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December 08, 2021 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily

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I’m the kind of person who looks for

herself when she reads. I want so badly
to find bits of myself in characters that
I love. From Hermione Granger to
Lizzy Bennet, I crave a connection to
beloved characters, so much so that
I force similarities. I try to become
the characters instead of finding a
natural connection, instead of finding
something real.

And then I read Uzma Jalaluddin’s

“Hana Khan Carries On.”

I’ve seen attempts at Muslim

representation in art in the past

wholeheartedly disappointed. Seeing
the trope of “Muslim girls gone wild,”
taking their hijabs off and straying
from the religious morals, troubles me.
In other cases, the characters face a
great, dramatic internal conflict, where
they agonize over whether or not they
can be both a desi Muslim and an
American student — something along
those lines. I’ve never felt this pressure
about maintaining both aspects of

my identity. There are probably desi
Muslim girls who do face these issues
or who are in these situations; it’s just
not how I’ve grown up. It’s not who I
am. So where’s the representation for
the kind of Muslim I am?

I’m a 21st century Pakistani-

American girl who was born and
raised in Michigan. I have a connection
to my culture, but it feels strained
at times, feeling more surface-level
than anything else because of the
Americanization I’ve been accustomed
to all my life. I’m lucky enough to hold
a stronger connection to my religion:

Islam is a constant in my life. There are
aspects of being a Muslim girl that are
hard, I’ll be the first to admit. Being the
only kid in school wearing long sleeves
and pants instead of tank tops and
shorts was rough — it can get really hot,
really fast. I would fast in Ramadan,
feeling my mouth water when I saw my
friends snacking. But all of these things
feel remarkably small in the grand
scheme of things. So what if my life
was a little different than my friends? I
was lucky enough to have friends that
accepted me and loved me the way
that I was, regardless of cultural and
religious differences. I have a family
that loves and supports me. I work
hard. I do well. I do good.

And yet, I still craved something.

Understanding, maybe.

It’s taken 20 years, but I’ve found it.
“Hana Khan Carries On” is a

retelling of the 1998 film “You’ve
Got Mail,” following the Indian-
Canadian hijabi Hana Khan as she
works to accurately represent herself
and her culture and her religion. She
has a podcast — which is where the
anonymous, online romance comes
in — and she uses her platform to talk
about herself and her life in a very
unfiltered way. Similarly, she works
to create a radio show that depicts
people like her truthfully, without
mindlessly subscribing to stereotypes.
There’s a love story in the book too,
of course, and while I did thoroughly
enjoy the halal romcom feel of it all,
Hana’s strength as a Muslim woman

workplace, working to understand her

background and ultimately finding her
voice mattered more to me than the
admittedly very sweet romance. (I’m
sorry, Aydin.)

I actually saw myself in Hana.

Sure, she’s Indian-Canadian, and I’m
Pakistani-American. She’s a hijabi,
and I’m not. The details don’t matter.
Her cultural and familial traditions
are the same as mine. She has the
same respect for her religion that I do.
Her perspective on identity mirrors
mine. Not to mention she’s a Swiftie,
and so am I — and so is author Uzma

In an interview with The Michigan


she wanted to write for people like
herself. Muslim girls deserve to see
themselves in books too. Just because
we don’t date in the traditional sense or
because our attire is more modest than
others doesn’t mean that we should
be excluded from the romcom genre
altogether. And just because we have a
different perspective on life, a different
identity, doesn’t mean that we don’t
want to be understood.

“I didn’t grow up with that (kind

of representation),” Jalaluddin said.
There were hardly any books about
South Asians, when she was growing
up in Toronto, and even fewer about
Muslims. “The ones that were there
were rife with really toxic stereotypes;
most of the time they were written
by white authors … peering into the
experience of what it’s like to be a non-
white person. I would read … them and
get really angry.”

And she’s right. There exists

this need to try to push all Muslim
characters into this box of “bad” or
“evil.” Even some of the stories that I
love most do this. The film “Iron Man”
comes to mind, where vaguely Muslim
characters are the bad guys, torturing
and tormenting the hero. And if the
characters aren’t evil, they’re not
represented as being “really Muslim,”
like when those aforementioned hijabis
decide to pursue relationships that
aren’t exactly halal.

“What happens with this sort of

‘girls gone wild, let me whip off my
hijab when the first white boy smiles
at me’ type of narrative, what you’re
seeing is what other people think about
Muslim women versus what happens
when you write about an experience
that is your own,” Jalaluddin said. “I
don’t think about my hijab; I just wear
it. I’ve worn it for years. It’s part of my

That’s why her books, both “Ayesha

at Last” and “Hana Khan”, have
meant so much to me, why they’ve
made me feel seen. She’s a member
of the community that she’s writing
about. She’s writing about people like
her, people like me. She represents us

“I think I just really wanted to

write a funny, entertaining book about
Muslims, because it always pissed
me off that we got the sad stories, the
victim stories, the arranged marriage,
forced marriage, extremists running
off to do violence somewhere else
stories … Those aren’t the books I like
to read. I love romance. I want to read
romance books.”

