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I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir

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One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family's rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom. Malaka Gharib's illustrations come alive with teenage antics and earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family's rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom. Malaka Gharib's illustrations come alive with teenage antics and earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka's upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka 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, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid. I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.


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One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family's rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom. Malaka Gharib's illustrations come alive with teenage antics and earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family's rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom. Malaka Gharib's illustrations come alive with teenage antics and earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka's upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka 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, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid. I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children.

30 review for I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Schaafsma

    NPR correspondent Malaka Gharib's graphic memoir about being mixed race. I work with a lot of students who similarly have mixed backgrounds, so this did not seem all that remarkable to me, but it was fine. She's the child of immigrants, a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father, grew up summering with Dad in Egypt, speaks both Tagalog and Arabic. Will appeal to folks who are similar mixed. A positive tale, maybe appealing to YA audiences more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kate ☀️ Olson

    Excellent graphic memoir about the author’s experiences as the American-born daughter of immigrant parents from the Philippines and Egypt. Highly recommend!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rod Brown

    Gharib creates a cute and amusing graphic memoir about being the child of immigrants, a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father, as she tracks her transition from desiring assimilation into white American culture, to feelings of rejection, to finding her own identity by acknowledging, integrating and melding all the diverse cultures that went into the creation of the woman she is today. Fun with a side of inspiring. One quirk: Due to a limited color palette, apparently half of all p Gharib creates a cute and amusing graphic memoir about being the child of immigrants, a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father, as she tracks her transition from desiring assimilation into white American culture, to feelings of rejection, to finding her own identity by acknowledging, integrating and melding all the diverse cultures that went into the creation of the woman she is today. Fun with a side of inspiring. One quirk: Due to a limited color palette, apparently half of all people in the world are redheads. Another third have shades of blue and a few have dark brown. It was slightly more distracting than I would have thought.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bookishrealm

    Update. Here's the full review: https://bookishrealmreviews.blogspot.... Such an important memoir! It really looks at what it means to grow up in a multi-ethnic home. I loved that the author not only explored her own culture and up-brining, but also how living in America influenced thoughts that she had about herself and being a person of color. I’ll definitely be doing a full review on this so stay on the look out!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Jimenez

    THIS BOOK. MY LITTLE MEXICAN/ITALIAN/AMERICAN HEART! If you couldn't guess, I adore this graphic novel. And no, not just because I worked on it (which was awesome to do) but because it has so much gosh darn heart and smarts. Often when I work on books I get to see bits and pieces of either text, images, or whatever the project is at the time. Working on this, while measuring or just spot checking, I couldn't stop myself from reading. A page here and there started to turn into a chapter until I h THIS BOOK. MY LITTLE MEXICAN/ITALIAN/AMERICAN HEART! If you couldn't guess, I adore this graphic novel. And no, not just because I worked on it (which was awesome to do) but because it has so much gosh darn heart and smarts. Often when I work on books I get to see bits and pieces of either text, images, or whatever the project is at the time. Working on this, while measuring or just spot checking, I couldn't stop myself from reading. A page here and there started to turn into a chapter until I had to force myself to stop reading it until it was totally complete. Not to mention I got to meet Malaka when she came to visit the office one day and she was so insanely sweet! So, without further ado, my usual review: LIKED: SO MUCH. It's so important to hear people's stories from all sorts of backgrounds, and this graphic packs a powerful message. Our author is Egyptian/Filipino/American and talks in great detail about balancing those three backgrounds. I totally was able to relate to it, especially having so much of my family in Mexico. Malaka's drawings are so well done. Everyone is so expressive, and I love all of the little details in the background. The color is really well done also. Who knew you could have so much expression while only using red, blue, and black. The writing and scene choices were fantastic as well and kept me hooked. By the end of the graphic novel it had me feeling like I knew Malaka's entire family, and totally had me cheering for all of them! DISLIKED: I wish there was more! Sometimes the changes between chapters was a little abrupt, and had me making a mental pivot to a new topic. OVERALL, I loved this graphic novel and think anyone who picks it up will love it, too. It especially resonates with anyone who has ever felt like they don't quite fit in in one place, or is maybe stretched a little too thin. But wonderful illustrations, great storytelling, and an awesome book. Please do yourself a favor and pick this up when it comes out (in late April, I believe). It doesn't take long to read at all. I read it in one day! You absolutely won't regret it!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    Awesome! What a book about growing up in a cultural / religious / nationality diverse family and how your own and other people’s views of diversity change and differ according to context and time . Nothing raunchy in the book but the identity complexity probably better for middle grade and up. A very special book. Next to New Kid my favourite MS GN for this year

