Monday, April 7, 2008

Masalas and Romeo & Juliet

Binita Mehta writes in her article, “Mina describes herself as a masala or mixture, a ‘bunch of hot spices.’ For Mina, masala is a social construction, a means of explaining her Indian/Ugandan/American identities, an amalgamation of her ethnic roots, as well as her immigrant past” (Mehta 230). I think that the director Mira Nair is trying to convey the message that we are all masalas, blends of different ethnicities and identities. This film was under the heading for the week entitled “Where Are You From?” which I think is very descriptive of the movie’s argument. Nair wants us to ask ourselves this very question. Although Mina is born in Uganda, her family is Indian, although she has never been to India and lives in the United States. I believe that the message of this movie is that we as individuals cannot be defined simply by our place of birth—we are a fusion of our ethnicities, but also our experiences and environmental influences. I think we see this also in Monkey Dance as although 17-year-old Linda is proud of her Cambodian roots, she describes the need to be a normal American teenager who hangs out with her friends and talks to boys online. Linda is her own form of a masala—raised in Massachusetts, but ethnically Cambodia.

Another unrelated thing that struck me about Mississippi Masala is its similarity to a modern day version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. However instead of the Capulets versus the Montegues, it is the Indians versus the African Americans. Differences in cultures and races prohibit both Mina’s and Demetrius’s families and friends from accepting a biracial romantic relationship. Nair begins to explore the stereotypes held by African Americans and by Indians about other races. Nair describes how Indians are prejudiced against African Americans. This reminds me of the film My America or Honk, If You Love Buddha, which included female Filipino sisters from Louisiana who seemed to hold some prejudices against African Americans as well. I wonder why Asians and African Americans sometimes seem to have a tense relationship.

No comments: