I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

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I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

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I was hesitant to read the book, afraid it would pit the author’s two cultures (Egyptian and Filipino) and faiths (Catholic and Muslim) that her parents identified with against each other.  Raised as the daughter of immigrants from very different backgrounds in California I was very pleasantly surprised that the book leads with heart and positivity for the unique, yet universal feelings she experienced in her life.  The short 156 page red, white, and blue filled pages are funny, poignant, and reflective, that I think high school readers and up will enjoy spending time in Cerritos and Egypt through the eyes of Malaka.  It is easy to say that you can’t be Muslim and Catholic, but she doesn’t opine on the right or wrong of it in large terms, she discusses her life and her own situation.  As a teacher I would see students that would attend Islamic school five days a week and then go to church on Sundays, whether you agree with the choices this author/character makes is not what I intend to review, it is her life, but rather the manner in which it is shared.  There are many kids out there from “conflicting” backgrounds, and to see someone take the love and benefits offered to forge their own path in creating their own American dream, was a nice twist on the immigrant identity finding narrative.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with introductions to the characters, her family members that influence her, and then begins the tales of what brought her Filipino mother and Egyptian father to America, how they met, married, started a family, and divorced. Malaka exists outside her family in school, balancing her heritage and coming of age.  Raised during the school year by her mother and extended Filipino family, she spends summers in Egypt where her father resides with his new wife and children.  Coming of age as an immigrant, balancing cultures, religions, school, and dreams, the book concludes with her marrying a white Southerner and adding to the mix.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Even though she identifies more as Filipino American and goes to Catholic school, there is a fair amount of Islam and Egyptian culture included in the book.  I love that she loves her step mom and step siblings and finds beauty in Islam, learns to pray, read Quran, and mentions her love of Prophet Muhammad saw.  Sure as an Islamic school librarian, I wish she chose Islam, lived it and centered it in her life, but this is not a character, this is a real person, and to see her lovingly showing the goodness in Islam and how it has positively influenced her, is nice to see nonetheless.  There are a few storylines I didn’t quite understand, the skateboarding in Egypt a big one, but the quick pace of her narrative life-story flows well and is easily consumable.  Often stories like this are overly dragged down by dated pop cultural references and over criticizing “othering” paradigms, but this book contains enough to keep it grounded without it alienating contemporary readers.

FLAGS:

Stereotypes, lying, relationships, periods, music, dancing, nothing really stands out, there might have been some language, I read it a few days ago and honestly don’t recall anything overly problematic, but content wise it is a mature teenage read with retrospection and marriage being a part of the narrative.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t know that I would shelve or teach this book, but I think it is one to file away in my head for people I might encounter looking for a book about blended faiths and cultures benefitting from the many worlds they have one foot in and one foot out of, and those ultimately looking for a place to see their experiences mirrored.

I found my copy of this book at my local public library and it is also available here from Amazon.

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