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’90s Sitcoms Shaped Me as an Immigrant Child. What if They Hadn’t?

All three main characters are undeniably American and from immigrant families. Neither identity is center stage, nor is it swept aside; neither is necessarily shameful, nor is it glorified. Their parents, like mine, speak with accents, but they’re never caricatured. Devi, Ramy and Dev have friends from various backgrounds. These shows ring true in large part because they’re semi-autobiographical, created by first-generation Americans who are roughly my peers: “Never Have I Ever,” by Mindy Kaling, 42; “Ramy” by Youssef, 30; and “Master of None,” by Ansari, 38, and Alan Yang, 38.

As a child, these stories would have done a lot of heavy lifting, helping to normalize, validate and celebrate my life, the potential effect on my identity impossible to overestimate.

That ship has sailed, though. What I sought then is who I am now. Americanism is the water poured into my ink, two parts both inextricable and diluted. That realization has been prompting a kind of existential crisis: If my family had never come to the United States, had TV not served as an escape, who would I be?

I realize I’m mourning an alternate version of myself who fills my head with questions: What do we surrender — incrementally, unwittingly — in pursuit of assimilation? How do we lose and find ourselves in it? What do we forfeit as individuals, as a family and as a people? And who gains what from our losses?

I forgive myself, mostly, for the choices I made, and I marvel at my adaptability, driven by a sense of survival. But an intrinsic part of me was mutated in ways that can’t be reversed. And in the end, I’m not sure if anyone won.

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