dr. M. Dekker
dr. M. Keestra
drs. S. Sitalsing
prof. dr. F. van Vree
drs. L. Wenting
Many (second generation) immigrants have a hard time finding just one place to belong to. Stuck between worlds and cultures their identity becomes a complex issue to deal with. Often people do not relate as much with their home countries but don’t fit in completely where they live now either; whether this is merely by the way they look, their religion or something more. In our globalized world today this problem is recognizable for many people and has made its way to the world of graphic novels. The graphic novel Ms. Marvel: No Normal, written by the American writer G. Willow Wilson, depicts the story of Kamala Khan, a Pakistani girl who has grown up in Jersey City. She finds herself searching for a place to belong to; a metaphysical ‘home’. Kamala feels like she does not completely belong to the Pakistani or American culture and therefore she falls into the margins of society.
In a mystical way Kamala receives shapeshifting abilities and becomes a superhero. When she gets her powers she shapeshifts into a Western looking superhero, Captain Marvel, who is blond and wears revealing clothing. However, against her expectations, Kamala does not feel comfortable looking like that. She asks herself: “Why don’t I feel strong and confident and beautiful?” (Wilson, 2015, pg. 24). Kamala realizes that changing her appearance to a more Western one does not solve her inner turmoil which is strongly connected to a search for a sense of belonging. This is the beginning of Kamala’s search for a metaphysical ‘home’. The topic of this article is Kamala Khan’s journey towards accepting a hybrid identity and creating a ‘home’ in between the space of cultural differences.
West versus non-West
The United States has been regarded as a melting pot but the problem with that model is that immigrants are expected to assimilate. They will have to sacrifice expressing their culture in order to fit in (Smith, 2001). The melting pot metaphor has been criticized heavily and instead the concept of cultural pluralism has been strongly advocated for. A model of cultural pluralism would allow different cultures to co-exist instead. Despite this advocacy for a pluralistic model in the United States there is still a systematic dichotomy in which there is a here (the West) and the rest ‘out there’ (the non-West) (Lavie, 1996). The same systematic dichotomy is what motivates Kamala to think that she needs to find a ‘home’ in either Pakistani or American culture. Several characters in the graphic novel reflect the West versus non-West dichotomy.
Encouraging the importance of a non-Western culture, there is Kamala’s best friend Nakia, who is proud of her Turkish heritage and expresses this clearly by refusing to use her Westernized name Kiki. Another character who is on this side of the discourse is Kamala’s brother, Aamir, who has turned himself into a stereotype of their heritage, wears traditional clothing and is overly focusses on religion. The character expresses most loudly that Kamala should be more Pakistani is her mother, who says to her husband: “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” (Wilson, 2015, pg. 40). In this statement Kamala’s mother is expressing how coming to the United States has ‘ruined’ her children. She refers to the Westernization that has taken place in her perception, like Kamala attending a party with boys and Aamir who has taken on a Western (stereotyped) idea of what it means to be Pakistani.
On the other (Western) side of this discourse stands Zoe. Zoe is presented as an American girl who views other cultures as ‘interesting’ but thinks that behaviour that is different from her own culture is unacceptable. This becomes evident when she says to Kamala: “I thought you weren’t allowed to hang out with us heathens on the weekends! I thought you were, like, locked up!” (Wilson, 2015, pg. 10). Zoe’s perception of other cultures is based on what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian feminist and novelist, calls the “single story”. The single story is basically a stereotyped view of what a culture or country and its inhabitants must be like. In the single story that Zoe knows, there is “[…] no possibility of [non-Westerners] being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals”. The danger of the single story is that it emphasizes the differences, making it harder for people like Kamala, who are placed in the margins of society, to find a sense of belonging and accepting a hybrid identity.
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Adichie, Chimamanda Ngzoi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” Ted Talk. 07 October 2009.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
Kondo, Dorinne. “The Narrative Production of ‘Home’, Community, and Political Identity in Asian American Theater.” Displacement, Diaspora, Geographies of Identity. Ed. Smadar Lavie & Ted Swedenburg. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 97 – 117.
Smith, Matthew J. “The Tyranny of the Melting Pot Metaphor: Wonder Woman as the Americanized Immigrant.” Comics and Ideology. Ed. Matthew P. McAllister. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2001. 129 – 150.
Wilson, G. Willow. Ms. Marvel: No Normal. New York: Marvel Comics, 2014.
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