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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 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.

160 pages, Paperback

First published April 30, 2019

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Malaka Gharib

2 books67 followers

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5 stars
1,540 (34%)
4 stars
2,011 (45%)
3 stars
807 (18%)
2 stars
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1 star
15 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 691 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,784 reviews42.9k followers
February 9, 2022
Pros of graphic novels:
- catch up on your reading challenge
- pretty
- fun and nice

Cons of graphic novels:
- everything moves too fast for me to be invested and one second I'm vibing and learning names and the next second the book is over.

The extra pro of this book is that the color palette is red white and blue, which is clever, and also it's a memoir, which is one of my favorite things for a book to be, but the extra con of this is that it covers like decades of existence and moves so fast and I couldn't get myself to care as much as I wanted to!

Bottom line: Life has its ups and downs.


well, i'm already behind on my reading challenge, so you know what that means...

it's graphic novel time.

works every time!

review to come / 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.2k followers
July 26, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
4,952 reviews164 followers
July 7, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,781 reviews4,492 followers
June 21, 2019
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!
Profile Image for Mara.
1,460 reviews3,541 followers
February 10, 2022
3.5 stars - I really enjoyed this one! I particularly liked the informal drawing style and the little cheeky jokes sprinkled throughout. Recommended for anyone in the market for a graphic novel memoir about a unique cultural identity and the authors attempts to make sense of the different influences her Filipino, Egyptian, and American cultures have shaped her
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,086 reviews727 followers
June 29, 2019
Excellent graphic memoir about the author’s experiences as the American-born daughter of immigrant parents from the Philippines and Egypt. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
293 reviews8 followers
February 10, 2019
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!
Profile Image for Louise.
1,622 reviews280 followers
October 31, 2019
Malaka Gharib approaches uncomfortable issues in this short biographical piece.

First she shows how her parents look to America for the things that they want from it including their perception of the "American Dream" for their daughter. They don't understand or value the social and cultural freedom Malaka (their daughter) needs to achieve their dream. For Malaka freedom requires leaving behind many elements of the past her parents they hold dear.

At school Malaka meets other first generation Americans with identities based on their parents' (or their) home country identity. Along with her peer group. she develops a preference for "white". "White" is shown in images that represent the seeming wealth, fun, freedom from worries or just assimilation of the people assumed to be "Americans".

At college, where "everyone" is "white", she finds that "where are you from" doesn't get the same response that it did in high school. Once graduated and settled on the opposite coast of her family, she realizes the norm she has violated: she should return to be with the family. To live the American dream, she has to be away from them. They do not understand this and it is difficult for her.

This is not your typical immigrant family: Her parents are Philippine-Egyptian; Catholic-Muslim and they divorce; however, this is a universal story.

