My favorite Cultural T.V. Character

Sana Kalyanpur

When I was first acquainted with the character of Cece on the show New Girl, I knew I was going to like her. Cece, portrayed by actress Hannah Simone, is of South Asian decent, like myself. However, unlike the majority of South Asian characters who appear on American television, who are typically characterized by strong accents and other outlandish ethnic caricatures, Cece is simply a funny, well-developed character who was written with no reference to tired racial stereotypes. She just happens to be a person of color. 

The dearth of female characters of ethnicity in mainstream television is damaging to young girls of color – the oppression of invisibility often takes a toll on their self-image. During my childhood, I did not really see South Asian characters on television, and my race was mostly disregarded. On the few occasions when I did see myself on screen, the characters were usually distorted into a cultural parody of themselves, to the point  that the ethnic stereotypes of South Asians as portrayed in the media were more ingrained in the minds of my peers than my own validity as a South Asian. 
Western society’s frame of reference for my race was viewed through the lens of Caucasians who only wrote tokenized stock characters for South Asians. As a result, if I didn’t satisfy racial stereotypes that were prevalent in the media, it was not taken as a dismissal of the stereotypes – I was just taken as an anomaly. This led to years of dealing with my Caucasian peers trying to tell me about myself; to explain my own experiences and predicaments to me as if they knew better than I did. Moreover, my frustration at these highly warped and often incorrect portrayals motivated me to present myself in ways that were direct refutations of said cultural stereotypes. 

Having a character like Cece will not erase a history of oppression of invisibility for American South Asians, but her wonderful presence as an ethnic character loved by audiences of all backgrounds is definitely a step in the right direction. Young South Asian girls can see themselves on the screen in a flattering, relatable portrayal, free of offensive depictions of themselves. If we had had that in the past, it is likely that multitudes of South Asian girls would have higher self-esteems, and would have to deal with fewer insulting questions and comments about their race. Hopefully, more characters like this one will come to the forefront of mainstream American television, but for now, Cece is my favorite cultural television character. The next time you kick back and turn on Netflix, watch an episode of New Girl – Cece will steal the show.



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