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SHAH: Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix special is empowering

Hasan Minhaj’s 2017 comedy special, "Homecoming King," has made me tear up on multiple occasions. 

Yes, it is a comedy special — good one, too. But seeing someone that shares your skin tone confirms things you have never been able to articulate on your Netflix screen is revolutionary, hence, the tears. 

On Sept. 28, Minhaj will bring his new stand-up show, "Before the Storm," to Rutgers. At this diverse university with a growing minority population, Minhaj’s comedy will be particularly powerful and personal. As a person of color, I have always found that seeing someone that looks like you on-screen is a viscerally intimate feeling. There is something about being visibly different that can be terrifying. Minhaj is a part of the movement to showcase and normalize South Asian talent in the mainstream, and make being different a little less terrifying. 

It helps that Minhaj has always been more than the typical stand-up comic, and skillfully utilizes his background as an Indian Muslim-American. Minhaj is not afraid of controversy, which allows for his comedy to be thought-provoking, and at times painful. 

His 2017 stand-up special's most poignant bits explore the unintentional divide that grows between immigrant parents and their children. Minhaj recalled a particularly brutal vision from Sept. 12, 2001 of his father sweeping shattered glass off the middle of the street after someone in their neighborhood had smashed the windows of their car. “These things happen, and these things will continue to happen. That’s the price we pay for being here,"  Minhaj's father said calmly, when Minhaj angrily asked him why the incident occurred. 

“Dad, you’re the guy that will argue with the cashier at Costco when he does not let you return used underwear. And now you want to be the bigger man?” Minhaj said. This was not an isolated experience. 

When I first asked my parents what issues they faced as young immigrants in this country, they answered that they had nothing to complain about. But as I continued to push and ask them if they had ever been negatively affected by their immigrant background, the stories began to pour out. As my parents told me stories of abusive bosses and lost job promotions, it became obvious that for most of their lives they felt that their suffering was normal. “What happened to me is the price I have to pay for being here. I’m fortunate," my father said to me — similar to what Minhaj's dad said to him.

To this day, I find that most of the adult South Asian-Americans that I have met are complacent with their lives. Why should they not be? They are wealthy, well-fed and alive. Why should they insert themselves into issues like the lack of Asians in the government or the constant misrepresentation of South Asians in American films and television? They were taught to be quiet, work hard and fit in — not to challenge and invigorate controversy like Minhaj does in his special. 

That is what makes it a masterful analysis of the South Asian-American experience. Each time I watch it, it makes me feel at home even if I am in a room full of strangers. Even though I do not know the brown kid who sits behind me in class, I am sure we share similar life experiences — I know that his parents probably, at one point, hoped he would become a doctor, or that he remembers the faint sound of Zee T.V. in the background while doing homework. This reminds me that we are never alone.  

It is not about encouraging stereotypes, but understanding the facts of our culture and owning them. It is easy to shrink behind a facade, and want to stay quiet and fit in. But whether you are Indian, Chinese, Latino or Black, Minhaj reminds us, as his dad had reminded him, “Hasan, you have to be brave. Your courage to do what’s right has to be greater than your fear of getting hurt. So, Hasan, be brave. Hasan, be brave.” 

Writing for The Daily Targum is my way of being brave — it is the most American thing about me, and my parents have never quite understood it, and they probably never will. 

My parents never had the luxury to be outraged about the status quo. Luckily, I do. I think that is the duty of being a first-generation South Asian American today — we have the responsibility to share our parents’ stories, and make the path for future immigrants easier. We are allowed to be discontent with the status quo. We deserve to be. 

From President Donald J.Trump’s alleged mockery of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accent to "The Simpsons" stubborn misunderstanding of the plight of Apu, we, as South Asian-Americans, need to start speaking out against injustices that we have been raised to stomach. 

If not for us, then for our parents. 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy. Her column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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