Uzma Jalaluddin and representation: the legacy of ‘Hana Khan’

Design by Sam Turner


Film Beat Editor

The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Wednesday, December 8, 2021 — 5

“I’m leaving the country because I have no


This is the opening line to one of my favorite

books, “Again, But Better” by Christine Riccio.
The second I read that line, I knew that this story
was going to change my life (as cheesy as that may
sound). I first read it shortly after graduating high
school. Riccio has a big following on YouTube
and documented her writing process in video
diaries. One of my best friends was a huge fan,
and when the book finally came out, she would
not stop talking about it. She even drove down
to Chicago to meet Riccio and have her sign her
copy of the book. This same friend was gracious
enough to let me borrow such a prized possession,
and immediately after finishing it, I drove to three
different Target locations to get my own copy.

“Again, But Better” follows Shane, a

20-something student who impulsively signs
up for a study abroad program in London after
realizing that she has “done college all wrong.”
The move is completely out of her comfort zone,
but she meets new friends (and a very attractive
housemate), travels all around Europe and gets
a fancy internship. The only problem is, the
semester is part of a creative writing program, and
Shane’s parents want her to go into the medical
field instead. Throw in a bit of magic and Taylor
Swift references, and you have my ideal story (and
my entire personality) summed up in less than
400 pages.

Since I bought my own copy, I’ve reread the

book several times. While some of the smaller
details have gradually become cheesier as I’ve
grown older, the overall story has been a source
of personal comfort. The romance has me
grinning like an idiot every time, and the travel
scenes reminded me of my own trip to Paris after
graduation — if I ever study abroad, it will be solely
because of this book. My most recent reread was
this past May, and this time around something
just clicked.

I see myself in Shane in many different ways.

For one, we share similar interests and dreams.
We are also both naturally anxious people. Up
until the start of the novel, Shane spent all her
time reading alone in her dorm room and went
home for the weekend every chance she got;
I have to admit my freshman year experience
was a little too similar. But just like Shane took
matters into her own hands and traveled abroad,
I transferred colleges. This year, I enrolled at the
University of Michigan, the place I wanted to be
all along. After a year of physical isolation — and
two years of feeling left behind for not having the
typical “college experience” — I began to feel like I
was doing something right.

I was also finally honest with myself about

wanting to be an author. It’s no known secret
that careers in the arts make it hard to support
yourself financially. Despite how much I loved to
write, the idea of subjecting myself to such a high,
constant level of stress scared me more. But no
other potential career excites me nearly as much.

Shane’s love for writing was a source of family

conflict in “Again But Better.” Her parents
disapproved of the idea, for many of the same
reasons that I couldn’t fully commit to it. My

parents have always been supportive of me in any
path I would choose to take, so I didn’t have to
resort to fabricating an entire pre-med program
in order to go to London for a semester. Instead,
the source of conflict lies within myself. But once
I was able to admit out loud that I was at least
willing to give it a try, it was suddenly worth it.
Since starting at the University, I’ve switched
my major and joined The Daily, where I am
surrounded by people who love to write as much
as I do.

If anyone reading this article relates to feeling

lost and afraid like I was, I have two pieces of
advice that I hope do not come off as too cliché. The
first is to go after your passion. It may be difficult
at first, but it has the potential to pay off in the long
run — either in success, or in the experiences and
friends you gain along the way. You won’t know
unless you try. The second, of course, is to read
this book (though I would recommend it in any

Riccio captures everything I felt in her author’s

note, before the book even begins: “I so badly
wanted to read a coming-of-age story about
someone who was 20 — someone who was still
finding themselves and struggling with becoming
an adult even after they hit the double-decade
mark. I needed to know there was at least one
other 20-plus person out there feeling as alone
and lost as I was. This is for all the teens/young
adults/adults who feel like they’ve been left
behind. You’re not behind. You have time to find
yourself and love and adventure. It’s all out there,
and when you’re ready to push yourself out of your
comfort zone and look for it, you’ll find it.”

I think I’m finally finding it.

Oh, to be an octopus, slowly slithering

my way through the dark, only to
stumble on vestigial remains of an
ancestor’s home. Aki Inomata’s moving-
image piece “Think Evolution #1: Kiku-
ishi (Ammonite)” describes what a good
piece of art feels like: stumbling on a
piece of home that you separated from
lifetimes ago. Inomata was inspired by
the instinct that octopuses had to huddle
inside shell-like objects despite having
evolved out of their shells millions of
years ago. Thus, she decided to create a
resin model based on the shells found of
distant ancestors — ammonites. And so,
in the moving image, the octopus slowly
feels around the new shell it has fallen
into — something it wasn’t necessarily
looking for, but that seems to understand
the octopus and its constitution.

