The first time I heard “T5” by the rap group Swet Shop Boys, comprised of rappers Heems and Riz MC and producer Redinho, I listened to it three times. The song opens with Heems rapping, ‘Ins hallah, Mashallah / Hopefully no martial law’ and describes racial profiling at an airport — an experience my family and I are familiar with but one I’ve certainly never heard depicted in a rap song.
The rest of their debut album, Cashmere, is just as surprising, focusing on the perhaps unlikely intersection of pop culture and Eastern religion. It’s a celebration of the South Asian diaspora and a challenge directed at the political status quo. Right now, an album like this feels essential for people like me — a child of Muslim, Pakistani immigrant parents — to support our identity in a world that seems ready to typecast us as terrorist threats.
Cashmere tackles big questions and explores controversial topics — racism, immigration, refugees, drone strikes, and ISIS, among others — in often clever and witty ways. Yet, the album feels personal too. Both rappers explore their relationships to their cultural identities and address the difficulties of being an immigrant in the Western world.
The experiences that Riz and Heems rap about are experiences that are so recognizable to me. There’s a verse in “Half Mogul, Half Mowgli” where Riz raps in conflicting voices — of people that think his work is important and inspirational and others who criticize him for being either too Muslim or not Muslim enough. I find myself grinning whenever that verse plays, as I’m well accustomed to the feeling of being too Eastern for the West and too Western for the East.
The outro of “Phone Tap” is of Riz’s parents talking to him. His mum scolds him for swearing and his dad tells him to be a good man and not to forget to pray. These comments are ones I’ve heard hundreds of times from my own parents, and the fact that they’re in Urdu creates an immediate kinship.
More than anything else, Cashmere is comforting. It’s a celebration of the immigrant South Asian identity that is often overlooked or stereotyped in the media and, further, a recognition of the complexity of that identity. The album grants me a sense of relief and the realization that I’m not alone. It gives voice to the experience — my experience — of being an amalgamation of different cultures, of East and West.
— Nermeen Islam
When I first started watching Santa Clarita Diet, a recent release on Netflix, I didn’t expect to see my own issues and insecurities reflected in Drew Barrymore’s character Sheila. Yes, I currently find myself best represented in a horror-comedy television series about an average heterosexual nuclear family whose lives change drastically when the parents become murderers in order to feed the wife, who has, for reasons unknown, become a zombie.
Santa Clarita Diet begins with the main characters, husband Joel and wife Sheila, discussing their mundane lives as real estate agents in a Los Angeles suburb. My friend and I burst out in laughter when Sheila took note of the boldness of Jennifer Lawrence’s haircut.
“I wish I was bold. Am I bold? No, I’m not. I’d like to be 20 per cent bolder. No, more, 80 per cent. No, that’s too much,” Sheila says in the episode.
My friend immediately turned towards me at the time and said, “That’s you.”
At first I thought about arguing, but I then realized that it actually was me. Though my circumstances aren’t the same as Sheila’s, I constantly wrestle with the idea of being mediocre. Due to my sheltered upbringing, I felt anxious about my life and my lack of confidence. I wanted to be a writer, and how could I be a writer if I didn’t do bizarre things all the time? I wanted to be bolder and more reckless, though my inner monologue consisted of an argument around whether I should be just a little more bold and reckless or a lot more bold and reckless.
As a result, I’ve made a number of regrettable decisions that were perhaps too bold, such as spending $150 on a lap dance or drinking a full flask of straight gin at a formal event. These decisions I made were all caused by my own anxieties about mediocrity and lack of confidence, without considering the consequences.
There’s an especially memorable scene in Santa Clarita Diet where Sheila talks about how good she feels being a zombie, to which her husband reminds her that she eats human beings. Sheila then replies, “I know, it’s just that I’m so much more confident.”
Though my life is extremely different from Sheila’s, I identity with her anxiety and her willingness to sacrifice anything in order to boost her confidence. Though Santa Clarita Diet might not be the first show you think of when it comes to portrayals of mental health in pop culture, I can certainly identify my own experiences within it.
— Avneet Sharma
It’s rare that I watch a movie or TV show that I can personally relate to. But when I watched the “Parents” episode of Aziz Ansari’s show Master of None, I was left stunned by how much I related to the characters and their stories. The episode perfectly captures what it means to be both a millennial and the child of immigrants, focusing on the complexities and nuances of the intergenerational relationship between parents and their children.
Ansari himself plays Dev, and one moment that really resonated with me was when Dev’s dad, Ramesh, who is played by Ansari’s real life father Shoukath Ansari, complains to Dev about a problem with his iPad. Dev promptly shuts down his dad’s request to help him fix it, saying, “I’m not your personal computer guy.”
The scene juxtaposes this with flashbacks of Ramesh’s life: growing up struggling in India, moving to the US to work as a doctor, and facing casual racism in his workplace. It hit me, just as it did Dev, that as children of immigrant parents, many of us take for granted the sacrifices our parents made in order to start new lives in places where they had no roots. Growing up, I never took the time to ask my parents about their own cultural experiences — I was instead too focused on trying to fit in with my surroundings.
In another scene that resonated with me, Dev and his friend Brian compare stories of how their fathers have never used the word “proud.” They always expect and want more out of them.
This seems to be a recurring theme between immigrant parents and their children: the constant feeling that our parents aren’t proud of our achievements because they don’t always explicitly voice their feelings. I’ve faced the same frustration with my own parents as I struggled to reach the expectations I felt they had placed upon me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that for most children of immigrants, the need to prove that our parents made the right decision in making sacrifices to provide us with better opportunities comes from within.
When I finished the episode, I was left with a bittersweet feeling. I felt a desire to learn more about my parents’ backgrounds and connect with them on a deeper level. It also demonstrated to me how important it is for media to portray diverse stories of immigrants and the complexities of their lives, rather than pushing them into easily identifiable stereotypes.
— Rishika Wadehra