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A

    The author is a child of a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father. Only in America! One of my fave things about this country is that it's not a punchline to a joke, but a thing that can happen here. Representation matters, and this would be a powerful book for those who need one like it. This graphic memoir is about the joys and tribulations of being a mixed race/mixed religion child of immigrant parents. As it's written for a young adult audience, the comic gently explores some of The author is a child of a Catholic Filipino mother and a Muslim Egyptian father. Only in America! One of my fave things about this country is that it's not a punchline to a joke, but a thing that can happen here. Representation matters, and this would be a powerful book for those who need one like it. This graphic memoir is about the joys and tribulations of being a mixed race/mixed religion child of immigrant parents. As it's written for a young adult audience, the comic gently explores some of the tensions of assimilation and trying to find where you belong. The art is cute, and the tone kept light and positive. This would probably work better for younger readers, or those not exposed to some of the themes covered here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    a beautiful, honest, and sweet tribute to her egyptian-filipino-american family :’) everyone should read!!!!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan O'Hara

    Very cute and sweet!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bogi Takács

    I liked it and wished it was longer. I appreciated the art - the bold choice of going with "American colors" worked for me and made the book pop - and also felt that the experimentation with format wasn't in-your-face but a seamless part of the whole. (The book has both a dress-up doll and a minizine. I thought that was cool :) ) I realized only after reading how much of a relief it was to read something focused on immigration to the US and parents, and not have it be about how embarrassed the au I liked it and wished it was longer. I appreciated the art - the bold choice of going with "American colors" worked for me and made the book pop - and also felt that the experimentation with format wasn't in-your-face but a seamless part of the whole. (The book has both a dress-up doll and a minizine. I thought that was cool :) ) I realized only after reading how much of a relief it was to read something focused on immigration to the US and parents, and not have it be about how embarrassed the author is about their weird parents. (I am a current-gen immigrant and I guess one of those weird parents.) _____ Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    A perceptive and heartfelt memoir of growing up with multiple cultural heritages. The graphic format works well as the author communicates feelings of confusion, pride and love. I enjoyed and learned a lot from her in this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kim Yi Dionne

    What a great story, beautifully written and illustrated. I wish I had this book growing up. Being hapa, so much of it resonated with my own experiences!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Gervacio

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As 1st generation filipino-canadian immigrant kid this book absolutely triggered me in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE. I really didn't think a lot of people felt the same way I did but a lot of this was so relateable??? ESPECIALLY the part about feeling guilty about moving away from home since I read this while across the country from my family for a job 😭😭😭 i REALLY really REALLY needed to read this and im so glad i came across it im the book store oh my goodness, i read it in 1 hour straight up THANK U As 1st generation filipino-canadian immigrant kid this book absolutely triggered me in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE. I really didn't think a lot of people felt the same way I did but a lot of this was so relateable??? ESPECIALLY the part about feeling guilty about moving away from home since I read this while across the country from my family for a job 😭😭😭 i REALLY really REALLY needed to read this and im so glad i came across it im the book store oh my goodness, i read it in 1 hour straight up THANK U SO MUCH MALAKA ("monica with an L")

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    Anyhow this had very cute illustrations and I enjoyed learning about Malaka’s experience with her two cultures (Filipinx and Egyptian) and how her relationship to them shifted in different times of her life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    As another “whitewashed” Filipino American, who didn’t fit in with other Filipinos and the white people I thought were so cool, and who also went to Cerritos High School, Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM really resonated with me. Things like: being called a Twinkie for being an Asian who liked “white people things” and struggling to identify with my family’s culture and somehow finding a way to make it feel like mine too. Gharib shares her story in such a funny, heartfel As another “whitewashed” Filipino American, who didn’t fit in with other Filipinos and the white people I thought were so cool, and who also went to Cerritos High School, Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM really resonated with me. Things like: being called a Twinkie for being an Asian who liked “white people things” and struggling to identify with my family’s culture and somehow finding a way to make it feel like mine too. ⁣ ⁣ Gharib shares her story in such a funny, heartfelt, and vibrant way with spunky and honest language and colorful cartoons too! Like when was even the last time I read a book with pictures? I’m so grateful for this book because it highlights a similar experience a lot of us go through—one that, at the time, we probably felt like was unique to only us. This book lets so many people know that they’re not alone. ⁣ ⁣ Reading this book made me really happy. It gave me a sense of nostalgia but also a different perspective on how to look at my past. This book also made me a little sad because it made me realize I’ve spent a lot of time feeling othered and disconnected from my “Filipino-ness” and that as an adult I have yet to completely come to terms with it. This is the kinda book that after you finish it makes you call your grandma to thank her for everything, to tell her you love her and to you ask her to teach you how to cook her favorite recipe. Reading Gharib's family story left me curious to ask questions about my own and for that this book is probably my favorite thing I’ve read all year. ⁣

