Negotiating a Hybrid Identity: Exploring Verbal and Visual Representations of Asian American Immigrants in a Graphic Memoir

Author: Titien Diah Soelistyarini (Universitas Airlangga, Indonesia)
Speaker: Titien Diah Soelistyarini
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


This paper aims at exploring verbal and visual representations of Asian American immigrants depicted in I was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir (2019) by a Filipino-Egyptian American author, Malaka Gharib. Telling a story of the author’s childhood experience growing up as a biracial child in America, the graphic memoir shows the use of code-switching from English to Tagalog and Arabic as well as the use of pejorative terms associated with immigrant, and specifically Asian American in some parts of the narrative. Apart from the verbal code, images also play a significant role in this graphic memoir by providing visual representations to support the narrative.

By applying theories of code-switching and linguistic reappropriation, this paper examines the types and reasons for code-switching and reappropriation in the graphic memoir. Meanwhile, visual semiotics is applied to analyze the visual representation of Asian American cultural identity portrayed in the graphic memoir. This paper reveals that code-switching is mainly applied to highlight the author’s hybrid identity as Asian American, while linguistic reappropriation is used to imply both personal and sociopolitical empowerment for minorities, particularly Asian American. Furthermore, through visual semiotic analysis, this paper shows that in her drawings Gharib refuses to inscribe stereotypical racial portrayal of the diverse characters and focuses more on beliefs, values, and experiences that make her who she is, a Filipino-Egyptian American. All in all, the verbal and visual representations of Malaka Gharib as an Asian American immigrant in this graphic memoir denote her experience to negotiate her hybrid identity on her journey to the American dream.

Keywords: Code-switching, graphic memoir, hybrid identity, reappropriation, visual semiotics