At just 33, Aziz Ansari has made a very successful career out of discussing his identity and various anxieties in smart, hilarious, and intimately relatable ways. Whether it's through a stand-up special filmed at Madison Square Garden, a sociological book on dating disguised as a humor book, the Netflix series he co-created, his famous Parks and Recreation character Tom Haverford, or even his Instagram, Ansari is funniest when he tackles the big questions. How are you supposed to find a soul mate in a world of infinite romantic possibilities? Why can there be a TV show with one Indian lead, but not two? What's the best place to go for dinner tonight?
As a first-generation Indian-American who grew up in South Carolina, Ansari has only been back to the place his parents emigrated from a handful of times. On his most recent visit, he took a New York Times senior features editor with him to document the trip and wrote a byline for the newspaper upon his return. To experience his roots as an adult, he took the same approach he does with getting to know any culture abroad: "Find and consume really good food."
Throughout his article, it's clear Ansari doesn't really know how to reconcile his exceedingly American self with his Indian heritage. "Sure, I appear Indian," he writes. "But my clothes and sneakers were clearly American. Even in India, I was kind of an outsider." It's a common sense of floating that first-generation Americans can feel, which fellow Indian-American and guest star on Master of None Ravi Patel detailed in the deeply personal documentary, Meet the Patels.
While he wandered around Trivandrum and the surrounding area in the South of India, Ansari's American clothes and demeanor were an outwardly dead giveaway that he didn't belong, and his deteriorating handle of the native language only exacerbated that. "Although I was fluent [in Tamil] as a child, I now use it almost exclusively to have clandestine chats with my family in the company of white people," he says.
While essentially serving as a bridge between two major cultural chapters in a family's history can be an uncomfortable feeling, Ansari takes a light approach to the experience. After all, it's not like he chose to be born when and where he was born, a fact all who feel caught between two worlds in a similar manner should always remember. His attitude is best summed up in the quick stop he made to a KFC in Trivandrum:
"Signs all over the place promoted their new Chizza, which is basically a flat piece of breaded chicken, sliced in four and covered with cheese and marinara sauce," he recalls. "I opted instead for a basmati bowl topped with popcorn chicken, a peculiar hybrid of two vastly different cultures. Kind of like me."
Well put, Aziz.
Check out a snippet of Ansari's trip below:
Cover image: Netflix US & Canada via YouTube