“I was their American Dream:” Filipina-Egyptian artist shares immigration story in graphic memoir

A daughter of a Filipina mother and an Egyptian father uses her own story of finding her place in America, after witnessing the hateful rhetoric immigrants endured during the 2016 presidential election, in hopes to combat that narrative through her own battle of American identity.

Malaka Gharib knew she had a unique story to tell — and one of the ways she could do it was through her own illustrations.

“I was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir” is her way of reminding today’s society of what it took for thousands of immigrants to come to America through the years to find a better life for themselves and their children.

“I wanted to write this book because I wanted people to understand a more nuanced image of what an immigrant or immigrant children look like in this country and what they struggle with, including trying to live up to your parent’s ideals.”

Gharib lived with her Filipino mother in the U.S. and spent summers with her father in Egypt.

Like many Filipino Americans, she grew up struggling to find her identity.

“I grew up in a Filipino community in southern California in a town called Cerritos, and I went to mostly Filipino, Catholic school. And I have a muslim name. And a lot of the girls in class the looked mostly Filipino, and they didn’t believe I was Filipino even though I was eating siapao in my baon. They didn’t connect the dots. Nobody believed I was Filipino, and they didn’t let me into their groups. And socially I always felt stuck or like an outsider.”

After reading her book, Gharib says her parents were surprised with the struggles she dealt with growing up in the U.S.

“They thought that just by being in this country was already a big win for me, but they didn’t know how many struggles I had to go through as a first generation American in terms of acceptance, self-perception, my identity, and also feeling like I belong with other Americans too.”

Gharib says this book was inspired by some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

She hopes her story will be able to shed light on how modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children have all sought the American dream.

“I think this is a time first generation Americans with our parents who moved here in the 1980s we’ve grown up. We’ve come of age and it’s time to tell our stories.”

Gharib is based in Washington DC working as an editor for the National Public Radio.

She is currently traveling to different Filipino communities around the U.S. to share her book.

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