Remembering Bulosan

In My Eyes: By Edward Antonio

America Is in the Heart serves as a piece of activist literature. It sheds light on the racial and class issues that affected Filipino immigrants throughout the beginning of the twentieth century. The autobiography attempts to show Filipino Americans the structure of American society and the oppression inflicted upon Filipino’s living in America. E. San Juan, Jr., in “Carlos Bulosan, Filipino Writer-Activist”, states, “American administrators, social scientist, intellectuals, and others made sense of Filipinos: we were (like American Indians) savages, half childish primitives, or innocuous animals that can be either civilized with rigorous tutelage or else slaughtered outright.” Bulosan states, “At that time, there was ruthless persecution of the Filipinos throughout the Pacific Coast.”

His other novels include The Laughter of My Father, which were originally published as short sketches, and the posthumously published The Cry and the Dedication which detailed the armed Huk Rebellion in the Philippines.

One of his most famous essays, published in March 1943, was chosen by the Saturday Evening Post to accompany its publication of the Norman Rockwell painting Freedom from Want, part of a series based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech.

He capped his bitterness with the following quotes:

“The old world is dying, but a new world is being born. It generates inspiration from the chaos that beats upon us all. The false grandeur and security, the unfulfilled promises and illusory power, the number of the dead and those about to die, will charge the forces of our courage and determination. The old world will die so that the new world will be born with less sacrifice and agony on the living…

“We in America understand the many imperfections of democracy and the malignant disease corroding its very heart. We must be united in the effort to make an America in which our people can find happiness. It is a great wrong that anyone in America, whether he be brown or white, should be illiterate or hungry or miserable.”

After being informed of a labor camp being burned down, he states, “I understood it to be a racial issue, because everywhere I went I saw white men attacking Filipinos”

He later stated, “Why was America so kind and yet so cruel?”

Though America was supposed to be a place of freedom and kindness for Filipino Americans to escape to, Filipinos were treated like savages and were oppressed by white Americans. Bulosan makes this clear in his novel in order to present these problems to society. Bulosan’s novel is comparable to other works written by authors who lived through the Great Depression in that the combination of a strong racial identity and the exposure to the harsh working environments caused the protagonist to desire something more from life. Bulosan came to represent the ‘voice of Bataan’, because of this strong desire, fueled by the obstacles caused by the Great Depression. Bulosan’s writings reached a wide audience, many of whom were feeling similar strife due to the state of the nation’s economy. The agriculture community in the West, especially in California, was characterized by a deficit in jobs and a life of transience. Bulosan’s writing provides an accurate first-hand description of the uncertainty of a migrant’s life, and while there is speculation about the amount of truth in his writing, one cannot deny that he was exposed first-hand to the struggles of The Great Depression.

Why do I write all of these things, fellas?

Because I admire Carlos Bulosan. I admire his courage to go on self-study until he could read and write, as he struggled to find education in his As Long As The Grass Shall Grow then went on to support activist rallies denouncing the poor treatment of migrant workers.

As a labor organizer and socialist writer, he was blacklisted. Denied a means to provide for himself, his later years were of flight and hardship, probably including alcoholism. He died in Seattle suffering from an advanced stage of bronchopneumonia at the young age of only 43.

Such was the life and death of an Ilocano writer, a Filipino who fought for democracy in a land of democracy and who set the background for successful labor movements in America, the country whom Bulosan dubbed as “so kind yet so cruel.”#