What’s In a Name? The In-Between World of the South Asian Diaspora in Never Have I Ever”in Religion, Race, and “Never Have I Ever” Season 2: A Roundtable Discussion

After a painful and exhausting year that found Asian Americans reeling from a surge in anti-Asian racism and violence, the arrival of Season Two of Mindy Kaling’s acclaimed comedy Never Have I Ever was a long-anticipated moment of joy. Especially for Asian American women, who have experienced the lion’s share of anti-Asian attacks during the Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunity to watch a television show created by Asian American women and about Asian American women was a moment to celebrate. Not only are we being seen, but we are telling our own stories, as we choose to tell them.

The word “stories” is plural because–wow–there are a lot of stories in Season Two, which overflows with new characters, conflicts, and cringe-worthy moments. And that’s exactly the point. As Deepa Shivaram wrote in NPR:

“The significance of Never Have I Ever…is that it doesn’t just bring Asian Americans to the forefront. The show quietly smashes perceived stereotypes by simply allowing its characters to be fully human. And it gives Devi and others the space to be what Asian Americans are often denied on screen: the chance to be in charge of their own narrative, as complicated as they want.”

The show does more than portray Asian American individuals as rich and complicated and fully human. By including complex characters of different backgrounds and experiences, Never Have I Ever makes a statement about Asian America as a whole: that Asian Americans are incredibly diverse, and that there is not just one Asian American experience, but many. Within the broad category of “Asian American” is a great mosaic of stories.

Just as we did last summer, three scholars of Asian American history, religion, and media gathered together to offer some reflections on Season Two of Never Have I Ever and the different stories it told. We each addressed different themes: I discussed the show’s depiction of Asian American religious life, Dr. Himanee Gupta-Carlson examined the intersection of patriarchy and model minority myth, and Dr. Swapnil Rai reflected on the experiences of Indian American families living in between cultures.

Gentle warning: we include some spoilers here, so you might want to watch Season Two in full before proceeding with this roundtable.

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