An American icon is under attack and, for a change, it isn’t a dead white male. It’s Apu of “The Simpsons,” a brown man in a town full of bright-yellow people. A clamor has gone up in the media—both “mainstream” and social—decrying the owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart as a racist caricature that portrays South Asians as interlopers in America.
But the quintessence of Apu—and the fundamental flaw in the critique of his character—is that he is both foreign and very American. Apu is lovable in his familiarity: the stalwart, law-abiding proprietor of a 24-hour shop who, through his hard work and desire to succeed, enhances the neighborhood community. He gives idle teenagers a place to buy Squishees, and dads a place to pick up diapers and beer at 2 a.m. He represents the American trajectory of immigrant success and assimilation.
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