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‘The MandaIorian’ Resonates With Folks Like Me Who Feel ‘Not BLANK Enough’

Emily Swallow as The Armorer and Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin in 'The Mandalorian' on Disney+. The Armorer is standing in profile in full Mandalorian armor welding the armor at Din's shoulder. His head is turned toward her.

The journey for both Din and Bo-Katan on this season of Disney+’s The Mandalorian is about “being Mandalorian enough.” It’s an insecurity I think a lot of people in marginalized groups know well, whether they are born into those groups or not.

Bo-Katan is me in the communities I was born into

(L-R): Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff) with the Darksaber in Lucasfilm's THE MANDALORIAN.

Bo-Katan was born into a diverse, marginalized people. While she knew that Mandalorians that weren’t like her or her family existed, she thought less of them. She considered The Tribe (Din’s clan) a cult, for example. Yet, despite her convictions about her clan, she’s always been less steady about her personal identity and relationship to Mandalore.

A friend told me recently that he thought both Bo-Katan and Din Djarin are looking for redemption this season. However, I think Bo-Katan’s arc is less about her needing redemption and more about her recognizing and reconnecting with what she already is and has been—a leader and a true Mandalorian.

The Armorer trusted her to go off sans helmet and bring the clans together. Din pledged himself to her, flat-out telling her that the Darksaber means nothing and that what means more to him is the honor, character, and loyalty she brings to the table. Bo-Katan herself, without her family and without the Darksaber, is Mandalorian enough.

I’ve had a lifetime of being a fat, Puerto Rican woman, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely comfortable in those communities. Plenty of women and enbies have experienced difficulties engaging in feminist circles. No group is a monolith, and debate is healthy. However, there are times when those debates turn into gatekeeping. And the moment you throw intersectionality into the mix, feminism becomes a minefield where racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, or ableism can blow up in your face.

My parents had me later in life, so I was raised differently than other Puerto Ricans my age. There was an assimilationist vibe in my family—understandable, considering that my parents’ generation experienced huge amounts of discrimination when they came to the Mainland in the 1940s and ’50s. Assimilation meant safety. So, I got a lot of “you don’t look/act Puerto Rican,” or “you sound like a white girl” from other Latinas growing up.

I’ve spent time on both sides of the fatphobia coin. I’ve detested my fatness, and I’ve learned about anti-fat bias to chip away at my internalized fatphobia, yet food was always a problem for me. It’s always taken up too much brain space and been my only coping strategy. After connecting the emotional dysregulation and impulsivity of my ADHD to the way I’ve always eaten, I decided to have gastric bypass surgery two months ago, considering it a tool—much like my Vyvanse—to help me create space for better coping strategies for my big emotions. While it’s provided huge amounts of relief, it also feels like I’m “betraying” fellow fat folks, and it’s hard to talk about with them.

Din is me in the communities I came to later

There’s a saying that “there’s no zealot like a convert.” If Bo-Katan is me in communities I was born into, Din is a lot closer to who I am now, navigating cultures and communities that have come to mean so much to me and perhaps being extra in the interest of belonging.

This season, Din had a line like “without the Creed, who are we?” An age-old question for any culture. Can you still be Mandalorian even if you show your face and don’t walk a particular path? What does “Being Mandalorian” mean at its core, and can that change? His strict adherence to The Way smacks of self-consciousness over not having been born Mandalorian.

Perhaps he clings to his faith, because he hasn’t been confident enough to assert his Mandalorian-ness without it. In getting to know Bo-Katan, however, he’s seeing another side of what “Being Mandalorian” means. He clearly respects her, doesn’t see her as “less Mandalorian,” and can list the qualities that make him want to follow her. I think Din’s starting to realize that whether you were born into a community or raised by it doesn’t matter. What matters is the love, honor, loyalty, and integrity you show that community when it welcomes you. Din himself, helmet or no helmet, is Mandalorian enough.

I met the woman who would become my wife in 2012. Despite seeing her as an “exception” for way too long, I finally claimed bisexuality in my late 30s. My wife was born Jewish, but neither she, nor her family, ever needed me to be. Still, I’d already drifted from Catholicism, and Judaism was always a culture and religion that made sense to me in a way others didn’t. My wife wasn’t the reason I converted, but she was the catalyst. I became Jewish in 2018.

In a way, my wife was also a catalyst for my ADHD diagnosis. She’d been diagnosed as a teenager. Meanwhile, after a childhood and part of an adulthood dealing with worsening focus, time-blindness, disorganization, and emotional dysregulation, I was able to see my struggles in my wife’s enough to pursue my own diagnosis in 2021.

Identities don’t exist in a vacuum. Labels help us explain ourselves and how we need to be cared for to people not like us. They also help us find community and support among people who are.

Joining new communities can be hard

Close-up of a silver Star of David necklace around the neck of an olive-skinned woman wearing a white towel around her body.
The author, fresh out of the mikveh and newly Jewish. (image credit: Teresa Jusino)

I don’t feel entirely comfortable in queer spaces. Some of it’s caused by unconscious (sometimes conscious?) bi/pan erasure in the broader LGBTQIA+ community, but a lot of it is my own insecurity over things from superficial signifiers to history and culture—never mind that I’m often in queer spaces with my wife. Part of me always feels like an intruder.

Same goes for being a Jew. I need transliteration of the prayers during services, and I’m still not 100% sure about how to observe certain things or the reasons behind them. In Jewish spaces, being a Jew of Color is an interesting experience. Despite there having always been people who were born JOC, there’s a specific stereotype of what Jews look and act like (thanks, white supremacy!), supported by the “Ashkenormative” representation of Jews in film and TV (Ashkenazi Jews = Eastern European descent). So, many Jews think of us as “white people” even though, as a group, we’re not. When my Jewishness comes up, people assume I converted, and when I confirm that, they assume I did it “for my wife.”

As for ADHD, shortly after my diagnosis, I feared that I’d “take someone’s spot” who “really deserved it” when applying for the DISRUPTORS TV Writing Fellowship, which is specifically for BIPOC who fall into at least one of three groups: trans/non-binary, disabled, or undocumented/formerly undocumented. Never mind that undiagnosed ADHD was responsible for many hurdles that have slowed my writing career, and that ADHD is legally a disability and covered by the ADA. When I eventually became a Fellow, I still felt self-conscious about claiming a disability among others who’d grappled with theirs longer.

Labels should fit us, not the other way around

As useful as labels are in some ways, they shouldn’t be overvalued. Identity is a tricky, emotional, and personal thing. When we explore the labels we’d choose for ourselves, we should remember that labels aren’t designed for us to fit inside them. The label exists to help us claim what we already are.

I’m Puerto Rican. Any experience I have is a “Puerto Rican experience,” and I am Puerto Rican enough. Ditto Judaism, neurodivergence, woman-ness, etc.

Din Djarin and Bo-Katan are Mandalorians, and I’m so glad that they each seem to be arriving at the knowledge that they’re Mandalorian enough.

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.