Growing up in an immigrant desi household, watching movies and television was the one outlet that allowed me to escape my Indian identity any chance that I got. Though I grew up watching Zee TV with my grandparents or the occasional SRK film with my parents, I struggled to figure out how to fit in at school amongst my peers who chatted about Austin and Ally or the new One Direction song that just dropped. Kids used to question why I used to bring Aloo Paratha for lunch, which my mom would hand prepare every morning with my favorite achaar, which eventually turned into eight-year-old me putting Lunchables and Baby Bell cheese in the grocery cart every time we went shopping. I always wondered as a young kid if someone like me would ever be on television when all I would see would be the typical stereotypes of the jock, the wallflower, the studious girl, and the outcast who would all be Caucasian with not a single drop of melanin in sight. Eight-year-old me would never believe that there would be a brown and immigrant marvel superhero in the form of Kamala Khan.
Played by Iman Vellani, Kamala Khan is just your average teenager from (yup, you guessed it) Jersey City who navigates the in’s and out’s of high school and making friends while figuring out what it means to be Muslim-American while balancing her dual life as a dutiful daughter to her immigrant family and as a superhero who wants to be like her idol, Captain Marvel. With a star-studded cast, Ms.Marvel sheds light on how a Desi American teenager jumps through hurdles in regards to balancing college apps and SATs while figuring out how to break free from her ammi’s hold on her life by trying to find independence and solace in her friends who are her ride or die’s no matter how many times things go the wrong way.
The show incorporates phrases in Urdu and an accurate representation of how desi parents are when it comes to academics, what a daughter should and shouldn’t do with a more modern take, and navigating Kamala’s faith and keeping traditions alive. I never thought I would hear the words “beta,” which means child in Urdu, or see a Desi American teenager who submerges herself in her culture with bangles and mithai (sweets) while trying on different salwar kameez. The show also highlights how Desi teenage girls have to advocate for themselves to do even simple things such as leaving the house, going to a school-related event, or even meeting up with a friend, which is the story of every single desi teenage girl’s life. The show depicts how women have to advocate and push for what they want as opposed to their male counterparts or brothers, who can be out till late hours. At the same time, safety is a massive concern for parents regarding their teen daughters who struggle to navigate their double life as dutiful desi daughters while living the American dream and assimilating to western culture.
In its first episode, the show showed how Kamala had an outfit pre-picked out for Avengercon, a convention about Marvel’s The Avengers, and decided to go as her role model, Captain Marvel. After advocating for herself to attend the way, her brother had to step in to help her parents see where she was coming from, but they had plans of their own. Though they were well-intentioned, Kamala’s mother created a costume for Kamala and her father to go as a duo as “Bara Hulk aur Choti Hulk,” which means “big and little hulk,” by putting together a green and purple Salwar Kameez together for an outfit which would cover Kamala’s body from head to toe. In Kamala’s ammi’s (mother’s) eyes, the Hulk costume wouldn’t be as “tight-fitting” and visible to people of the opposite gender at the convention.
By making Kamala’s abbu or father tag along with her, it shows how desi parents have a more challenging time in “letting go” and seeking control in their children’s lives even though they are well-intentioned and are learning how to assimilate and navigate this country just as much as desi immigrant children navigate their schools and clubs resp my life, I’ve realized that Desi’s parents show their love throughout my life differently. Whether cutting fruit while you’re studying or driving you to and from other events, desi parents, though they are pretty tricky to understand, mean well as time goes on. Kamala’s character encapsulates the emotions that desi children feel while growing up by trying to grow into her element and follow her calling while trying to satisfy and shrink herself into a box that would satisfy her parents but later manifests into regret. As a brown woman of color who attends a PWI (predominantly white institution), I believe that the brown girl come up that the world deserves has arrived. Still, it’s finally time for brown women to be able to take a deep breath and be who they want to be and not shrink themselves for anybody. There is a superhero inside of all of us. Kamala Khan has paved the way for brown desi children and young adults alike to reclaim their power and that being brown is a superhero in itself and something that we shouldn’t be afraid of but rather learn to embrace and fall in love with being Desi and American, that is our generation’s superpower.