I recently cosplayed Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) at GenCon. It was my first handmade cosplay! I had always wanted to cosplay, but I could either never find a character I loved enough or people would tell me that I didn’t look like a character enough to sufficiently cosplay them.
Kamala Khan was a perfect fit for me. I was sold on the first issue of Ms. Marval with Kamala Khan where she’s smelling bacon even though she can’t eat it. I can’t say how many times I was tempted in my childhood to eat bacon despite it being haram. I remember convincing my parents to buy fake bacon… it was very salty.
This was just the start to a plethora of things that I could relate to with Kamala. She is Pakistani-American compared to my Bengali-American. She looks very similar to me, down to the salwar kameeses that her parents made her wear to mosque. Her old brother Aamir has an uncanny resemblance to my older brother. My parents wanted my siblings and I to call them Ammi/Abu, but we opted for the Americanized versions of mom and dad. I shortened my name from Tasneem to Neem, and I had relatives that hated the “Amreeki” nickname (I can ever hear the voices of different relatives in my head saying it like that).
When I was younger, I semi-embarassingly wrote fanfic as well. We used to have very slow internet (with a modem!) and I would wait a couple minutes for the Harry Potter forums to load so I could read other people’s fanfics. While I would wait, I would try my hand at writing my own, and I remember the feeling of elation when someone else read it and commented that they liked it. My parents didn’t understand fanfic either.
We had “weird” holidays, and I remember wishing that I could be normal and celebrate Christmas just like everyone else. While I didn’t bring pakoras to school, I have brought samosas. “No offense, but you smell like curry. I’m going to stand somewhere else” — I’m fairly sure I had the exact same things said to me, too. I always wished that I could fit in without abandoning my culture, and I never felt like I could properly strike that balance.
“I’ve always done what they asked me to do… aren’t I allowed to do anything my way? Just once?” — my teenage self wondered the exact same thing. Every time I asked to do something with friends, my parents would also ask if it were with boys and then immediately say no. I, like Kamala, wondered why they didn’t trust me, and in turn, I feel like it let me to doing things that were not trustworthy because I didn’t have their trust in the first place. My friends mocked me similarly: “I thought you weren’t allowed to hang out with us heathens on the weekends. I thought you were, like, locked up!”
My favorite scene hands down was in the first issue when Kamala is talking to Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Iron Man:
Kamala: “I can never be one of them, no matter how hard I try. I’ll always be poor Kamala with the weird food rules and the crazy family”
Captain America: “You thought that if you disobeyed your parents—your culture, your religion—your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?”
Kamala: “They—they laughed at me. Zoe thought that because I snuck out, it was okay for her to make fun of my family. Like, Kamala’s finally seen the light and kicked the dumb, inferior brown people and their rules to the curb. … I grew up here! I’m from Jersey City, not Karachi! I don’t know what i’m supposed to do. I don’t know who i’m supposed to be.”
Captain Marvel: “Who do you want to be?”
Kamala: “I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.”
I couldn’t have written anything better to sum up my life. Even now, at the age of 26, I wish to be beautiful, awesome, butt-kicking, and less complicated. I’ve come a long way of embracing the culture I grew up in — I still love the food and the clothes and don’t immediately try to be contrary to the all of the mannerisms. People still think that it’s okay to say negative things about my culture because I seem so removed from it as if I’ve seen the light. Sometimes, it still gets to me and those feelings of shame creep up on me. I still struggle to find a balance where I can incorporate the things that I like and defend myself from mockery instead of feeling like I wish I could be more normal. Kamala’s story gives me strength to own who I am. They couldn’t have picked a cooler person to be Ms. Marvel!
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend the new Ms. Marvel comic series. It’s phenomenal, even if you’re not brown, because it’s an amazing story of becoming the person you want to be when you feel like you’re being pulled in a variety of directions.