I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents' ideals, learning to code-switch between her family's Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.
In this time when immigration is such a hot topic, Malaka Gharib puts an engaging human face on the issue ... The push and pull first generation kids feel is portrayed with humor and love, especially humor ... Gharib pokes fun of all of the cultures she lives in, able to see each of them with an outsider's wry eye, while appreciating them with an insider's close experience ... The question of 'What are you?' has never been answered with so much charm.
Even for the most well-meaning cartoonists, it's supremely difficult to make race visible without reinscribing such stereotypes ... NPR editor Malaka Gharib's answer to the problem neatly encapsulates her whole approach to life in her high-spirited graphical memoir ... even as she makes light of herself, Gharib's wisdom about the power and limits of racial identity is evident in the way she draws. Most of the time, Gharib just doesn't bother to draw race at all ... Gharib fills her book with the things that do matter: the beliefs, values, food, music and experiences that make an Egyptian Filipino American who she is ... anger, expressed through numerous reminiscences, doesn't come out in her art. She draws white people to look more or less like everybody else — which is to say, like people.
Gharib strikes an adroit balance between her internal questions and external realities, which are appealingly presented ... And she presents her mostly linear story in a flat, loose-line style that nods to the kinetic art of the New Yorker’s Roz Chast. Some of Dream’s most appealing scenes involve her travel abroad—so much so that a fan of this debut might wish that Gharib has an illustrated travelogue in her future.