I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir
“The question of ‘What are you?’ has never been answered with so much charm.”
In this time when immigration is such a hot topic, Malaka Gharib puts an engaging human face on the issue in her graphic novel of being raised by two immigrants, a mother from the Philippines, a father from Egypt.
Gharib is firmly American, while still learning the different codes of conduct of her parents' different cultures, a situation charmingly illustrated in a chart of Filipino/Egyptian/American expectations (Americans, unsurprisingly, are the only ones who value “Being on Time”). The memoir introduces her parents “in a strange new land,” the “land” being a typical American shopping mall, and goes on to follow Gharib's childhood in a bustling Filipino family. The push and pull first generation kids feel is portrayed with humor and love, especially humor.
We follow Gharib into adulthood, to her first cubicle job in a very white workplace, where the Microagressions Bingo page describes the typical comments she faced. This kind of wry comedy flavors the memoir throughout. For example, the page with the “Pyramid of Acceptable Jobs” chart and the “Problem of 'What Are You.'” Gharib pokes fun of all of the cultures she lives in, able to see each of them with an outsider's wry eye, while appreciating them with an insider's close experience.
Gharib falls in love with a redhead named Darren from Tennessee and the melting pot mix is complete in their “Big, Fat, Filipino-Egyptian-American Southern Baptist-Muslim Wedding.”
The book ends on a tender note as Gharib and her husband go to Egypt, a roots tour in some ways, a connection the writer knows she'll always have and be able to pass on to her children. This is the richness that immigrants offer, a cross-cultural understanding that benefits all of us, especially those of us lucky enough to straddle worlds and know how to hold them in our hearts, as Gharib so clearly does. The question of “What are you?” has never been answered with so much charm.