"Nothing is better than even a hard life. I wanted to live."

"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 have] less sacrifice and agony on the living."

Carlos Bulosan is a Filipino author who is considered both a socialist writer and a labor organizer. His writings have a lot of impact for many Asian immigrants who can relate to his chronicles of hardship, sickness and despair as he tried to make a living in America. This work of non-fiction is semi-autobiographical, depicting his early childhood steeped in poverty back in his hometown Pangasinan, which then carried on to discuss about his misadventures during his immigration to the United States (particularly in Seattle and California). Here in this places is where he encountered several instances and increasingly violent displays and sentiments of racism against Filipinos during the Great Depression. This was a very disconcerting read and something I was not prepared to experience at all as one of the only two books I scheduled to read for this month. 

But if I must pick between this harrowing tale of hopelessness and abuse, and the Victorian facebook-ing narrative that was ultimately Jane Austen's Emma in a nutshell, then there is no question in my mind that America is in the Heart is the more stimulating and emotionally stirring book.

Divided into three meaningful aspects of Bulosan's life, this book is a very satisfying slow burn that was painstakingly delivered with one of the most earnest literary voices I have read in a while. But, then again, being a Filipino I might only be showing certain biases, especially since I have made it to a point since I started reviewing novels to always have a Filipino story included in the schedule because although my taste and sensibilities as a reader have more or less been Westernized, there are tons of amazing works of fiction written by my own fellowmen that must be explored. Carlos Bulosan's autobiography is definitely one of those and I don't think I have any regrets. I say this because there are just so many passages in the later second and third parts of the book that are just so upsetting and depressing since they paint a cruel portrait of discrimination and loneliness as one is stuck in a foreign land that supposedly promises opportunities for equality and autonomy but to a barely educated immigrant like Bulosan, nothing could be farther from the truth.

What was singularly engaging about this book is its honesty in chronicling even the smallest moments of cruelty--and compassion. Bulosan would often express the paradox of the white men and women and their treatment of Filipinos. On one hand, they are violent and abusive; on the other they are sympathetic and willing to assist a broken stranger. It's worth noting that this book's setting is majorly in the Depression era so certain economic strains and struggles that American citizens have experienced then seem to only contribute to the way they blame the Asian immigrants for almost every ills the American public then perceives are their doing. But this cycle of racism and hate crime are not only committed against the Filipinos but also on the Chinese with their opium dens and gambling establishments. Still, Bulosan's story made a strong argument that perhaps Filipinos would frequently receive some of the worse maltreatment than other Asian immigrants during that time. 

For example: a few of the American police would either beat up, arrest or plain gun down innocent Filipinos who are just there at the wrong place during the wrong time, and they would either do these things for their sick enjoyment or misplaced rage. There was even a legal situation where they want to pass down a law that would prohibit Filipino men to marry Caucasian women by equating Filipinos to Mongolians which they consider a dirty race. When anthropologists stress that Filipinos belong to the Malayan race, they were quick to jump on that and use it to further exercise their ignorance and blatant racism. Racial slurs such as the use of the term 'brown monkeys' to describe Filipinos are also in Bulosan's passages. Filipinos cannot get any kind of stable livelihood considering it's the Depression, but some of them would stick to groups to make it through, until the next raid or hate crime occurs and Bulosan himself had to run away from a few in order to survive. Essentially, this book is not easy to swallow especially now that we belong to a time where racism and discrimination are being slowly abolished in our humane societies. Books like America is in the Heart remind each and one of us just how far we have come--and how far we still have to go.

"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."

The first part of this autobiography was bittersweet, describing the life of poverty that Bulosan experienced when he was just a boy named Allos, the youngest son of a farmer and his wife. He had three older brothers he looked up to; the eldest Luciano was a soldier stationed in America who came home and became a politician, the second eldest Julio has also migrated to the States whom he tragically met up again with later encountered as a reinforcer for pimps and gangsters, and the last one, Macario, is a teacher whom his parents have pinned all their hopes and dreams to, as well as all their savings just to give him a proper education. Even as a boy, Allos wanted to learn and he has a passion for books and eventually for writing. He was close to all his brothers particularly with Luciano who taught him how catch birds and get involved in native politics, and Macario who filled his head with stories and imagination. Equipped by his parents' tenacity and values of hard work and humility, as well as his older brothers' lessons for manhood, Allos ventured on at a tender age of fourteen to America and his multiple struggles and failures to cope and succeed have only made him miss home. But in the end, he never went back to the Philippines.

Instead, he strove to write all the injustices he and his fellow immigrants have experienced. Since realizing he can never be silenced anymore and he can now use words and the printed word as a weapon, Bulosan has became a part of a publication that targets the rampant racism in Seattle. He also joined trade unions to fight for the rights of workers and their wage. As a boy, Bulosan is more than acquainted with the unfair salary and treatment that hard workers like his father had faced--his father who plowed rice fields that never belonged to him but to the corrupt upper class of mestizo family clans in the Philippines, and had therefore died sick and penniless. Bulosan has a lot of fire and righteous rage to spare, and he poured all of these feelings to his writings and social activism.

America is in the Heart contains Bulosan's life and legacy and his contributions to the good fight for the immigrants in that era of American society. This is an important book and even though Bulosan has clearly lived a life of impoverished state and abuse, he had also learned to rise above that and become greater than his suffering. Through writing, he had utilized his pain and talents to capture a searing landscape of tolerance, justice and unwavering dreams.



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