Along with most other Netflix subscribers—so, everyone—I binge-watched Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series, Master of None in like a day. I went into the experience expecting a comedy that would possibly stir up some millennial-sized existential crises in its viewers—and it did—but I never thought I’d get the immigrant kid feels. Frankly, I was blindsided. But in the best way. Aziz Ansari’s actual parents star alongside him on the show, which is already super adorable, but he also uses this series as a platform for tackling some of the tricky stuff that comes up when you’re a 1st-generation son or daughter of immigrants.
Like Aziz—and his character, Dev—I am the child of immigrant parents. My mom and dad made the grueling journey to the States from Eritrea, a tiny country in East Africa. Well the trip was actually more winding than that; it involved living with nuns in Italian convents amidst a war in their home country and lots of back and forth between various places, but eventually, they both ended up married in California with three daughters. Having immigrant parents is a unique experience and Master of None portrays it with incredible accuracy. Aziz offers moments that every first generation kid can instantly relate to. Like these:
When Brian doesn’t know what to get for his parents
What do you buy for someone who has given you the ultimate gift—a shot at a better life? Birthdays and holidays are tough because immigrant parents are, in my opinion, the hardest to shop for. Their off-the-charts gratitude levels prohibit them from desiring superfluous material things—at least, this is the case for my parents. And apparently for Brian’s dad as well. In “Parents,” Dev and Brian start brainstorming ways they can repay their parents for the sacrifices they’ve made, but they’re stumped. Brian asks, “What would I get my dad for a gift? He doesn’t really have any interests. I mean, he likes drinking water, staying hydrated. I could get him a gallon of water as a gift.” This sounds like a ridiculous idea but it made me laugh because water is the only thing my parents have ever noted liking too. But fear not, I’ve never actually given them H20 as a present. Too hard to wrap.
When Dev’s Dad throws out an unexpected cultural reference
Immigrant parents don’t always have the most extensive arsenal of cultural references to dole out. And why should they? My parents were raised in a completely different cultural setting. I don’t expect them to know the words to all of David Bowie’s greatest hits or understand the appeal of absurdist shows like Portlandia and Twin Peaks. But every once in awhile, they’ll pull something out of their back pocket that will totally catch you off guard. Like, once, my dad made a Taylor Swift joke and blew my mind because I didn’t realize he even knew of her existence. Coming from the man who once mistook a Bruno Mars song for Adele, this was big. Similarly, you can see the look of surprise on Dev’s face when his dad quotes Sylvia Plath to help him get over his indecisiveness. “You have to learn to make decisions man,” he says, “You are like woman sitting in front of the fig tree, staring at all the branches until the tree dies…Sylvia Plath, Bell Jar. You never read!” Dev may never read, but his dad certainly seems to be brushing up on his modern classics.
When Dev’s folks support his career even though they’re not totally sure what it is
Dev’s parents don’t fully comprehend how or why he chooses to act for a living, but they still cheer him on in the ways they know how. My parents would probably get more sleep if I chose to pursue something more practical than writing, but they still support me too. However, because they don’t have the luxury of knowing how creative careers work, immigrant parents aren’t always aware of the marks of creative success. Dev is disappointed when he doesn’t get the reaction he expects upon sharing good news. On a walk with Brian he says, “I told my dad I got a callback on the sickening…he’s like uh okay, can you fix my iPad? How bout hey son, good work. Or hey son, I’m proud of you.” Aziz Ansari uses this moment to reveal a frustrating feeling many of us 1st-gen kids often deal with. We know our parents care, but they don’t jump for joy like American parents do because they weren’t raised in cultures that do that sort of thing. So sometimes, we second-guess their happiness for our success. But they’re plenty happy; they just have a different way of showing it.
All the technology questions
My parents are both very intelligent individuals, but they haven’t quite gotten the hang of modern technology. My friends know this too because they’ve witnessed many a phone call where I talk my mom through sending an email or teach my dad how to scan documents for the umpteenth time. And it’s no different for Dev. His dad is a surgeon but he still doesn’t know how to work the “dings” on his iPad. He asks Dev, “Why don’t the dings transfer automatically?” I’ve been calling you to set it up. You never call me back. Could you please fix up this iPad for me?” Dev would rather just go to the movies with Brian so he says, “I’m not your personal computer guy” and leaves his dad to figure out the dings on his own. Unfortunately, I have too guilty a conscious to ever ignore my parents’ pleas for technology assistance so I’ll probably just be their IT person for life.
The awkward dating conversation
Unless it’s in the hypothetical sense, I never talk to my parents about dating. In fact, I don’t think my dad’s ever even used the word “boyfriend” in my presence. When they were dating, he famously referred to Justin Bieber as Selena Gomez’ “friend.” So I’ve never really felt comfortable talking about crushes or potential boyf—I mean, friends. And the same goes for Dev. Rachel is wildly upset when Dev admits to never having told his parents that they’re living together and have been dating for the past year—and rightfully so. But Dev tries to explain that sharing this sort of information is different with immigrant parents. Exasperated, he says, “It’s a cultural thing, okay.” And so it is. Personally, I don’t plan to bring any boys home to my dad until I’m, like, engaged.
All joking aside, immigrant parents are pretty rad. As Dev puts it, “All of us first-generation kids, we have these amazing lives and it’s all because our parents made these crazy sacrifices.” So immigrant parents, we thank you. For the crazy sacrifices and for putting up with us on the regular.
[Image via Netflix’