Some people would argue that is the

point of consuming art: to see forms of
humanity that vaguely mirror our own.
We love finding our shells and holding
them close. But sometimes, the shells
don’t want us inside. I read books, a
decent amount of them old. I can see
myself in the good ones. But for a while,
I didn’t read stories that wanted to see
anyone who wasn’t white. I grew up
reading “classics” like “Little House
on the Prairie” and “Tintin” — looking
back, it’s pretty easy to find racist
undertones in these works. Consuming
and internalizing these classics as a child
is not an uncommon experience. To
convince me that only these works are
the “classics” or the pinnacle of literature
is to do a disservice both to myself
and those around me. To believe that
only certain white artists are capable
of highbrow expression and that only
certain white characters are allowed to
have humanity ultimately perpetuates
white supremacy, and while these beliefs
are easy to deny at face value, they are
often still held subconsciously.

As I’ve grown, I’ve stopped expecting

authors to capture the world that I see.
With all of the different experiences in
the world, how could someone possibly
articulate in print the out-of-place
feelings that I find hard to admit to
myself? At the beginning of 2019, I picked
up a book from my school library with a
gorgeously golden cover, and a West Side
Story lyric in the title — “A Place for Us”,
by Fatima Farheen Mirza. In the book,
an Indian-American Muslim family’s
past unravels as Amar, the youngest
sibling, comes back to California for
his eldest sister’s wedding. I think I’ll
always be chasing the feeling I got from
reading that book, from seeing Amar’s
devastating choices and the family’s
quiet love for each other (there’s a good
chance my tear stains are still visible on
the copy’s last chapter). Until that point,
I had never seen a dynamic, intimate
portrait of a family that felt like it was
pulled from real life — from my life.
Since, I have made it a point to seek out
Asian American literature.

It’s not difficult to find people

who roll their eyes at the mention

commodification of identity politics,
widespread representation often focuses

on the visibility of a few specific traits.
They’re often used as tokens to make
art “appealing” to as many people as

members of these communities as
complex human beings that exist
within the intersections of their identity
but are not solely defined by them.

as an agenda that is permeating the
culture — altering the sanctity of what
art “was” (which, by the way, is an
incorrectly singular perception of the
artistic zeitgeist of the “good old days”).
This aforementioned viewpoint lacks
empathy. “Forced” representation, while
frustrating, is an important stepping
stone. And honestly, there is victory in
just seeing someone who looks like you
exist and be considered as worthy of a
story. Maybe the novelty might wear off,
but for now, I am happy when I see South
Asian people being their truest, complex
selves in art.

What does good representation

entail? This is a difficult question to
answer. If I knew exactly what I wanted
out of art, then maybe I would react
to art differently. But connecting with
people who have lived through relatable
experiences is a reason why we love
art. Now I know what that octopus
felt, swiping around in the dark, when
it landed on a home — something that
seemed to know the octopus better
than it knew itself, something that is a
testament to something big. A collective
experience intertwined with evolution
and history and being alive on this planet.

I know that feeling when I read “A

Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki,
a hilarious writer who has changed
the way I think about what a life is and
what a novel should be. I snuggle up in
bed with Tahereh Mafi’s “A Very Large
Expanse of Sea” and “Counting Down
With You,” by Tashie Bhuiyan when
I’m down, because they are beautiful,
comforting stories that understand
what it feels like to be a second-
generation teenager, to be othered in
a sea of whiteness. And when I read
Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown”
in a day — I don’t think I’ll ever read
a more genius marriage of form and
function, or a portrait of what it means
to live with stereotypes. And this
summer, when I went into the Strand
Bookstore before meeting a friend; after
wandering around, I picked up “Good
Talk” by Mira Jacob. Before I knew it,
the quietly hilarious 349-page graphic
memoir was done, my feet were hurting,
and I had a few missed calls from my
friend, who eventually decided to
wander around the bookstore and read
a few titles herself. And “Gold Diggers,”
don’t get me started on “Gold Diggers”
by Sanjena Sathian — it’s everything I’ve
never known I wanted out of a book.

Cathy Park Hong’s work changed

the way I think about myself. Upasna
Barath’s podcast and writing for
Rookie speak to me like no one else
can. Ocean Vuong’s poetry. Aimee
Nezhukumatathil’s “World of Wonders.”
Arthur Sze’s “Residence on Earth.”
Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s “This One
Summer.” Fatimah Asghar’s “My Love
for Nature.” There are too many to name,
these artists who have made me. Me and
my shells.


