The New Brown America: Hasan Minhaj and the American Dream | The American Word

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The New Brown America: Hasan Minhaj and the American Dream

Shayna Vayser | 9/21/16 12:50pm
| Updated 9/21/16 12:50pm

Hasan Minhaj speaks at American University.

Meriam Salem /
AU Photo Collective

Hasan Minhaj wants you to know that he is getting a lot done before his deportation in November.

“I said goodbye to all the delegates from the states I’ll never get to visit while at the RNC. I went and hugged Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming. It was like being at a haunted house but all of the lights were on. I had a really good time,” says Minhaj.

Minhaj jokes that if Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is elected this fall, the proposed ban on Muslims will result in a lot of lost opportunities—and the feeling of missing out is already beginning to set in.

The core of Minhaj’s comedic content, both on the Daily Show and in his autobiographical Broadway show, “Homecoming King,” is rooted in his cultural upbringing as an Indian, a Muslim, and an American. Deafening laughter that accompanies his biting quips about the election is swallowed by an awed silence as he describes his father sweeping up glass from shattered car windows following an ideologically charged attack against his family after 9/11.

In that moment, Minhaj shares, he realized that his father felt there was a price to pay in order to thrive as a citizen of the United States—he would have to endure the prejudice of others. It is with pure comedic prowess that Minhaj can unveil tragedy faced by the American Muslim community while maintaining an air of blitheness.

Millions have seen this talent exercised in Minhaj’s viral address to Congress at the 2015 Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner—20 minutes of riffs and puns ended with a passionate plea for legislative action against preventable violence, as well as an apology for having done too little to protect members of his own community from persecution. Minhaj urges that while tragic news can often reinforce feelings of uselessness and a lack of control, students can utilize accessible platforms like social media to make changes within their communities.

“A lot of times when it comes to social or racial justice people are hesitant to engage outside of their immediate affiliation. Activism through social media can be an expression of our beliefs, and we can reaffirm what we stand for. Let people know what you stand for. People call it slackdivism, but changing the cultural perception around it is so important—we can engage on social media right now.”

Minhaj speaks to a generation of students who were raised with an incidentally alienating perception of personal identity. For Rebecca Rahman, a sophomore at American University, the contemporary evolution of her religious identity mirrors that of Minhaj, encouraging her to speak freely about how her sexual identity does not conform to traditional practices of heterosexuality in Islam.

“You are not alone in the way you feel. You have a community behind you that is ready to push for change and accepts you,” says Rahman.

To young Americans like Rahman, Minhaj is more than a representation of minorities on television. He is the voice of a new era, in which introspection and a celebration of diversified cultural backgrounds are encouraged. It is through the lens of personal narratives that a populous can be encouraged to critique and analyze their surrounding environments; through self-awareness, an individual can become a critic of oppressive institutions.

“You should always aspire to just punch up. Punch up at institutions or people that can take it. You can punch up at Fox News or Coca-Cola, or any organization that is marginalizing people,” says Minhaj.

Minhaj has no plans to stop punching anytime soon. “Homecoming King” will be adapted into a TV special, and Minhaj hopes to see a new book on shelves within the next year.

“He isn’t afraid to be political and demand change from both sides of his identity as an American and as a Muslim,” says Rahman. “He isn’t a force for one or the other. He’s a force for both”.

In some capacity, it is activists like Minhaj who use their prominence to point a finger at injustice that will force America to thrive. By sharing experiences throughout his upbringing, Minhaj hopes to inspire future generations to do the same.

“I want to continue to take my passions and put my narrative out into the book that is the American Dream. That voice, as a child of immigrants, is something that I think has been missing. It’s an amazing time for the first generation of new brown America to add a chapter to the American Dream.”