When I heard that there was going to be a new Muslim Ms. Marvel, I raced to my e-mail and requested it on WCBR. To be honest, I’m not completely sure why. You can find my review of the series here, but, if you’ll forgive some navel gazing, I wanted to take a moment to put down some more personal thoughts.

I am a Hinjew. My mother is descended from Russo-Polish Ashkenazi Jews and my father is a first-generation Indian immigrant from a Brahmin Hindu family, making me about as Aryan as it gets (suck it, Hitler). Both of my parents were uninterested in raising me religiously. By nature of my having Jewish relatives around and no Hindu ones, I only learned Jewish traditions. My father is north Indian, light-skinned, and not immediately identifiable as Indian. Combined with my mother’s features, I certainly could pass for white, but only as much as I could pass for Persian, or Latino, or Native American.

HeIsMsMarvelI’ve never been to India. I’ve never been and part of me is uninterested in going. Throughout my life there have been moments where I want to get in touch with my Indian heritage, but every one has ended with the acknowledgement that I’m not really all that connected to India. Though I think visiting India could be fascinating, I’m not terribly interested in visiting my homeland as a tourist: speaking no Hindi, knowing only affluent American culture, marked with a Brahmin name that breeds familiarity that’s bound to be dashed.

I honestly think of myself as somewhat raceless. So what did I feel I could bring to the examination of a young Pakistani Muslim Girl? As I said, I don’t entirely know, but I’m kind of glad I did. You see, despite the insistence of Marvel, the media, and the fans that this would be an important comic for the inclusion of a high-profile woman-of-color, Kamala Khan is less concerned with being a Desi than being an American.

Kamala doesn’t hate her Pakistani heritage. She doesn’t resent America’s unfulfilled promises of complete equality. But what resonated with me was one line, spoken, quite appropriately, to a hallucinatory Captain America. “It’s not that I think Ammi and Abu are dumb. It’s just – – I grew up here! I’m from Jersey City, not Karachi!” Though her experience differs greatly from mine, Kamala and I both feel that we’re Americans. She wishes, desperately, that the girl that people see matched the person she is inside, that the Zoes and Joshes of the world would see that she’s one of them. I, on the other hand, wish that I could feel a more honest connection to India, but know that my smattering of interactions with relatives and Intro to Asian Religion course make me no more Indian than any white kid who studied the subcontinent in college.

I’ve never asked for representation in media. I don’t expect it or desire it. At times that makes me feel like less of a person-of-color, but it’s decidedly true. Nonetheless, while I don’t feel at one with them, I still get excited when there’s an Indian superhero. Think of it less like a character being from your hometown than them being a fan of the native sports team you never actively followed. Especially with that in mind, Kamala is a fairly weak form of representation for me as a Desi. I don’t fault or deny anyone who identifies with her, but to think that she and I have anything in common because of our ethnic heritage is kind of ridiculous when you consider that we come from two different countries in one of the most culturally diverse parts of the globe. India alone hosts hundreds of languages and an incredible number of distinct ethnicities, most of whom are at least somewhat racist to the others. I grabbed this book, in part, because the main character was a Desi, but it’s likely that that’s the least important element of my connection to Kamala.

IAmMsMarvelKamala’s race has been the subject of praise and controversy, largely because we still live in an America scarred by fear and hatred of Muslims. Muslims, today, are the ultimate Other in American culture, often unwilling or unable to blend in, stereotyped into cartoon villains. But whether it’s your religion, your heritage, your color, your style, your interests, the way you talk, the way you move, the way you perceive, or the way you feel, we’re all Othered at one time or another. Some people will try to fit you into a narrative, one way or the other, but no matter who you are you deserve to have those feelings answered. That’s why representation in comics matters. It’s not some quota to be filled; it’s a choice to encourage a wider range of stories and experiences, things that comfort us in our times of weakness and contribute to the frequency of our times of strength.

I am thrilled that we’ve reached a point that we have a young Muslim girl (a non-Arabic one, at that, just for the extra diversity) headlining her own comic to great success, but please don’t misunderstand me when I say how important it is to change the conversation now that the book has come out. Though she may be fictional, we know Kamala now. She’s not ‘Marvel’s new Muslim superhero’, she’s Kamala Khan, a person, beautifully realized by G. Willow Wilson. Like Peter Parker, like Buddy Baker, like Carol Danvers, like Jaime Reyes, like any great cultural hero, Kamala is powerful, not because she hits some diversity checklist, but because she speaks to something inside us.

First-generation immigrants, feeling alone, are Kamala. Their children, desperate to belong in the only country they have known, are Kamala. Their daughters, encouraged to attend the parties their parents couldn’t when they’d rather stay home with their guild, are Kamala. We all are, if we want to be.

So am I Kamala? I still don’t know. We’re only one issue in and a lifetime of being just barely out of sync has left me reluctant to join bandwagons. But I’m glad that she’s out there and I will be picking up issue #2.

TheyAreMsMarvel

 

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