I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib
Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers on April 30th, 2019
Genres: Graphic Novel, Memoir
“But I didn’t feel like a ‘real American.’ I loved Spam; I had a round, brown face; I was in Egypt…?; I had a weird name; I spoke English with a Tagalog accent. Basically, I felt like a giant, Spam-eating FOB!”
I spotted this at the Tenement Museum in New York when I there was in August. I was browsing their gift shop while waiting for my tour to start. Side note: the Tenement Museum might be my new favourite museum of all time. I really want to go back and do the other tours!
I Was Their American Dream follows Malaka as the daughter of a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father, both with unfulfilled dreams. She navigates her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.
It’s a love letter for those thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.
There was so much to love about this little graphic novel memoir!
It really felt like we got to experience Gharib’s journey from wanting to assimilate into white American culture, to feelings of rejection from three cultures, to finding her own identity by acknowledging, integrating, and melding all the diverse cultures that went into creating the woman she is today.
I always think it’s so important to read the story of people from all sorts of backgrounds. It was definitely relatable in so many aspects especially when it came to balancing everything and feeling like you really belong.
I loved the art style and the illustrations. Gharib was great at capturing the bliss of being ignorant while you’re a child to showing just how frustrating it can be to grow up. Especially as someone who is multiracial and living in America. Her drawings are so well done partly because she draws everyone with so much expression. I found myself laughing out loud when she drew herself grumbling or grimacing at what her parents were trying to tell her.
I also enjoyed her little asides. She included recipes to her favourite Filipino dishes, instructions on how to create a mini zine, a quiz about her restricted childhood, and a cheeky little microaggressions bingo page. The last one, by the way, is something I’ve seen pop up in a few poetry collections recently. And I find it hilarious every single time.
By the end of the book, I felt a bit cheated that we only got 160 pages of her story. I wanted to know more about her, her husband, and her whole entire family! I’m happy she included how her parents are now both living out their dreams.
There was very little for me to dislike about the book. I only wish that it was:
- Had smoother transitions between chapters
- A broader colour palette
On that last point, I thought it was a bit weird that the colour palette was only red, blue, and black. Because of that, half of all people in the world are redheads; a third are shades of blue; and a few are dark brown. I got confused trying to keep track of everyone since some people were redheads in her family while others weren’t.
But I’m nitpicking at this point. Overall, I think it was a fun and inspiring read. There are wonderful illustrations, fantastic storytelling, and it’s a very quick read. I read it in one day! I’d recommend it for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in one place.