Daily Arts Writer

Finding ammonites

When Taylor Swift announced that she would be

releasing a 10-minute version of her 2012 breakup
ballad “All Too Well” on her re-recorded album
Red (Taylor’s Version), fans everywhere erupted
into excitement. The original cut, already over five
minutes long, was never released as a single, despite
being one of Swift’s favorite songs off Red. Once the
album was released in 2012, however, fans quickly
gravitated to the song on their own and have been
obsessed with its tragic story of a head-over-heels
romance gone wrong. On a Thursday night, curled
up in bed waiting for her new album to drop, I was
in shambles when midnight arrived, immersing
myself in an extended version of one of Swift’s most
beloved songs.

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s

Version) (From the Vault),” has only been out for a
couple of weeks, but is already smashing records.
Overtaking Don McLean’s “American Pie” as the
longest song to top Billboard’s Hot 100, the song
provides more context to the original recording,
supposedly recounting the break-up between
Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal.

In the days following the release of Red (Taylor’s

Version), I obsessively expressed my love for the
10-minute version of “All Too Well” to just about
every person I know. While raving about the song
to a friend, he asked me, “What makes this song so
great?” Like many Swifties who also love the song,
my immediate answer was, “it’s relatable,” but that
wasn’t enough to convince him. What’s relatable
about a breakup between two celebrities? Why are
people obsessing over a song that’s far too long?

Perhaps the 10-minute version of “All Too Well”

dropped right when I needed it most, which makes
it all the more impactful. As a newly-single college
student, the song hits close to home when I think
about my own failed relationships. Throughout

the song Swift dives into the gritty details of her
failing relationship, weaponizing specific details
in the face of gaslighting. In one of the song’s newly
released verses, Swift describes a scene in which
her then-boyfriend makes claims to feminism as he
makes her drive his car: “You were tossing me the
car keys / ‘Fuck the patriarchy’ / Keychain on the
ground / We were always skipping town.” In these
lines, Swift paints a heartbreaking picture of an
arrogant boyfriend tossing the car keys to his naïve
girlfriend, not even bothering to hand them to her
as he makes his way to the passenger seat.

Although some may consider this a small

inconvenience, this scene alone confronts a subtle
evil many women face in relationships. For me,
this verse reminded me of all the times guys have
imposed negligence in the name of feminism
— whether that be making me take a cab in an
unfamiliar city when they could’ve picked me
up from the airport or pushing the check across
the table for me to pay, claiming that it’s because
they believe in “gender equality.” By addressing
these subtle moments that often go unnoticed,
Swift is validating the disappointment and anger
so many women feel when they’re forced into
uncomfortable situations under the false pretext of

At the bridge’s close, Swift, despite being

surrounded by friends and family for her
21st birthday, describes the loneliness and
disappointment she felt while waiting for her
significant other to arrive. Swift perfectly depicts
the bitter irony of spending what should be one
of life’s most exciting milestones mourning the
absence of a careless boyfriend, but what I find
even more heartbreaking about the scene is the
way Swift recalls how her father “watched me
watch the front door all night, willin’ you to come
/ And he said, ‘It’s supposed to be fun turning 21.’”
Last year I spent my 21st birthday in the wake of a
breakup and a global pandemic, so Swift’s retelling
of her own tragic 21st celebration felt particularly

personal. Young love is notorious for being an all-
consuming experience, and I too can relate to the
overwhelming feeling of falling in love and allowing
my emotions toward a single person to overpower
my own sense of self and better judgment.

The lesson here, which many 20-somethings

have come to understand, is that it’s difficult for the
people who love us — parents, siblings, friends — to
watch us drown in our emotions, especially when
they know that we’d be much better off without the
person causing us harm. Here, Swift acknowledges
that sometimes the people in our lives know us
better than we know ourselves. This bridge took me
right back to the time when my mom confronted
me about the way my then-boyfriend was talking
down to me, or the summer before my junior year
of college when I cried to my parents, admitting
that my relationship was falling apart and I needed
to end things, to which my parents glanced at each
other and sympathetically nodded their heads as if
to say, “We’ve known this for months now.”

Some fans believe that the final two minutes

of the song, where Swift repeats the line, “It was
rare / I was there,” is a way for her to legitimize
the gaslighting she’s experienced — in a world
that’s so quick to tell women that they’re being
dramatic, remembering the gritty details is
often the only way to affirm that the pains we’ve
experienced actually happened. Swift claims a
significant amount of time and space to retell her
experiences in “All Too Well,” which is a bold feat;
most female songwriters are only allowed two or
three minutes to unpack the emotional baggage of
a painful breakup.

While Swift bravely confronts the small ways

women have been slighted by their male partners,
the song is more of a retrospective narrative
than a pointed assertion pinning men as the sole
perpetrators of unsuccessful relationships. I don’t
think Swift’s intention was to blame men.

Negligence in the name of feminism, I know it ‘All Too Well’

Music Beat Editor

My college experience: ‘Again, But Better’


Daily Arts Writer

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