New Jersey via Pakistan via Scotland: Making Mine Ms. Marvel
I can’t remember exactly where I read the announcement. But what I do remember is the excitement and happiness I felt as I rapidly posted about the introduction of Kamala Khan on Facebook. As I trawled through articles about the new Ms. Marvel and interviews with co-creators G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat, any fears that Kamala would be another stereotypical character were washed away. I was sure that I would get the superhero that I’ve always wanted.
I’ve been engrossed in stories pretty much since I was a small child. From films to television to books, I’ve been able to immerse myself in the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of characters. But, in my 22 years, I’ve rarely found characters that I could truly understand. Because of this, I would often try to find myself in East Asian characters. Of course, I knew East Asian cultures are completely different to those of South Asian cultures, but I was a kid, and I think because they were different to the white faces I normally saw, I felt a kinship. It was never enough.
I am Scottish. And in the UK, it’s quite common to see South Asian characters, and Muslims, on television. At the moment, we actually have a Pakistani-Muslim family in at least 2 of our soaps. And, yes, that’s great to see. However, these characters are often written to assimilate and are “normalised”. In Eastenders, the local pub has become a hangout for most of the family and when the daughter (who is pretty religious) said that she’d rather not have a birthday party in the pub, she was made to feel like she was being weird. I’m not trying to chastise anybody. You do you. And I do know people who love going clubbing, and all that jazz. I just don’t want to feel alienated for not fully assimilating to Western culture.
I pretty much fell in love with Kamala within a few pages of Ms. Marvel, but it wasn’t until page 8 that she really resonated with me. Kamala asks her father if she can go to a party with her classmates. After he tells her she can’t, she runs off to her bedroom and thinks to herself, “I’ve always done what they ask me to do… Aren’t I allowed to do anything my way? Just once?” It was pretty much at this point that I hugged my comic and whispered, “I understand.” I knew that feeling. That feeling of hoping that if you respected your parents and did what they asked, that they would see that you were trying and would let you do something for yourself. I understood that feeling when I was 16 and I still understand that feeling days from my 23rd birthday.
When Kamala disobeys her parents and goes to the party anyway, she does so because she wants to be accepted by her classmates. It’s not until she undergoes the terrigen transformation and hallucinates some helpful words from Captains Marvel and America, and Iron Man, that she realises that the people she’s trying to impress aren’t worth it. She doesn’t want to hurt her family. She’s just trying to figure out who she is.
Kamala grew up as Pakistani-American Muslim in New Jersey and she’s having difficulties having her cultures co-exist. I didn’t really have this experience growing up. Growing up in Edinburgh, we were always taught to be proud of our cultures and to learn about others. What I do understand is the feeling of people try to fit you into a box and choose who you are for you. That’s why the scene between Carol Danvers and Kamala meant as much to me as it obviously did to Kamala (seriously, I cried). Some people may have had issue with a South Asian Muslim girl taking up Carol’s previous mantle but within a few hours of meeting her, she completely embraces Kamala (literally and figuratively) and sees her for what she is–a person who is trying to do good in the world. She’s a hero.
That’s what I love about Kamala. She’s unafraid to be who she is. Though she may have some doubts, Kamala loves her culture and family and she’s also unabashedly nerdy for superheroes (aren’t we all?). Kamala is strong and confident and has faith in her own abilities. She loves her mixed South Asian/Western culture and we get to see how she tries to balance them. She’s a 16 year old girl trying to protect her city because she knows it’s the right thing to do. I remember when I posted about Kamala that one of my friends commented that Marvel already had a Muslim superhero called Dust, which I knew. And of course, there’s also Faiza Hussain, a British-Pakistani Muslim.
It’s not important to me that Kamala is a Muslim, but that she’s a Muslim of Pakistani descent, like me. Not all Muslims follow the same traditions just as not all Christians do, because geography and culture often has a say. Her religion is important part of her life and not in a bad way. Her talk with Sheik Abdullah in the 6th issue helps give her confidence in knowing that she’s doing the right thing. It’s just part of who she is. Matt Murdock has Catholicism, Kamala Khan has Islam. I love that she exists at a time when, despite the aforementioned representation on soaps, the majority of the time I see Pakistanis on Western television they are terrorists, or the villain. Sometimes you need a hero.
I finally get to see someone like me as a hero–as someone other people look up to. I finally get to see people like my family in these comic panels. Though they’re quite different from mine, I can see glimpses of my parents and brother in the Khan family. And now that she’s going to be in the 3rd season of Avengers Assemble (now named Avengers: Ultron Revolution) and with the possibility we might see her in the 2019 Inhumans film (I’m hoping), I’m so excited for my younger cousins to see her on-screen. I wish that she had existed when I was a child but I’m thankful that she exists now for another kid out there.