NPR’s David Greene talks with NPR editor Malaka Gharib
“I loved white people at the time. (Laughter). As a teenager, I thought they were so hot, and I was so obsessed with, like, these, like, heartthrobs that you could find in, like, teeny-bopper magazines. And I saw them glorified. I mean, I didn’t know it at the time. But I saw them all over the media and, like, magazines and books and films. And I just thought that, like, I wanted to be like them ’cause I thought they were so cool. And my high school definitely didn’t have any white people. So I think that’s what made them more, like, special and rare.” – Malaka Gharib, I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM: A Graphic Memoir
Malaka Gharib is a curious girl just trying to find her place in the world, a first-generation American coming of age in the pre-Internet world of pop-punk and skate culture, Felicity and Dawson’s Creek, teen magazines, and Rice-A-Roni.
Monggo or McDonald’s? Mosque or church? Filipino, Egyptian, or American?
“What are you?” When people asked me this question, I found it hard to answer.
Well, I’m Egyptian-Filipino. I grew up with my Filipino family here in Cerritos. I eat rice every day. And I went to Catholic school, but my dad is Muslim and lives in Egypt. I spend my summers with him! I can understand Tagalog and Arabic. Esayak? Kamusta ka? [“How are you? in Arabic and Tagalog] So I guess both? Well, I kind of feel more Filipino because that’s who I spent more time with.
“That’s cool, I guess. I’m just regular old Filipino.”
A multicultural, first generation American like me! My mother is from the Philippines, too, and my father is Mexican-American.
Malaka’s sense of humor, details about her family life, and her honesty about attitudes toward white, dominant culture. I could relate to a lot of what she writes. But I also realized I missed out on learning about Mexican and Filipino culture, because I was more solidly steeped in American culture. My parents took my sister and me to visit relatives maybe two or three times a year.
What Others Say
“A heartwarming tribute to immigrant families and their descendants trying to live the American dream. A graphic memoir about being half Filipino, half Egyptian – and 100% American. Charmingly unsophisticated illustrations, predominantly – and appropriately – colored in red, white, and blue, and Gharib’s authentic voice make her story personable and accessible.”– Kirkus Reviews
“We’re sending you to a white school so you can learn from them. Eat like them. Dress like them. Act like them. Because when you get into the real world, that’s how you have to be.” – Tito Maro
Syracuse [University] was really different from Cerritos. Everyone was mostly white! “It’s just like Felicity!”
In the dorms, I couldn’t tell the girls apart. I thought they all looked the same.
I quickly realized I didn’t know crap about white people.
…Just stuff I saw on TV…read in magazines…and stuff my parents and family told me. “They don’t take their shoes off in the house! They make you pay for your own food at dinner. They don’t eat rice. Isn’t that crazy?!”
…The most surprising thing about college was that no one asked me the question that was so important in high school: “What are you?”
I didn’t anticipate how much I’d miss being asked. How else would I get the chance to tell them who I was? Where I came from?
Sometimes I would initiate the question: “Guess what I am!”
But they were always so off: “Russian? Portuguese? Italian? Latina?”
…The worst was when people responded, “I don’t see color.” It made me mad!
Didn’t they wanna know about…
The tinikling?! (A Philippine dance) Egyptian falafel?! Pancit, one of the most popular Filipino foods?! [The Pyramids in] Egypt, one of the seven wonders of the world?! The galabeya?! What your name looks like in Arabic?!
… my culture?!?
Malaka Gharib is an artist and a journalist at National Public Radio. She is the founder of The Runcible Spoon food zine and the cofounder of the DCArt Book Fair. She lives in a row house in Washington, D.C. With her husband, Darren, and her nine-year-old rice cooker.
This review was first published at http://www.KatherineValdez.com on April 4, 2020.
Katherine Valdez loves to read and write about books. She laments the proliferation of reviews that give away too much of the plot.
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