity development bring to mind student development theories often incorporated into the theory and practice of academic advising. Additionally, Tizon shares how he continued to develop these identities throughout his life, both deepening and mellowing his conception of self as he aged, which reminds advisors of non-traditionally aged students that even adult learners are on a developmental journey. Tizon’s careful and nuanced approach to the intersection of his Asianness and his maleness is particularly compelling. However, his otherwise apt intersectional analysis fails to consider the third axis of traditional intersectionality studies – class – as deeply as he considers race and gender. This oversight, whether an indicator of Tizon’s class privilege or not, is one of the book’s few weaknesses.
Part personal memoir and part history lesson, Big Little Man is also a powerful social commentary on the U.S. dominant culture, serving as a potent reminder for academic advisors that the history and values taught to students, both explicitly and implicitly, through both formal and informal measures, may not reflect students’ own history and values. This is especially true for students who come from dominated groups. As Tizon describes internalizing the Western mythology of the weak and effeminate Asian man as “an education that came from the air itself” (p. 8), and then later the immense and years-long research required to learn about strong Asian historical figures, advisors may naturally question the hidden curriculum in U.S. educational institutions. Related to themes of power and domination, Tizon also delves into complex discussions of colonialism, post-colonialism, and hybridity – concepts which are relevant to all students today.
Overall, Alex Tizon’s Big Little Man is an incredibly engaging text from which all readers, advisors and students alike, can glean powerful, personal, and relevant insights.