I encountered Hasan Minhaj eons ago in the Invisibilia podcast episode “Frame of Reference,” where he talks about his immigrant father, a survivor of the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan. Minhaj’s father, like many immigrant survivors of trauma, dons a poker face when it comes to conversations about racism and mental health struggles. He reminds me a lot of my own father in a way. When I became curious about my parents’ experience as children during the Vietnam War, my father calmly told me, “Well, at least we weren’t the Cambodians.”
A first generation Muslim Indian American, Minhaj is a senior correspondent for The Daily Show and one man stand-up act, “Homecoming King” is currently streaming on Netflix. His theatrical debut, which takes place in his hometown of Davis, California, is somewhat a bildungsroman (this is my blog, so I use the words I want) that examines his past encounters with racism, everything from being outwardly rejected by his white high school love interest’s racist parents to getting his family’s car windows smashed the day after September 11. The show also revisits a lot of the discussion points in his interview with Alix Spiegel about growing up the child of immigrant parents who had survived trauma. He coins the term “the American Dream tax,” a phenomenon where immigrants bite their tongue in the face of racism and take the high road just to prove their American loyalty.
I have to admit, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a first generation person of color command a comedy stage. A few months ago, I came across Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra and I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard at a comedy act. There are a lot of issues in immigrant communities that are kept wrapped under covers for a variety of different reasons–white liberal guilt, taboo, etc. Minhaj isn’t afraid to talk about racism and he isn’t afraid to point out problematic aspects within both his Indian and American cultures. He isn’t, however, a curmudgeon. He possesses the qualities of a remarkably excellent storyteller and talks about heavy, sensitive issues with a lot of candor and empathy. Anything but a one-dimensional soapbox, “Homecoming King” beautifully and poignantly weaves humor into stories of such immense tragedy and hatred.