How The Big Sick reminded me of underlying bias and self-segregation

photo by Caroline Tan

Released on June 23 and hitting the big screen internationally, The Big Sick,  earned a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1/10 on IMDb. The movie is written by and stars real-life spouses  Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, although only Kumail plays himself. It isn’t your average indie romantic comedy. Although it is a true story about an interracial couple, it also addresses the cultural rifts that exist in more parts of America than people realize.

Uber driver by day and a stand-up comedian by night, Kumail meets Emily, a white college student, during one of his performances. What starts as a complaint about heckling turns into a one-night stand and quickly evolves into a loving relationship. However, it was a relationship that was kept in the dark.

Raised in a traditional Pakistani house, Kumail is proud of his cultural heritage. Using his one-man show, he educates people about the country’s history and culture, which draws in small, unenthused “crowds.” Despite this, he is never discouraged to spread the knowledge of his birth country. His parents are no different, insisting on an arranged marriage by inviting different Pakistani women as marriage prospects every time the family gets together for dinner.

Despite his serious relationship with Emily, Kumail never takes a firm stand against this idea of an arranged marriage, knowing that his family will shun him. This fear of being ostracised from his family is the wedge that divides him from Emily.

Kumail’s situation is familiar to those in the South-Asian and Asian community, but it is by no means monolithic, and it cannot speak for every interracial relationship — romantic or not.

Feeling a foreignness from clashing cultures is an underlying, subconscious issue that should not occur as often as it does. The movie demonstrates this when Kumail and Emily initially break up when she finds pictures of his arranged marriage prospects. He keeps these because of his fear of disownment, that fear is founded by the idea of preserving a single lifestyle and not being compatible with others.

I myself have grown up in densely populated Asian communities, and although the differences were evident, the unfamiliarity between cultures was a fleeting feeling. My friends and their families invited each other to learn about the parts of our identities that we were most proud of and our differences in both school, in our neighborhoods, and through celebrations of holidays. However, the aforementioned uneasiness has been evident to me since transferring to PHS.

America, in a general perspective, is known for its diversity, and many claim our school is a reflection of the melting pot. However, being diverse is not the same thing as being a united community despite its differences. This thought surfaced when I saw the naturally separate Asian friend groups and gravitated toward them. Internally, I felt enraged at the school atmosphere that has an underlying self-segregation that can’t be seen so much as it is felt, and at society for making me feel like I belong to this label called ‘ethnicity’.

Just like Kumail, I am more than proud of my cultural heritage and skin color. But in that instant, I wanted to disown what I used to consider a key part in who I was. Just like Emily’s parents when they decided to ask Kumail about 9/11 due to his Pakistani origin, I felt distant from people of other races.

Admittedly, this does not apply to every group in school, but there is a definite boundary between groups that are, more often than not, founded in race.

However, there are people who don’t think of the word “diversity” in the context of ethnicity. People are distinct, but not just in color, or even in cultural heritage. We are disparate in our beliefs, our opinions, our faiths or lack thereof, but in the end, we are one community; or, at least, we can try to be.

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