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    I loved the art work and the story was sweet and touching and lovely.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Malaka Gharib. This charming graphic memoir riffs on the joys and challenges of developing a unique ethnic identity. Gharib grew up with a Catholic Filipino mother, whom she lives with in Southern California, which was a close-knit extended Filipino family and an Egyptian Muslim father and mother-in-law, whom she visits in the summer after her parents' divorce. Gharib tries to find a balance between the cult I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Malaka Gharib. This charming graphic memoir riffs on the joys and challenges of developing a unique ethnic identity. Gharib grew up with a Catholic Filipino mother, whom she lives with in Southern California, which was a close-knit extended Filipino family and an Egyptian Muslim father and mother-in-law, whom she visits in the summer after her parents' divorce. Gharib tries to find a balance between the cultures that are her heritage. It proves difficult at her racially diverse high school, where aligning with a specific group is integral to fitting in, and almost equally so at Syracuse University, where Gharib discovers that her constant exposure to white people in pop culture didn't prepare her for the clash of living among them or the pressures and guilt of assimilation. I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is written and constructed rather well. Gharib's enthusiastic, if naive, scribbly art style captures moments of chaotic Filipino family life. With the inclusions of recipes, Tagalog flashcards, tongue-in-cheek charts, an excerpt from her high school zine, and even a "Microaggressions Bingo" card, Gharib's storytelling remains upbeat through life's ups and downs. All in all, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a wonderful autobiographical graphic novel about a person of two distinct cultural identities, while growing up in the United States of America.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM is an outstanding graphic memoir, filled with lots of heart, humor, and vulnerability. It touches on everything from immigrant communities to microaggressions to punk rock without every feeling stiff or didactic. Plus the illustrations are so charming and unique. Highly recommend!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mateen Mahboubi

    A great illustrated memoir of growing up as a mixed Filipino/Egyptioan in multicultural California and the subsequent change to moving to the more homogeneous parts of the country. Gharib does a great job telling her story and throwing in some additional fun stuff like recipes and a cut out zine from her youth. Really impressive as a first book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Noe

    While I will never cut them out, I love that there are interactive pages in this!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I loved the color palette and the section describing her confusion, annoyance, but also appreciation of juggling practicing both of her parents' religions after their divorce.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rosa Kwak

    powerful storytelling that made me laugh, cry, and relate to ✨

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Very funny and easy to understand. Great graphic novel project ideas in here for students to mimic.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    I absolutely adored this. Read it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This really grew on me and kept getting better and better throughout the memoir as the author grew up. Her examination of her own growth is excellent, and the drawing style she uses, especially for herself, is so expressive and delightful. I wasn't wild about the color palette but that was a minor issue.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

    This was great - I love the way the author/artist explores her multi-ethnic identity while also reflecting on how in addition to her Filipino (mom) and Egyptian (dad) heritage she has the overlay of American that makes her unique in her families. I also like how she repeatedly examines the commonalities and differences between those three cultures. Not sure why my library has this classified as YA? I get that for the majority of the book Malaka is a child/teen but none of Lucy Knisley's memoirs This was great - I love the way the author/artist explores her multi-ethnic identity while also reflecting on how in addition to her Filipino (mom) and Egyptian (dad) heritage she has the overlay of American that makes her unique in her families. I also like how she repeatedly examines the commonalities and differences between those three cultures. Not sure why my library has this classified as YA? I get that for the majority of the book Malaka is a child/teen but none of Lucy Knisley's memoirs that are set at her younger ages are in the YA section? And of course as a MEMOIR, the book's protagonist is younger.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nore

