Young Immigrants Can Identify With Mindy Kaling’s ‘Coconut’ Crisis

Last week’s episode of The Mindy Project finally addressed a lingering criticism of the show — that it doesn’t explore Mindy’s “otherness.” In it, Dr. Mindy Lahiri — the character played by series creator Mindy Kaling — goes on a date with an Indian man named Neel. He is, as Mindy admits to him, the first Indian guy she’s gone out with. She also tells him she knows little about the place her parents came from. “I wanna say there’s a river there,” she says. “And some tigers?”

Neel, on the other hand, values his Indian identity and is put off by Mindy’s lack of awareness. “I don’t think I could date a coconut,” he says — “brown on the outside, white on the inside.”

Neel and Mindy may be fictional, but this dichotomy isn’t. They represent the two extremes of South Asian immigrants in the United States: One is determined to assimilate (and loses touch with roots in the process), the other holds on to the culture for dear life even while forging a new identity. And my conversations with friends whose parents moved here from other parts of the world, especially developing countries, have led me to believe that many immigrant communities have their versions of Neel and Mindy. To read more from RHITU CHATTERJEE, click here.