’90s Sitcoms Shaped Me as an Immigrant Child. What if They Hadn’t?

Immigrant backgrounds run deep among the cast of three main characters. Identity is neither the centre of attention nor swept under the rug; it is neither necessarily a source of shame nor exalted as a virtue.

There is no caricature of their parents, as there is of mine. Friends from all walks of life are close to Devi, Ramy, and Dev. To a large extent, these shows resonate with me on a personal level because the creators are people like me: Mindy Kaling, 42; Youssef, 30; and Ansari and Yang, 38; all of whom are first-generation Americans.

I can’t overestimate the impact on my identity that these stories could have had on me as a child in terms of normalising, validating, and celebrating my life.

However, that ship has sailed. It was then that I discovered who I am now. It’s as if Americanism is the water that’s been poured into my ink, diluting it at the same time. What if my family had never come to the United States, and TV had not served as an escape? What kind of person would I be?

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m mourning an alternate version of myself: What do we gradually and unwittingly give up in order to assimilate? How do we lose ourselves and find ourselves again? What do we, as individuals, families, and a nation, give up in the process? In the end, who stands to gain or lose from our failures?

I’m amazed by my ability to adapt, driven by a sense of survival, and I’m able to forgive myself for the decisions I made. However, a part of me was altered in ways that I cannot undo. I’m not sure who came out on top in the end.