    3.5 to 4 stars. I don't have much to say about this other than it was very interesting, particularly the section where she discusses the question "What are you?" and how it can be insulting or open a conversation into your culture, depending on the context. The main reason I docked a star and a half is because of the pacing - there's huge timeskips and the chapters seem to be completely unrelated. Gave me a bit of whiplash jumping from topic to topic so suddenly!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    Great graphic memoir about a girl navigating her way through the culture clashing in her culturally and religiously diverse family.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Panda Incognito

    This is the coming-of-age story of a young Filipino-Egyptian-American. That automatically sounds interesting, but when I got this from the library, I was pleased to discover that it's even better than it sounds. This book is colorful, fun, and creative, and I loved learning about Malaka's family and cultural experiences. She shares a lot of funny and illustrative stories about growing up in the nineties and two-thousands, and because her narrative voice is so lively and authentic, she addresses This is the coming-of-age story of a young Filipino-Egyptian-American. That automatically sounds interesting, but when I got this from the library, I was pleased to discover that it's even better than it sounds. This book is colorful, fun, and creative, and I loved learning about Malaka's family and cultural experiences. She shares a lot of funny and illustrative stories about growing up in the nineties and two-thousands, and because her narrative voice is so lively and authentic, she addresses cultural and racial issues in America with unusual nuance, in addition to sharing about the typical childhood and young adult experiences that she had within her unique context. This story covers a period of history in which people's ideas about race and ethnicity were greatly changing, so as Malaka tells her story, she shows how her own views adjusted over time. For example, when she attended high school in a highly ethnic community, "What are you?" was a normal question to ask upon making someone's acquaintance, but after she moved to New York for college, she learned that many people find this question reductive or offensive. Although a lesser book might simply set forth Appropriate Messages About Race, this book tells a story, and you get to see how this woman's views on race and identity developed in phases over time. Even aside from the serious elements, however, this is one of the best graphic novels that I have ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone. If you have a unique cultural background, you'll love this and relate to it, and if you don't, you'll find it just as educational and interesting as I did. Best of all, because objectionable content is limited to a few swear words and a reference to college hook-ups, this story is appropriate for a wide range of ages. At my library, this book is cataloged as an adult graphic novel, but nothing should deter teens from reading this. It's a great story, well-told, and I'll look forward to seeing what else this graphic artist does in her career.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Trish (read_tmc)

    In between eating and an earthquake, I spent July 4th reading Malaka Gharib’s I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM. IWTAD is Gharib’s coming-of-age story that illustrates how she navigates between her Filipino, Egyptian, and American cultures as well as her parents’ Muslim and Catholic religions. I loved this playful and thoughtful graphic memoir! As a Filipina American who was raised Catholic and close to Gharib’s age, so many of her experiences growing up were parallel with mine: Pulling out Mom’s white h In between eating and an earthquake, I spent July 4th reading Malaka Gharib’s I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM. IWTAD is Gharib’s coming-of-age story that illustrates how she navigates between her Filipino, Egyptian, and American cultures as well as her parents’ Muslim and Catholic religions. I loved this playful and thoughtful graphic memoir! As a Filipina American who was raised Catholic and close to Gharib’s age, so many of her experiences growing up were parallel with mine: Pulling out Mom’s white hairs: for a short time, my mom paid us 5 cents/white hair. Eventually, that got too expensive. Felicity: I’m also heavily influenced by pop culture and had dreams of going to college in New York and hoped my NYC experience would be like the show, with looks of longing on my journey of self-discovery. After reading, I’m still singing the theme song (HO WAY OH) “Acting white”: In high school I was aware of the notion of “acting white” and never wanted to be called a Twinkie or whitewashed. I felt connected to my culture through my family, but in the social landscape of high school I didn’t feel like I was smart enough or cool enough for any of the groups. I appreciated Gharib’s insights as a biracial woman in addition to her Muslim and Egyptian cultures from her father’s side of the family, especially through her summers in Egypt. Plus, the author provides a unique perspective growing up in a diverse southern CA community where she didn’t have many white classmates, the opposite of the narratives I’ve read about being the child of immigrants, but still growing up with the notion that white > whatever she was. Personally, IWTAD made me reflect on my feelings growing up that I never could put into words. Overall, Gharib’s story also reflects the diversity of the immigrant experience in America and the feelings of being in-between cultures and figuring out one’s identity.

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