When good storytelling hits you in the feels

I recently watched Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King, and I was really moved–to laughter and to tears. He’s incredibly talented and such an important voice right now. His stories about growing up brown in America hit many of the high points that I can only try to explain to my non-brown friends. The expectations that seem out of bounds to them feel intrinsic to what “family” is to me. But I also think issues likes conditional love, feeling like an outsider, and your parents’ concern for what will everyone else think? are universal enough that most will find themselves mirrored in his stories.

That mirroring is what did me in. When he accurately reflected his surprise that adults wanted to get to know him on a personal level. When he expressed confusion about having interests outside of the expectations that had been drilled into him for years. When he practiced honesty and forthrightness and hoped he’d earn some benefits–power inside the group, an identity separate from the group, agency over his own life. And the resignation when it doesn’t get him any of those things.

Fast forward a few days. I’m scaling the mountain of dishes in my kitchen while listening to an episode of This American Life (#617, Fermi’s Paradox, Act III). A young girl says the following to her father:

So a conversation and talking are completely different things. Talking could be a range from ‘oh, hey what’s up?’ and conversation is you’re deep in thought, and you’re looking, and you’re making eye contact, and you’re really enjoying the presence of somebody else.

I felt those words like a punch in the gut. It’s one thing to talk–but to converse is to really be with someone, even your kid, especially your kid! And then flash after flash of talking but not conversing. Even as adults.

And then I remind myself: “They come from a different time, a different culture, and different expectations. It wasn’t and isn’t personal.”

I write in detail about these experiences from my upbringing, but I don’t publish them. I’m impressed by Hasan’s parents, whom Hasan describes as apprehensive but ultimately proud of his comedy, even when he talks about intimate moments in their family life. I don’t know if that’s an option for me right now. For a family that doesn’t even converse about the things that have happened between us, telling those stories to *outsiders* seems like a leap I’m not yet ready to take. No, it’s a leap I worry my family isn’t ready to take with me. I’m not ready to defend my personal story as separate and distinct from theirs. Not on that level anyway.

I wonder when that will change.





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