Malaka Gharib uses the graphic genre well to tell her story.
Profile Image for Maia.
Author 27 books1,945 followers
November 26, 2019
I read a sample of this book a few months ago on The Nib and knew I was going to enjoy it. Malaka Gharib draws in a loose, expressive style with a limited color palette that perfectly fits with this short but satisfying memoir. Gharib tells how each of her parents came to California as immigrants; her mother from the Philippians, her father from Egypt. When they married and had their daughter, they thought they were on the road to the American Dream. But the marriage didn't last, and Malaka ended with half-siblings on both sides of a family scattered across the globe. She talks about her elementary and high school days as one of many kids from mixed cultures in the Southern California town of Cerritos. Her classmates there were Indian-American, Taiwanese-American, Iranian-American, Japanese-American, Pakistani-American, Mexican-American, Korean-American, Palestinian-American and more. Landing at the extremely white Syracuse University for college took some adjusting. Gharib includes recipes, paper dolls, a tear-out single page zine, quizzes and quotes from friends along with the narrative of spending summers in Cairo with her father, years dealing migroagressions while working in Washington DC, and meeting the man who would eventually become her husband.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 54 books556 followers
June 11, 2019
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
Profile Image for vanessa.
960 reviews151 followers
October 5, 2019
I love reading immigrant stories and children-of-immigrant stories. The art in here was fun and the palette is mostly red, white, and blue. Learning about the author, who is of Filipino-Egyptian descent, is engaging. Mostly my favorite thing about this story is the author's love and interactions with her family - it's sweet and touching. There is some discussion about micro-aggressions and the question "Where are you FROM from?" and while her analysis of these interactions is good, the draw here is the family stories.
Profile Image for Brittany.
223 reviews4 followers
October 6, 2022
This was a good, quick read, and I especially enjoyed what I learned about Filipino culture. It lacked some depth that I was looking for, essentially reading as if someone asked Gharib “what was it like to grow up first generation American with Filipino-Egyptian heritage?” and here’s her answer.
I’m sure many children of multiple cultures would strongly relate, and I’d certainly read more from Gharib in the future.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,792 reviews106 followers
August 29, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Nadine.
1,518 reviews42 followers
May 8, 2019
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
Profile Image for Michelle.
13 reviews28 followers
April 26, 2019
a beautiful, honest, and sweet tribute to her egyptian-filipino-american family :’) everyone should read!!!!
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,205 followers
January 10, 2020
What a fabulous graphic memoir of growing up as the daughter of a Muslim-Egyptian father and Catholic-Filipino mother. Though they ultimately divorce and Malaka's father moves back to Egypt, both of their cultural and religious heritages influence Malaka's formative years. As she navigates an extremely diverse population in her California high school, Malaka finds herself obsessed with all things white -- and this book digs into how that influenced her future.

Insightful, funny, and full of heart, this memoir of being the daughter of immigrants doesn't skimp on smart art. The illustrations are light, and they make use of the red, white, and blue palate in a savvy way (some reviews seem to miss this clever nod to America in the color scheme, but it's very clearly intentional).

This is one to read alongside Almost American Girl and The Complete Persepolis and Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, among other graphic memoirs of the teen first-generation-American experience.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,222 reviews50 followers
May 4, 2021
Loved this graphic memoir so much, especially Gharib's reflections on meeting her husband and merging her two cultures, Filipino and Egyptian, and his white Southern American culture. This book is so funny and thoughtfully observed and an absolute delight to read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,497 reviews11 followers
May 17, 2022
Malaka (Monica, but with an L) has a Filipino mother (who is Catholic) and an Egyptian father (who is Muslim). She talks about her childhood, growing a teen navigating the question of "what are you?" and being American with such a diverse background.

It's sometimes difficult to know where you fit in, but Gharib uses humor to get at the heart of what it means to be anything! I liked the playful artwork and I felt this worked well as a graphic novel.
Profile Image for Raina.
1,588 reviews123 followers
January 8, 2021
Gharib is the child of one parent who is Filipino-American, and one parent who is Egyptian. I loved reading Gharib's thoughts on the cultural differences between Filipino, Egyptian, and American cultures.

They illustrate their story in a style which matches what you see on the cover image. A limited color palette, lines with some whimsy. They vary their panel layout a lot, including sidebar pages titled things like "The Problem with "What Are You?"

Their personal story has a lot to teach lots of people from lots of backgrounds. The story is engagingly told and relatable.

This is great!

Read with:
Almost American Girl
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
I'm Ok by Patti Kim
Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me
...and a bunch more from my graphic-memoir shelf.
Profile Image for Kolumbina.
813 reviews21 followers
November 13, 2019
An interesting graphic memoir (very sincere and funny in a quite a few places), really well written by Malaka Gharib, a young American woman with parents who immigrated from Filipins (mother) and Egypt (father). What a combination, Christian and Arab. The parents divorced, her father returned to Egypt and her mother brought her up, mortgaged their home to pay for Malaka's University... Still Malaka visited her father in Egypt every summer holiday, learned a lot of useful and entertaining things...
In a way, the whole story reminds of "Persepolis" (an excellent Iranian memoir), still this book is different, excellent, well natured and very positive. Also in my view in Persepolis graphics were unforgettable (outstanding), still Malaka's story is original an unique. Loved it.
A quick read, very enjoyable, amusing, really good.
Profile Image for Earl.
3,146 reviews35 followers
November 3, 2019
I wish I liked this graphic novel memoir more because it's about growing up mixed race in America but it didn't really grip me.
Profile Image for Diana Flores.
352 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2023
Honest, humorous, and full of heart! Malaka Gharib's graphic memoir covers her childhood, adolescence, collegiate, and early 20s (working in DC and getting married) as a Filipino- Egyptian- American raised by a Filipino (Catholic) mother and an Egyptian (Muslim) father.

