To take a closer look to the Geek Anthropology of Ms. Marvel is a must. This is one of the best Superhero comic books in the market at the moment, and one that can be used at easy from a geek anthropological point of view. Through it we can discover more than the simple story of a young Pakistani American named Kamala Khan. This comic, through an empowerment fantasy journey, discovers us the life of a young Pakistani American young girl, her thoughts, her family, her friends and her assimilation story.
Like most young girls her age, she has to face problems of identity: who does she want to be, herself? Or someone else like marketing sells young people nowadays? Her hobbies show us that she is a geek girl: likes and writes fan fiction stories (about the Avengers and Wolverine), loves Marvel Superheroes, and has the same problems any other teenage girl would face at her age. However, there is something extra to her identity: she is a Pakistani American teenager who has to merge American and Pakistani values. Through the pages of this comic, we get to know her friends, and her family. She has a very religious brother, and two concerned parents. Concerned with her future, like many other parents are. Through them we discover aspects of Pakisnati culture, like traditional clothing, and also words. We get got know how Kamala feels torn up in two sometimes by being a child of two cultures: the one at home and the one of the country where she lives in.
Kamala has problems when communicating with her family. As happens with many teens, they feel disconnected to their parents. Her love for comics and fan fiction is not well understood by her mother, and her ways put her quite far away from her family. She is a weird girl trying to merge what it’s been expected from her and what she wants to do. We can see that throughout the whole comic.
Religion plays a good role on her. Despite being quite loose on it, how she makes closure of the events around her is what give us hints about how much religion is integrated into her personality. Not only the final Superhero she makes for herself is based on a traditional Pakistani dress, it is also consistent with her own personality and beliefs. How she interprets the apparition of Captain Marvel, Captain America and Iron Man within the parameters of her beliefs, whether she is aware of it or not.
Captain America, in the vision, states something very important: “You thought that if you disobeyed your parents–your culture, your religion–your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?” To which she replies: “They–they laughded at me.” This is a very important part of the vision, since here we can see that the rebellious part of Kamala, the one that wants to be someone who is not is not really giving her the answer she seeks.
Kamala is a teenage girl who dreams to be someone else, like many other teenage girls. She even states that to Captain Marvel. She says to her that she wants to be her. The fact of Kamala wanting to be Captain Marvel has many implications: as a teenage girl she wants to be someone else, like many marketing states to teenagers; but it also means that she does not want to be Kamala, the Pakistani American teenager. She wants to be a blonde Caucasian Superhero! When Kamala is granted super powers not only she becomes elastic and able to have any size she wants, she also has the ability to appear like Captain Marvel. But it doesn’t feel as she thought at first: there’s something missing, something out of tune. That’s not her. Besides, becoming someone entirely different does not solve her problems.
She struggles to make sense of why she does not feel like herself when being Captain Marvel, finally realizing that that it’s not her. She has a distinct self with a specific set of values. Her personality is that of a Pakistani American, a teenage girl who is growing up, a Geek, someone who wants to fit in, someone who wants to do good. She is a part of her family, of her ethnicity, of her religion, and of her hobbies. She is much more complicated than she ever thought, and her journey of self-discovery and acceptance is the key for her success. Just trying to be someone else doesn’t make it since what makes up Kamala is everything which is related to her identity and background.
Kamala is a shapeshifter who can alter her shape and her appearance as she wishes. Her super power is the ultimate expression of her unique multilayered personality and identity. In a sense, many teenagers who are in the same situation as Kamala have to be shapeshifters within society in order to fit in. They need to accept their own uniqueness and cultural values in order to then fit within American society.
Kamala is a geek who feels uncomfortable about herself. Like many geeks, she feels displaced not only at home but also within her social environment. As happens with many geeks, she gets often rejected. But he has an extra: her cultural background. In the first page we can see Kamala sniffing “infidel meat.” She longs to “eat American” but she can’t because of her family’s dietary restrictions. This might make of her even more strange than usual. Her habitudes, the ones that are normal at home, feel “alien” when outside home. The habitudes she has as an American teenager, however, make her an “alien” at her parents.
