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Ms Marvel Asian American Issues

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Ms Marvel Asian American Issues

  1. 1. Rachel Howe ENGL349T Prof. Minh-Davis 4/16/2016 Ms. Marvel: No Normal Kamala Khan is the latest incarnation of one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes, Ms. Marvel. Ms.Marvel: No Normal weaves a story that is relatable to many postmodern teens, regardless of their background. Kamala’s story and struggles resonates with many within the Asian American community due to her struggles. Kamala is a superhero that represents the Muslim community as well as the immigrant community. Ms. Marvel is not your average superhero story; it is a story that touches on many issues that teens face today. Ms. Marvel: No Normal appears to be an origin story about a Muslim girl who becomes Ms. Marvel; but through the use of prominent characters, the artists highlight different issues such as identity crises, and racial expectations within the Asian-American community. Kamala struggles with both her Muslim identity as well as her American identity. It is Kamala’s religious identity that keeps her from having a “normal” American childhood. Because she is Muslim, she can’t participate in a lot of the things many teenagers take part in. This causes Kamala to have conflicted feelings when it comes to her religious identity. Kamala is in the middle of her friends Bruno and Nakia. Although she is their friend, she doesn’t fit in with either of their lifestyles. This is because Kamala half-heartedly accepts her Muslim identity. Both friends are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to religion. Nakia is a young Muslim with a Turkish heritage, who has recently started to embrace her culture. She wears a hijab proudly which she states that “Actually my dad wants me to take it off. He thinks it’s
  2. 2. Howe, 2 phase,” (pg 3). This is different from Kamala’s parents who want her to be more religious. Nakia’s sense of fashion proves that even if you are completely covered from head to toe, you can still be fashionable. She doesn’t let her religion keep her from being herself. She compromises and collaborates with her religion to create a cohesive outfit. On the other hand, Bruno is a white Italian-American male who is not Muslim. Kamala is stuck in between the two and doesn’t fit in completely with either from a religious standpoint. Although Kamala is a Muslim who doesn’t pork, she still finds herself tempted by it. She struggles with her values, much to the chagrin of Bruno who chastises her saying, “Either eat bacon or stick to your principles. Chow or not, there is no smell,” (pg 1). Kamala is easily tempted by things that would normally be forbidden in her religion; therefore, Kamala doesn’t completely share the same values as her friends do. Zoe, a classmate of the three friends insensitively questions Nakia about her hijab saying, “But I mean… nobody pressured you to start wearing it right? Your father or somebody? Nobody’s going to honor kill you? I’m just concerned.” (pg 2). Zoe is stereotyping not just Nakia, but Kamala based on their religion. Zoe does it again when Kamala goes to her party. Zoe insensitively says “I thought you weren’t allowed to hang out with us heathens on the weekends! I thought you were, like, locked up!” (pg 9). This ties in not just with Kamala’s religion but her race as well because Zoe is stereotyping her family. Kamala is tired of being different and although Nakia enjoys their religion, Kamala sees it as a hindrance. Kamala rhetorically asks, “Why am I the only one who gets signed out of Health Class?” and “Why am I stuck with the weird Holidays?” (pg 8). She is questioning her culture and religion in these lines. It’s as though she is resentful of her upbringing and her religion. Towards the end of the book, in the bonus pages Kamala is seen training for a battle. Her new identity as Ms. Marvel is taking over her life. She completely forgets about her religious and familial obligation to go to a
  3. 3. Howe, 3 Pakistani wedding with her parents. Her mother comments that she is neglecting her “duty to her family.” (pg 119). As Kamala finds herself, she is leaving her old identity behind. She unintentionally further alienates her family from her due to fully embracing who she has recently become. She has grown bold with the things that she says and is, by the end of the graphic novel, more confident in herself. Kamala’s brother Aamir is seen as being more of the perfect representation of piety towards their religion. Aamir is also a foil for her in terms of her religious identity. He is more pious and prays constantly. Her mother constantly compares Kamala to her perfect brother. This is something not only Asian-Americans can relate to, but many people can. Aamir is an example of what many people, including Muslims themselves, think Muslims should be like in a religious sense. They believe they go to mosques to pray all day. Although Aamir and Kamala’s parents want Aamir to find a job, they are more lenient on him because he is a man. Their mother isn’t too concerned