Malaka Gharib on I Was Their American Dream: ‘Even I didn’t accept myself as an ‘American’ until going through the emotional process of writing the book.’
Malaka Gharib is a journalist and cartoonist probably best known for the graphic memoir “I Was Their American Dream,” in which she writes about her life as a first generation Filipino-Egyptian American She spoke with KBIA’s Halle Jackson.
The Unbound Book Festival is coming up on Saturday, and KBIA has been talking to some of this year's authors in a series we're calling "Unbound Authors."
Halle Jackson: Take me back to the beginning – how was the idea born and what is your creative process really like?
Malaka Gharib: I wrote "I Was Their American Dream" in the wake of the 2016 elections. I had been really surprised and kind of shocked by the anti-immigrant rhetoric I was seeing in the news.
Seeing it all in 2016, it made me think, “Oh, I thought we were cool, America. I thought you were cool with immigrants, and I guess we are not, you’re not,” and so I started to draw all these cartoons in reaction to what I was seeing in the news.
Jackson: Artistic style, and just the way that people draw, tells a lot about a person, I think, and I really loved the stylistic aspects of your book. I was wondering if you – what your inspiration were?
Gharib: I definitely am a child of the late 90s, early 2000s. So, all my references are going to be very old, but I really loved American Girl magazine and American Girl dolls.
So, you can see a lot of influence if you've ever read the American Girl books or magazines, you know, even the way that they make the family tree at the front of the book. The way that they have paper dolls in the magazine – I made paper dolls myself.
I really like Highlights magazine – Highlights for kids. So, there are games in it, kind of the way that Highlights would do.
I also really like Marissa Moss. Marissa Moss is the creator of the Amelia series – Amelia’s Notebook series.
I don’t know if you remember that from when you were a kid.
Jackson: In “I Was Their American Dream,” you sort of talk about how your parents had a more traditional view of what the American Dream was – what does the American Dream mean to you? And in your life, I guess?
Gharib: What I discovered from writing the book was that I felt so uncomfortable feeling like, you know, in myself.
I felt like I had to try to emulate white culture to be seen and accepted as an American person because even I didn’t accept myself as an “American” until going through the emotional process of writing the book.
Only then could I feel like I achieved my American Dream, which was to just belong. Feel like I really belonged in the county.
Anyone can say, “I’m an American,” but to really believe “I’m an American,” to really believe that phrase – you have to do a lot of soul searching and emotional work to sort of get to that place.
Jackson: So, you have another book being released later this year, right?
Jackson: “It Won’t Always Be Like This."
Jackson: I was just wondering if you could just kind of tell me what that book’s about? What would you say you’re most excited for readers to see in this new work?
Gharib: Oh, I hope they like it! It's a little bit more – a little bit more serious and it has more of a story arc.
I think what I'm most excited for people to see, it's just to know what life is like in the Middle East.