However, despite being an unpopular girl, despite longing to be somebody else, she manages to accept every single layer of her personality and culture. Her story is an empowering one since is telling kids in her same situation, or similar one, that embracing one’s roots is key in order to find your own place within society.
This comic also shows us more than that: American Society. Even though this is obviously a fantasy, that the story is being told through the eyes of a teenager member of a minority in the US is enlightening. Not only we get to know more about the minority she belongs to, but also we get to know what happens to kids like her within American society. We get to see another part of it through the pages of a comic book. And it opens the door to be willing to understand others as well.
Kamala’s story is a story of assimilation within American society, however it is so not in the way you might expect. Kamala connects with American culture through superhero comics. As we said before: she reads comics and writes fan fiction! When she has a mystical vision when granted her super powers, she does not see anyone from her own religion, but the Avengers! However, how she makes the closure of the vision has a great relation with her heritage.
The strength of Kamala is her flexibility. She can stretch out as much as she wants, and is able to adapt to any situation in the comics. She does not sacrifice her Muslim heritage nor her American one, instead she mixes both in harmony.
We can also discover Pakistani customs through this comic: not only the dresses, but also what the family does on a daily basis. We discover words and expressions, and citations from the Quran. We can also discover a little bit about Turkish American through Nakia, Kamala’s best friend. Let’s take a look to some words and quotes in Ms.Marvel, No Normal.
- Amreeki: said by Kamala to her Turkish American friend Nakia. Meaning ‘American’ (from context).
- Ammi: said by Kamala to her mother. Meaning “mom” (from Urdu).
- Allahomma barik lana fima razaqtana waqin ath–: prayer said before eating by Kamala’s brother Aamir. It means “O Allah! Bless (the food) you provided us and save us from the punishment of–.” (Not completed in the comics).
- Abu: said by Aamir. It means “dad.”
- Abu-Jaan: said by Kamala’s mother to soothe the father. (I didn’t find what Jaan is exactly online.)
- Pakoras:said by Kamala. Pakora is a dish.
- Sakal bun phool rahi sarson; Sakal bun phool rahi…; Umbva phutay, tesu phulay; Koyal bolay daar daar; Aur gori karat singaarn: said by Captain Marvel, from Urdu Sufi poetry. The meaning is given by Iron Man and Captain America: ‘The yellow mustard is blooming in every field; The yellow mustard is blooming…”…Mango buds click open, other flowers too; The royal twitters from branch to branch and the maiden tries on her adornments.’
- There’s this Ayah from the Quran that my dad always quotes when he sees something bad on TV. A fire or a flood or a bombing. “Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind–and whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind: said by Kamala.
- Shaytani: said by Kamala’s mother. Meaning ‘devilish.’
- Beta: said by Kama’s father. It is an affectionate word said to younger members of the family.
- Jaanu: said by Kamala’s father. Meaning ‘my dear.‘
- Mullah: said by Kamala’s mother talking about her son. Meaning ‘religious man.’
- Sheikh: said by Kamala. Honorific title.
- Burkini: said by Kamala. A swimming suit.
- Bhangi: said by Kamala’s mother. Meaning “chronically late scruffy person.”
- Mehndi: said by Kamala. Meaning “pre-wedding party.”
- Shalwar Kameez: said by Kamala. Referring to Pakistani Clothing.
Topics that can be found in the ongoing comics and that are useful for geek anthropology:
- Assimilation and integration.
- Geeks and Jocks.
- Teenagers in US.
- Communication (or the lack of it) between parents and their children.
- Generational cultural gap: what teenagers do that parents don’t understand.
- Language use of bilingual people from minorities in US.
- Ms.Marvel: No Normal Volume 1.
- Ms. Marvel: Generation Why Volume 2. (Not discussed in this post with exception of mentioning Kamala writing fan fiction of Wolverine).
Copyright: Images on this post (C) Marvel / Pictures taken with camera of the comic (C) depepi.com