These days it’s hard for me to be proud of any of things I cherish. United States leadership is joke, CNN had to ruin the spelling bee, and the San Francisco Giants are in last place.
Regardless of the status quo, if you’re a third culture kid (i.e. a Western born kid who doesn’t easily relate to your immigrant parents or your pale peers) several questions, that have run through your head since birth, have often thwarted you from being proud of who you are. Some of those questions include:
Why don’t “they” get us? How do I present myself that is relatable to my surroundings? Why do I have to be different? What’s the matter with white people? Log kya kahenge?
For the longest time, most of these conversations stemming from these questions were taken place at non-public arenas like immigrant dinner parties, diversity events on CSPAN, and SAT prep courses for middle schoolers.
But that all changed on May 23rd, 2017. A 31-year-old comic from the wonderful town of Davis named Hasan Minhaj tackled these questions, his evolution as a comic, and that age-old immigrant quandary of dealing with your first inter-racial love in his Netflix special “Homecoming King.”
While the stand-up special has largely received positive reviews, many have criticized the Daily Show correspondent’s timing, his sometimes out of sync thoughts on racism and politics, and a few uneven transitions.
Honestly, I don’t really care.
Steven Speilberg once said, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
And to that end, Mr. Hasan gives audience of all shapes and stripes plenty to ponder. The Indian-Muslim comic’s narrative pushes past the flat narrative surrounding hate and makes even the purveyors of liberalism and tolerance think deeper. Unlike fellow comedian Aziz Ansari who was born in South Carolina, Hasan grew up in the progressive bike friendly bastion of Davis, CA. For those who have never been to Davis, imagine the nerdy brother of Sacramento, the band camp of San Francisco, and home to the dopest farmers market in the game (but also a place where no would get the slang “dope” or “in the game”).
But even in this self-proclaimed oasis of tolerance, Hasan’s story of his family being verbally assaulted the day after September 11th, raises a crucial point that racism, bigotry, and intolerance are not confined to a single region. Also, Hasan’s interaction with first love Bethany Reed’s family is a startle reminder that an outward openness towards a person, doesn’t necessarily translate to genuine understanding let alone acceptance.
For those on team tanned, Hasan’s show strikes a very deep chord on so many levels. In my faux blogging, I’ve tried to write about complex issues like immigration, the stock market, the demographic dysfunction in Silicon Valley, and chicken tikka masala. But penning down a few thoughts on this topic has been by far the most arduous writing assignment I’ve ever had.
For starters, this one man show is a launching pad for a million coffee conversations. Hasan’s marvelous take on the audacity for equality, trying take on two cultures, the immigrant tax, and finding so-called love outside one’s race, and the tribulations of un-conventional career choices are all things many of our melanin brothers and sisters grapple with daily.
I could go on and on about each subject, but I realized that’s the beauty of this show. What differentiates this stand up from any other beige based comedy is his ability to side-step one dimensional differences (i.e. unsexy accents, “odd” cultural mannerisms, or language barriers) and succinctly opine on issues with more texture like love, assimilation struggles, and what really eases the mind from past hardships.
The underlying thread that is weaved throughout Hasan’s one-man show is the desire for acceptance. His yearn for acceptance by the kids at school, by his father, and by his first love well into his early 30s. I can see how so many people, across a variety of backgrounds, were moved by this show because at some point in our lives we’ve all yearned to obtain some form of acceptance that we ultimately never received.
Luckily, Hasan is at eventual peace knowing that he has the acceptance he needs. He realizes his strict father always loved him and cared for him in the way he thought best. He eventually understands his younger sister’s adolescent desire was to be appreciated by him. And that there is a place for him in this world to thrive. As he stated in his speech at the White House correspondent’s dinner, “I live in a country where a Muslim comedian can earn a living and have the ability to openly criticize the President. There is no greater form of acceptance than that.”
In the last two weeks, I’ve been hit with twenty-seven texts (and counting) about this special. Thus, I’ve been compelled to contemplate about one hour of comedy more than I ever have. Ultimately, I come to the same conclusion that Hasan does. In the sense that I don’t know the optimal way to handle issues surrounding acceptance, assimilation, and forgiveness.
After viewing his special a couple of times, I keep thinking to myself.
Maybe “they” do get us. Perhaps I just need to be me and the world will accept me for who I am. Maybe it is a blessing to be ethnically different. Maybe, just maybe, there is nothing wrong white people.
Just kidding, I’ll never think that.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once proclaimed, “The most painful issues can’t be solved — they can only be outgrown — but that takes time and deep work.”
Whatever you think of the quality of Hasan Minhaj’s latest work, there is no doubt he has put in the time and deep work. This Aggie alum has relieved his soul of adolescent sorrows and grown into a solid man who represents his generation, profession, and ethnic community with unique grace and intelligence.
And for that, I am proud of him.