The sitcoms of the 90s shaped me as an immigrant child. What if they hadn’t?


“Ramy” is a bold, at times twisted, black comedy on Hulu created by and starring Ramy Youssef as an American Muslim struggling with his faith and the tribulations of adulthood. And “Master of None”, on Netflix, spent two seasons centered on Dev Shah, an Indian in his thirties from a Muslim family. Dev, played by Aziz Ansari, tries to sort out his future, professionally and romantically, and doesn’t exactly succeed.

The three main characters are unmistakably American and come from immigrant families. Neither identity is at the center of the scene, nor is it swept aside; neither is necessarily shameful nor glorified. Their parents, like mine, speak with accents, but they are never caricatured. Devi, Ramy, and Dev have friends from a variety of backgrounds. These shows ring true in large part because they’re semi-autobiographical, created by first-generation Americans who are pretty much my peers: “Never Have I Ever,” by 42-year-old Mindy Kaling; “Ramy” by Youssef, 30 years old; and “Master of None”, by Ansari, 38, and Alan Yang, 38.

As a child, these stories would have done a lot of work, helping to normalize, validate and celebrate my life, the potential effect on my identity impossible to overstate.

This ship has sailed, however. What I was looking for then is who I am now. Americanism is the water poured into my ink, in two inextricable and diluted parts. This realization caused a sort of existential crisis: if my family had never been to the United States, if television had not been used as an escape, who would I be?

I realize that I am crying an alternate version of myself that fills my head with questions: What do we – gradually, unwittingly – give up in the pursuit of assimilation? How to get lost and find your way around? What are we losing as individuals, as a family and as a people? And who gains what from our losses?

I forgive myself, most of the time, for the choices I have made, and marvel at my adaptability, driven by a sense of survival. But an intrinsic part of me has been mutated in a way that cannot be reversed. And in the end, I don’t know if anyone won.


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