about him finding a job. Aamir is allowed more freedom to do what he wants because of his gender, versus Kamala who is closely watched by her parents. When Kamala goes to the mosque to pray, she, along with the other women are ushered into the back of the room. The men are in the front and the women are the back. Sheikh Abdullah, the person in charge of the mosque, says “The partition and the side entrance for women are there to preserve your modesty and dignity,” (pg 53). Kamala is further alienated from her religion by a partition that is supposed to separate men from women. The partition also serves as a reminder that men and women are not equal; and it’s this traditional way of thinking that could be the reason why Kamala and her brother are treated differently based on their genders. Kamala, even notices this and mentions it to her parents. She exclaims, “You and Baba want me to be a perfect little Muslim girl—Straight A’s, Med school, no boys, no booze, then some handpicked rich husband
  4. 4. Howe, 4 from Karachi and a billion babies.”(pg 120). Kamala doesn’t realize this but she is describing a stereotype that most first generation immigrants have for their children. Her parents don’t understand the pressure they put on her and respond that “Your father and I want the best for our only daughter. Our expectations are high so that your successes will be many.” (pg 120). Both mother and daughter have different views on what’s best for Kamala. Kamala wants to confide in her parents about her insecurities, but with her parents’ strict rules and personalities she feels that even if she told them, they wouldn’t understand how she feels. Kamala doesn’t even have the freedom to choose who she wants to date. She tells Bruno, “Too bad you’re not Pakistani. Otherwise they’d [her parents would] totally throw me at you” (pg 11). Kamala’s parents expect her to marry within her race. Even though they approve of Bruno as her friend, they would never approve of her dating him. When Kamala asks to go to a party, her father refuses to let her go. Kamala’s parents believe that “It’s not safe for a young girl to be out late at night with strange boys, drinking God knows what, and thinking God knows what.” (pg 7). Kamala’s parents don’t trust her enough to let her go to a party and treat her differently because she is a girl. Her father then says that “Why don’t you invite Nakia over? You young ladies can get your homework out of the way and then watch movies.” (pg 7). In the Asian-American community, many parents are strict and want their children to make the best grades. Kamala’s father is an example of this. Kamala tries her best to impress her parents but she believes in their eyes it’s not enough. Even though her father is allowing Nakia to come over, homework comes first in his eyes. Which shows that education is an important value to not only him but to the Asian-American community as well; while education is an important part of a child’s life, if parents are too strict the child may rebel. This is what happens with Kamala who rebels against her parents, multiple times within the graphic novel. Kamala’s father asks, “Tell me jaanu. Tell me why my precious
  5. 5. Howe, 5 Kamala has suddenly become a reckless, disobedient girl I barely recognize.” (pg 39). Unbeknownst to Kamala’s father he has just added pressure and confusion into Kamala’s life with that line. Kamala wants to tell him, but she thinks that he won’t understand. There is a gap between the two generations, just like there is a gap between immigrants and their Americanized children. Kamala’s mother blames her husband, saying “This is your fault. You’re the one who brought us to this country. See how the children have turned out? See? One sneaks out to parties with boys and the other dresses like a penniless mullah.” (pg 39). Kamala’s mother is secretly disappointed in both of her children and wishes they never left Pakistan. Within Ms.Marvel, Zoe, a popular blonde cheerleader represents the White American Culture and more specifically the uninformed misconceptions that the media has about the Muslim culture. Figure 1 shows Zoe’s arrival within Bruno’s store. Zoe and her boyfriend are viewed as loud and insensitive people. An important thing to notice is that both Zoe and her boyfriend Josh are stereotypical “white” names. They are also both blondes with pale skin. Kamala and her friends have darker skin compared to the two stereotypical Americans (Zoe and Josh). Zoe is a spoiled privileged girl who believes that every place should be like Starbucks, and that she should be served. She asks for her “usual” coffee, and when Bruno tries to explain that it’s not a Starbucks, she exclaims, “God. I only buy stuff here to tip you, because I am concerned about your economic situation. You should be nice.” (pg 2). Her lines mirror how other cultures and races view Americans. America as a whole is viewed as an arrogant nation believes that we know what’s best for everyone. Clothes are an important part of one’s identity, and each of the characters within Ms.Marvel, wears differently clothes to reflect their personality. It is also important to note that that Zoe contrasts Nakia when it comes to their clothes. Nakia is covered from head to toe while
