Existing in a “hyphen” is a central part of everyone’s existence in America. It’s even more so around the world. Japan, through Naomi Osaka, showed the world how much African Japanese citizens are embraced by their country but revealed more about the world to Japan and those who watched her. The world has not progressed more than what it would like to believe by the media’s use of adjectives when describing the Tennis phenom.
This should not be a surprise. Years before, the world exposed how different cultures viewed Black men in powerful positions, with President Obama. Despite his many successes, he was seen not only by pundits from the other political parties but also by certain countries as inferior. They avoided actually saying those words, but did it through “dog whistles” and allusions. The famous Filipino American historian, Kevin Nadal, calls them “microaggressions.”
Both Osaka and Obama are products of two cultures, what the Japanese call Hapa. Spanish cultures including those colonized by the Spaniards, like the Philippines, are called, “mestizo” or “moreno.” My children, many of my friends, and myself, all children born of two cultures, grew up celebrating our kaleidoscope of cultures. How lucky we were to be “of” both. In the world we all live in now there’s a shameful need to have to hide these traits in fear of being ostracized or harassed.
What most people don’t get about being a child of immigrants is that we feel we don’t need to choose between the two. We see ourselves as both and the one thing, even if they don’t say it, is that we are the hopes and dreams of our parents, no matter where they came from.
In Malaka Gharib’s entertaining and true to life, I Was Their American Dream, we find one such protagonist whose existence within the hyphen proves for a life more interesting than most.
We open on the author explaining to the audience the hierarchy of her family, and who they are to her, as she grew without both her parents not living on the same roof. She earnestly shows us who her mother is, how and why she came , as the rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, made many Filipinos flee to other countries like Canada and America, as Malaka’s mother was in the same predicament as her grandfather, her Lolo, whom she called Tatay, as she would be the first, and would send for the rest of her family members once she got settled. Her father, had a different path to the come to the U.S. from Cairo, Egypt, as a teenager, he was obsessed with American movies, as they inspired him, enough that he had a plan to go there. As they met like so many love stories start, working together, as her father was the night manager at the Best Western where they both worked and bonded over movies. They got married six months after their first date and had Malaka a year after they married.
Eventually, their differences would outweigh their love for each other, leading them to divorce, as they realized they were by far from the dreams they had for themselves if they stayed together. As the reality that Malaika, grew up with, is one familiar to those who lived with immigrant parents, as what most Americans were used to giving like allowances and parents playing sports with them, as it was simply an American fantasy to many of us. As both her parents got remarried, she ended having more siblings, firstly from her mother, who gave birth to her sister, Min Min, and her father ended up moving back to Cairo, where he got a job a big hotel chain there and remarried. Who and what she got exposed to culturally, learned more in one direction, but as every child whose parents come from two different faiths, her adolescent life became that much more confusing as her mother was Catholic and her father was Muslim, where she had to pray to God and Allah. As both religions, had their own customs and rites to becoming one, often leaving our protagonist contradicting one over the other and complicated for her at the same time.
Malaka, had a unique living situation, her parents made a deal, during the school year, she would live with her mother and in the summers, she would stay with her Dad and his new family in Cairo. As she found Egypt, surprisingly fun, as the homelife there was different but easier than back in California, as she found one of her most important relationships, with her stepmother, Hala, her stepmother, who she found a connection, though in a different maternal way. Meanwhile, back in high school, she struggled with her identity, as she got the dread question , most of us of mixed heritage usually hear at some point, “What Are You?”, this being further complicated by the fact she loved pop culture, especially shows like Felicity, which caused many of her classmates to label her “poser” and “whitewashed”, because they thought she was acting white. Eventually, she would find her own tribe and would use what made her unique, to college, Syracuse University, where she truly found herself.
When she graduated, she entered the workforce, and heeded the words of her Tito Maro, her Mom’s brother, as it was something more than what her uncle was able to see, as Hasan Minhaj pointed out in his Netflix special, Homecoming King, “the tax for coming to America”, but has generation and Malaka’s , these “microaggressions” were rampant amongst her coworkers and even, her friends. Eventually, she would meet her husband, Darren, who her parents loved and were both there for her wedding.
By book’s end, Malaka returns to Egypt with her husband, remembering visiting her Dad when she was younger and how this land and the Philippines, is part of her and would be for her children.
Overall, a penetrating memoir that’s leaves nothing on the cutting room floor, giving a rarely told insight into life as a multi-hyphenate. The stories by Gharib are heartfelt, honest, funny, and relevant. The art by Gharib is warm, inviting, and lovely. Altogether, an excellent graphic chronicle which shows that what makes you unique, is truly what makes you beautiful.
Story: Malaka Gharib Art: Malaka Gharib
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy