This work is the author’s autobiography. Carlos Bulosan was a Filipino, born and raised to his youth in the largely agricultural province of Pangasinan in the Philippines. His family was of peasant background and together, all of them worked to make the fields productive (p. 4-5). They were uneducated, as first they could not afford it and second, they did not see its need in the backbreaking, manual labor of growing corn.
However, as the farm gate prices of farm produce remained low and the price of farm inputs continuously increased together with basic necessities, the family was forced to be at the mercy of moneylenders at exorbitant interests. Unable to pay their ballooning debts, they were eventually dispossessed of the land which was their sole means of survival (p. 15-16). Thus, hiring themselves out was the only way to avoid their early demise. The Philippines, from the author’s birth (1913) to the time of his writing, was under U.
S. colonization. This a period lasted from 1989 to 1946, the latter coinciding with the work’s first publication. The American governorship did not pursue large-scale industrialization as an economic policy in that country so that the available industries in the urban areas could not absorb the displaced peoples from the countryside. The economic alternative presented by emigration was embraced when all other means of survival in one’s own country have failed.
It is a choice that espoused both hopes and despair – hopes for a better financial situation and despair at uprooting one’s self from family, community and country. Emigration is not a purely individual exercise of freedom of choice but has underlying social factors. For a Filipino, American culture is not something unfamiliar. The colonial mentality which pervaded the educated upper and middle classes, sought to emulate the ideals and lifestyles of America (p. 20). What was American was described as superior or any other superlative.
This view eventually diffused to the poor, working class. However, the author’s experiences in the 1930’s and 40’s were quite contradictory with what he expected. The tenets of democracy, equality and economic progress espoused by the U. S. to the whole world were challenged by the brutality of racial discrimination. The color of one’s skin severely limited the availability of economic opportunities. The author and his brothers who left for America found their dreams shattered with the scarcity of long term jobs. They eventually engaged in the seasonal harvests in the West.
The author has written a life story of his bitter, personal struggles in this book, of working in canneries and taking on other odd jobs in between harvests just to be able to live and send some money back home to his family. With no legal or organizational means to advance their collective rights, Carlos Bulosan (a. ka. Allos) and other Filipinos were susceptible to exploitative working conditions. As such, Filipinos and other immigrants of color were faced with the immense challenges of establishing a decent living and security in life.
This seemed insurmountable as discrimination is not something that depends on personal beliefs but is a practice actually institutionalized in American society. Labor laws and social norms defined the place of people of color in all spheres of life. Personal rage developed from continually being looked down on and referred to such derisive terms as monkeys and law breakers. Being a Filipino at that time who merely speaks to a white woman was taboo. The added pressures of perennial unemployment, hunger and disease has caused immigrants during Allos’ time to engage in excessive drinking and violent acts.
This was regarded as the only venue of expressing resistance to such inhuman treatments and as a temporary relief to such a painful situation. Although racial discrimination was rampant during his time, the author overcame his subjective opinion that all Americans were racists. This was because he encountered many Americans who were humanitarian and even advocates of immigrant, labor and racial discrimination issues. Thus, his hopelessness was replaced with a conscious determination to change current situations.
He joined a labor union and became active as one of its leaders in the fight for job security, better labor remunerations and benefits and equal treatment of cannery workers. His efforts were made not just for the present or for himself but for all other Filipino-American workers in the cannery. This consciousness shows how, despite his negative experiences, he has come to see himself as part of American society and to contribute to the creation of better living conditions in it.
In a sense, this constituted a form of nationalism, of finally identifying one’s self with a country that was originally not your own, and cultivating a love for it despite its flaws. It has also opened to him the availability of other tools of expression – writing. The book’s title, “America is in the Heart”, captures the experience of an immigrant becoming a citizen – that race and country of origin does not preclude you to be an American, you only have to develop a heart for it. Evaluation
Using in poetic prose, Carlos Bulosan’s work is a clearly written, direct-to-the-point, tell-it-like-it-is account of the horrors in his immigrant experience. Valid in this case, the author does not claim it to be typical of Filipino-American experience. His eventual reunification with his family also constituted such a “happy ending” that may not be a commonplace experience during his time because of distance and financial constraints. Although the book conveys the author’s honesty, a downside of it is its lack of complexity.
The presence of consistent historical, time and place references could have made it a more useful source for Filipino immigrant studies. These references enable us to put into proper context such personal experience, contributing to our further understanding of it. Because experience is removed from its social context, we can not judge it to be representative of the immigrant, colored or Filipino experience and much less representative of the sector’s experience during the early to mid 1900’s.
Its value is appreciated through a deeper understanding of the Philippine social context, early American laws and norms with regards to immigrants and that period characterized by the Great Depression. It complements existing studies and researches on the plight of Filipino-American immigrants by providing an actual experience to theoretical frameworks. It also serves as a concretization of concepts of race and ethnicity which may be unfamiliar to many Americans.
Because of his background as a union organizer, the work as expected, espouses Marxist or Socialist ideas characteristic of the labor movement. Still, the strongly worded concretization of an immigrant’s experience serves to remind every American about our disregard, misconceptions or denial of the existence of racial discrimination. It challenges us to search for the causes of our prejudice and to develop our society to conform to our ideals. This work is central to the theme of multi-culturalism and the need for acceptance and tolerance. Conclusion
This book is for those who wish to understand foremost the Filipino-American experience and complements existing knowledge on racial, ethnic, immigrant and labor issues. At a time when anti-immigrant sentiments seem to be on the rise in our society and our economic stability seems uncertain, America is in the Heart an easy read so that we may have an objective view of why this is happening. This we can accomplish without falling into the pit of prejudice ourselves. List of References Bulosan, C. (1974). America is in the Heart. Washington: University of Washington Press.
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