  6. 6. Howe, 6 Zoe shows off more skin. Nakia’s clothes show that she is reserved and conscious of what she says. Zoe’s lack of clothes shows her lack of inhibition and restraint when it comes to the things that she says. At times, Zoe can also be blatantly racist. She complains that “Ugh, Kamala—no offense, but you smell like curry. I’m gonna stand somewhere else.” (pg 10). Zoe says that Kamala smells like curry, which is more commonly associated with Indian cuisine. Zoe either knowingly makes that ignorant statement as a way to make fun of Kamala, or ignorantly makes that statement which is just as bad. The interesting thing about Ms. Marvel is that the stereotypes within this graphic novel are flipped. Instead of lightly brushing on Muslim/Islamic culture, American culture by way of Zoe and Josh are lightly brushed on. They are over stereotyped as coffee drinking, spoiled popular kids who feign concern in order to covertly bully different religions, races and/or cultures. Zoe and Josh are also considered to be culturally insensitive. Nakia wears her Hijab as a sign of her cultural believes, and Zoe completely disrespects her culture by calling it a “headscarf”. By calling her Hijab a headscarf, Zoe is essentially downplaying and making light of the cultural significance. She is calling it a fashion statement versus it being a religious statement, which it is. The reason why I bring up Zoe and American culture is because Kamala idolizes American culture. When Zoe leaves Bruno’s store, he and Nakia comment on how much they dislike Zoe. Kamala protests saying that she’s nice, but Nakia sums up another stereotype within the American Christian community, “She is only nice to be mean.” (pg 3) Kamala doesn’t see this because she wants desperately to fit in. Even when Kamala writes fanfics, we get a glimpse into how she views herself. She writes herself in as Captain Marvel, a superhero used to be Ms. Marvel, and she says “…my chances of becoming an intergalactic super hero are even slimmer than my chances of becoming blonde and popular.” (pg 4). To Kamala, white people
  7. 7. Howe, 7 (particularly with blonde hair and blue eyes) symbolize popularity. When Josh invites Kamala to a party, she sneaks out in the middle of the night. It’s at this party, that Kamala receives her shapeshifting powers. When Kamala first shapeshifts, she looks similar to Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) and is blonde. She takes on the name Ms. Marvel, in honor of Captain Marvel. But by taking on the Ms. Marvel identity, Kamala is hiding behind the moniker of a well-known white superhero, instead of taking on her name. Instead of being recognized as herself, people will now associate her with Captain Marvel, which shows that Kamala is willing to take on someone else’s identity in order to get attention. At the same time, she feels pressured into taking on the Ms. Marvel identity. After revealing that she is Ms. Marvel to Bruno, she says that “After that thing on the news, everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. A real super hero. With perfect hair, and big boots. Not Kamala Khan from Jersey City,” (pg 75). Kamala isn’t confident enough in herself to become a superhero at this point in the novel. She calls her blonde hair, blue eyed persona a “real” super hero. The irony is that she is not the “real” Captain/Ms. Marvel but she is still a superhero. Another important part of Kamala’s culture is the Urdu language. In Figure 2, (pg 15 in the graphic novel) Captain Marvel uses Urdu. Kamala can’t speak Urdu but she can understand it. The artists subtly add in the language and its significance is often overlooked. It’s significance, coupled with the fact that Kamala can’t speak it mirrors many second and third generation immigrants. Their parents or grandparents usually speak in their Native tongue, while the children who were born in America speak English. In this case, Kamala’s mother speaks it all the time when talking to Kamala and she (Kamala) always responds in English. The language symbolizes a connection between her mother and her. Her father rarely, if not ever uses Urdu within the graphic novel. Only Kamala’s mother fully uses the language, and when Captain
  8. 8. Howe, 8 Marvel uses it, it represents the struggle within Kamala. Captain Marvel represents both Kamala’s Muslim identity with her American Identity. By combining Captain Marvel (American Culture) with Urdu (Muslim culture), Kamala is piecing together the two parts of her identity that she wants to keep. At the same time, the art of Captain Marvel in Figure 2 depicts her with a more “Western” (European) influence, rather than an “Eastern” (Asian) influence. Captain Marvel is depicted alongside Captain America and Iron Man. Captain Marvel can be viewed in two different ways. In the American way, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Iron Man look like Angels coming down from Heaven to talk to Kamala. The scene looks very ethereal and like Kamala has gone to Heaven. On the other