I enjoyed Gharib's art and lettering style, and red, white, and blue palette was a nice nod to her family's desire to "fit in" in the United States, while maintaining their primary cultural identities.

Profile Image for Amy.
1,250 reviews4 followers
January 26, 2020
I liked it and thought it had many things going for it. Most importantly --that the main character is relatable and funny which will go a long way with the teen audience it is intended for. I quite enjoyed reading about her upbringing.

However, I loathe the term "microaggression" (also trigger, white privilege, implicit bias, you get me) so when she does a page with a "microaggressions" bingo card --I just had to sigh.

In a different format, I would've liked to see her delve more into the fact that she initially felt marginalized that nobody asked her about her ethnic background in college (it was such a huge part of her identity that she wanted to talk about it) but then she schools the reader on why asking someone where they are from could be considered an aggressive act. Perhaps like most things in life, this comes down to this thing we call "individuals" and not groups. Some people want to talk about their backgrounds and others do not. Some people ask this question because they are genuinely curious about where somebody is from or what culture they grew-up in and some people are just rude. That's why I hate these blanket terms--let's look at people as individuals, not colors, or gender or ethnic background. Radical, I know.

I think her whole novel was pretty well demonstrative that America is still a melting pot with lots of backgrounds and religions and that ultimately you can be an American while still loving and embracing many parts of your ethnic heritage. It was a positive novel.
29 reviews
February 7, 2020
I loved this graphic novel. It was simply such a wonderful journey to take with Malaka Gharib. Her cartoon-ish illustrations were a delight - they both were playful and endearing as well as subtle in the ways in which they expressed nuance in emotions. I could sense the emotion, good, bad or ugly in the slight facial expressions, the gesticulations of the limbs, etc. 

In many ways, storytelling can be heavy. It delves into personal history, trauma, struggle, and resistance. That's why I love it. But I also love and appreciate the way Malaka told her story as well. She brought out a type of optimism that I rarely see sometimes in stories. She discussed her frustrations, identity issues, struggles but also in a way that made me smile, made me feel light and leave with a feeling that things were and will be okay. I appreciated the way she gave space for discussing the things that made her happy and didn't psychoanalyze her happiness, or doubt her happiness. 

This was a wonderfully wholesome read, but an important reminder to me that part of the resistance against the struggles we face is understanding how to leverage our support systems, the things that make us happy, and generally, learning how to be okay.
Profile Image for Ify.
163 reviews180 followers
June 16, 2020
A delightfully illustrated, yet straightforward memoir, about the narrator's mixed heritage and the sense of displacement she felt growing up in the U.S. with her Filipino mother and spending summers in Egypt with her dad. It was a quick read, and when I finished it, something amiss for me. I found the author's heritage unique, but nothing new was explored in her book. There wasn't anything necessarily surprising or profound about the narrative she told. The sense of feeling neither here or there is not new. I hoped for something more. However, I do think that every once in a while there's something to be appreciated about a book that is simply written, with a lot of heart and vulnerability, especially when it's about a woman making her own way and owning it.
Profile Image for lady h.
639 reviews182 followers
January 30, 2020
This was a cute graphic memoir about a half-Filipino, half-Egyptian girl growing up. It's very wholesome and adorable and hilarious, and as an Egyptian-American myself I really related to various aspects of this!

At first I thought I would loathe the art, which is kind of childish and cartoonish, but I think it fits the tone of the story really well. Plus, it's more complex than it seems at first glance; Gharib manages to convey little nuances of expression through tiny artistic details. It's quite clever!

Read this in one sitting; it was delightful!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 691 reviews

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