Onscreen, young women of color with immigrant parents are often far from traditional. Consider All-American Girl's Margaret Kim (Margaret Cho), Grey's Anatomy's Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez), The Office's Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), and Elementary's Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Though these characters' parents are from various socioeconomic backgrounds and countries of origin, these young women all strive to balance their parents' expectations with their own expectations against the backdrop of society's often sexist and racist assumptions. And though these are some of my favorite characters on television, their experiences often veer from those of real-life second-generation immigrant women.
On the New Girl episode "Table 34," Cece (Hannah Simone) attends an Indian marriage convention hoping to meet an Indian guy for a long-term relationship. She had been with lovable douchebag Schmidt (Max Greenfield) but wants to date someone whom her Indian-born parents will approve of. When her friends hear about the convention, they decide that they want to check it out, too—though only Schmidt dresses like, in Winston's words, "the fortune teller in Big." At the convention, she has to fill out an application including her resume. The event hostess seats her at Table 34, which is clearly the losers' table. Has there been some mistake? The event organizer says, "Over 30 [years old], no advanced degrees, part-time employment. Table 34." Cece replies that she's a professional model, "I was in Lil Wayne's last video. I was the girl he was throwing strawberries at in slow motion?" The woman says, "Definitely Table 34."
Fashion model Cece is downwardly mobile compared to her parents, but she hopes that landing an Indian man will help her gain their approval.
Ever since The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in 1970, young, independent single women on TV have flocked to the cities to pursue their careers. But Mary Tyler Moore made it big in Minneapolis. In more recent single lady sitcoms—Cagney & Lacey, Living Single, Friends, Felicity, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Don't Trust the B----- in Apt. 23, Girls, and The Carrie Diaries— storylines emphasizes that, for young, unattached, career-minded women, New York City is the only place to be. These shows suggest that, if you take your career seriously, you simply must move to Manhattan.
But conflating ambition, glamor, and New York City is has a major drawback: Living in New York is a lot easier for people who come from money. For working class girls like the title character of Ugly Betty, the dream will, more often than not, remain out of reach. If you have no trust fund, it will be hard to pay tuition to earn the "University of New York" diploma seen on Felicity's wall. If you need to support your family, there will be no hanging out at Indochine, like in The Carrie Diaries. If you need to pay off over $25,000 in student debt, Sex in the City's Fifth Avenue professional-outfit shopping sprees will remain a Manhattan myth.
With its over the top premise and mining of dementia for “comedy”, I could never get into Raising Hope, but there's one thing I do appreciate about the sitcom: it’s one of very few successful shows to feature a working-class single dad.
It centers on Jimmy Chance (Garret Dillahunt), who is 25 when he finds out that a former one-night stand has become a serial killer, been sentenced to death, and left him with sole custody of their baby girl, Hope. As he still lives at home, his haphazard family helps him out as best they can.
Similarly, in Ugly Betty, sisters Betty and Hilda Suarez both lived at home, where their dad Ignacio acted as a surrogate father to Hilda’s adolescent son Justin, helping to take care of him both practically (including cooking and housework) and emotionally. These shows highlight the fact that for many working-class single parents, a support system which provides affordable childcare is essential. They also illustrate that single parents may have to move in (or never move out) from the family home for financial reasons, a fact rarely explored in discussions (or statistics) about homelessness.