hand, it can be viewed in Hellenism, which is the name for the ancient Greek religion. In this way, Captain Marvel’s art style is reminiscent of the Birth of Venus painting. Again, she looks ethereal and Godly, but instead of Iron Man and Captain America being her equals, they are her servants. In a way it’s a symbol of female empowerment because Captain Marvel is standing in the front while the other two stand behind her. Kamala’s hallucinations also show how much more she is in touch with a more Western idea of religion. She identifies more with Western culture than she does with her own culture. Later on within the graphic novel, Kamala is at school, trying to work on controlling her powers. She tries to focus her abilities in order to transform in Taylor Swift. (Figure 3) Instead she transforms into her mother, which she remarks that “Ammi? Okay. I was totally going for Taylor Swift. This is getting Freudian.” (pg 58) Kamala mentions a Freudian Slip which is an unintentional error that reveals your subconscious feelings. This is important because it shows that Kamala subconsciously want to be like her mother. Kamala subconsciously looks up to her mother even though she consciously rebels against her. Kamala sees her mother as a model
  9. 9. Howe, 9 female Muslim, and a part of her is envious. Her mother has a strong sense of identity and knows her place in the world. Kamala wants to be as confident in herself as her mother is. The part of her that wants to be a respectable Muslim woman wants to please her mother. Kamala is insecure about her identity and subconsciously desperately seeks her parents’ approval. While her mother seems to hold her to high standards, her father lovingly tells her that “You don’t have to be someone else to impress anybody. You are perfect just the way you are.” (pg 99). He also tells her that, “I know the kinds of pressures on young girls these days—pressure to be things they are not, do things they don’t want to do. I don’t want that for you, beta. Not for my only daughter” (pg 98). Kamala little by little understands what her parents have gone through and how they want her to be herself. It is around this time that Kamala decides to be herself and not a copy of Captain/Ms. Marvel. Although finds her a new identity, she struggles maintaining her old one. She contemplates her new identity and remarks, “What if I don’t fit into my old life anymore? Like it’s a pair of pants I’ve just outgrown? Would I still be Kamala?” (pg 62). In these lines Kamala feels guilty about moving on with her life. She feels that because she has changed, she will lose her old identity. But after becoming Ms. Marvel, Kamala gains more confidence and says that “I’m here to be the best version of Kamala.” (pg 99) Kamala believes that she is “in a cocoon?” (pg 19); and by shattering the cocoon, Kamala is taking the next step in finding her identity. The cocoon scene is similar to a caterpillar wrapping itself into a cocoon and coming out a butterfly. The cocoon also represents transformation and progress. Before becoming Ms. Marvel, Kamala was unhappy with her life, but she didn’t do anything about it. After becoming Ms. Marvel, Kamala started to find her place within society. She became more proactive about improving upon herself. She says that “I have
  10. 10. Howe, 10 tools now. Tools I didn’t have before.” (pg 101). Her new identity as Ms. Marvel along with her shapeshifting powers are the “tools” Kamala is referring to. With the help of her new identity and powers, she is trying to forge a new identity for herself. As Ms. Marvel, Kamala is granted shapeshifting abilities and as such could transform into anyone she chooses. She subconsciously chose to appear as Carol Danvers, which meant that a part of her wants to be white; she wants to fit in with American culture. This is also seen when she mentions her favorite superheroes. If you notice, none of them are Asian-American. Kamala loves comic books and superheroes, but there are no superheroes that match her description. There are no mainstream famous Asian-American superheroes and although it’s subtle, the artists who made Ms.Marvel, have pointed this out. So already, she is alienated from her culture by the one thing she connects heavily with, which are comic books in which the ideal superheroes are Caucasian. Kamala and her friends are characters who mirror many aspects of the Asian-American struggle. While Kamala’s friends have a sense of their identity, she is unsure of who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Kamala adopts a more neutral identity that affects many aspects of her life before she becomes Ms. Marvel. Because she is unsure who she is, her religious identity and cultural identity suffer. Part of this is due to her parents’ unrealistic expectations of who they want her to be versus letting her grow up to be who she should be. Since Kamala is unstable in one aspect of her identity, she is unstable in other areas since they are all so closely related.
  11. 11. Howe, 11 Figure 1:
  12. 12. Howe, 12 Figure 2:
  13. 13. Howe, 13 Figure 3:

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