Malaka Gharib - Editor, Writer, Author, I Was Their American Dream
I Was Their American Dream, the premiere graphic memoir by writer and editor Malaka Gharib is a journey through her life, growing up in America, and finding her identity. Moments of her life are captured beautifully in drawings and words with details like growing up a child of immigrants, her Filipino and Egyptian culture and food, family tree, pop culture influences, balance of life between cultures/traditions/religions, trips to visit her father, college in New York, microaggressions, finding love and an identity all her own. These moments set the scene and provide an understanding of her growth, coming of age and feeling comfortable in herself.
Malaka spent her youth in Cerritos, California creating zines and drawing. She would print her zines at her Tito’s office in Historic Filipino town, distributing them at Tower Records and concerts. That’s where her cartoons/drawings got their start. With all that was going on in 2016, hearing all the ugly rhetoric in the news about immigrants in the US, Malaka began posting her cartoons on Instagram. Having grown up in a very diverse part of Los Angeles, around immigrants and plenty of cultures, Malaka used her drawings as a way to course correct and portray immigrants in a different way saying, “I drew a cartoon about my mom in Manila and it was different from the news. I grew up my whole life not being able to tell my story. If only they just knew what it’s like growing up here. I wanted to share a more nuanced picture of what it means to be an immigrant in this country.”
Her Instagram page gained traction, with a colleague suggesting she turn it into a book. Soon an agent showed interest and she had a publisher. “For me, I wrote the kind of book that I wish I could’ve had when I was younger. I learned way too late in life that it’s completely okay to be you. Your culture is important.” So she shared her cultures and experiences.
Some highlights include listing the virtues of a perfect Filipino kid, explaining her family tree (a quite extended one), the love of Filipino and Egyptian culture side by side, code switching between cultures, finding aspects of the religions she was raised with and embracing them, and her favorite foods. There are lists and charts, comparisons of all the intricacies of Malaka’s growing up, ultimately embracing what she liked and found comfort in.
Malaka also touched on growing up in a diverse community and how different it was than what she saw on tv. “There are so many cultures in my hometown. It affected my whole life. I learned to be culturally sensitive, be more aware,” Malaka explained. “Asking ‘what are you’ was a normal question growing up among people of color, it was a way to know our identity. Especially in Cerritos with so many cultures represented.” Malaka’s drawings of high school friends highlight their identities, their multi-ethnicities.
But there was also an interest in white friends and assimilation. The real world was white, pop culture and tv and magazines were majority white, and so was her college experience and job world. Microaggressions were present, but Malaka’s understanding in the differences between cultures helped embrace her own. “You don’t have to assimilate. I wish someone had told me, it took me so long to figure that out. I feel like I would love to wake the rest of the immigrant community up. The younger generation is so much more connected than we ever were.”
Family plays a big part in the book. Malaka draws her family tree because family is identity. Their presence is evident in each chapter and story. And if her parents were happy with the book, that’s all she needed.
Moments in the book and stories she shared were fact checked through calling family members, looking back at old journal entries, and asking friends. Family stories provided anecdotes. One was about her trip to Egypt and the differences in cultures. “In So Cal I could skateboard anywhere, but I couldn’t do that in Cairo proper. There’s a different attitude towards women, social norms, freedoms, etc.” Another anecdote was about what is expected of you in Filipino culture— “having kids, raising them under the influence of the whole clan.”
Then there was sharing her culture and all it’s details with Darren (her then boyfriend now husband), finding similarities between Southerners, Filipinos and Egyptians, welcoming Darren into the family, and incorporating all cultures in their wedding. The beauty of it all being acceptance and love.
This is such a beautiful story about the life on a child of immigrants and all of what it entails. There are struggles of wanting to please your parents, navigating a life they haven’t experienced, and finding yourself through it all. In the end, it’s all about a love for family and an understanding what makes you, you. While you may not experience or know what your parents know, you will be able to share what you do know and your experiences. It is your culture, your identity.
I Was Their American Dream comes out on April 30, 2019
I Was Their American Dream Book Tour:
April 30 - Washington DC, Solid State Books at 7pm
May 11 - San Francisco, CA, SF Public Library Excelsior Branch at 3pm
May 17 - Philadelphia, PA, Amalgam Comics at 6pm
May 25 - Los Angeles, CA, Skylight Books at 5pm