America Is In The Heart – Carlos Bulosan
Carlos Bulosan was born in Philippines in 1913 to poor farmer parents who struggled to feed their family. Even when he was just five, he worked in the farm. When he was 17, he left for the US with his brothers hoping to escape the grinding poverty at home. But what greeted them in the US was racial and physical abuse. There was a great deal of discrimination against the Asian communities and Bulosan had a rough time adjusting to it. Though he found life difficult in America, he never went back to his homeland. The initial years were spent in finding work. Later in his career he worked in organizing labor so that they could bargain collectively for better wages. He also worked to get citizen rights for Filipinos.
Relevance of the Title
Though his experiences the harsh side of America, Bulosan has faith in its capacity for championing human rights and labour welfare. While he lived in that country, he met with only racial abuse and discrimination. But there were experiences that showed that that country was not all bad. The care he received in the hospital where he was admitted after being injured in an attack by whites showed him that America’s heart was in the right place.
America annexed Philippines in 1913, the year in which Bulosan was born. The Filipino society had seen the readiness with which Americans were accepted into the society where they married local women and had children. The Filipino society had already a large number of people of Malay, Chinese and Japanese descent living peacefully in Philippines. The Filipinos who migrated to the US had mistakenly assumed that they would be accepted into the American society. But their experiences were starkly different. Filipinos found it very difficult to find jobs and when they did, they were paid only a fraction of what the whites were paid. They got beaten up when they ventured out to look for jobs. The abuse was psychological and physical.
Hope for a Better Future
When Carlos leaves for the US along with his brothers, they were hoping to escape grinding poverty in Philippines. Even the very young had to work in farms to make a bare living. The Bulosan family had separated with the father living in the city with the older children and the mother staying in the countryside with the younger ones. Carlos had not even met some of his older siblings as they had left for the city with their father, looking for work. The family got together only for festivals. Even in the face of racial discrimination that he faced in America, he never returned to Philippines even once as he knew that there was some hope for a better life in America.
Carlos is the protagonist of this semi-autobiographical novel. Called Allos in Philippines, he slaves in the family’s tiny farm. Even when he is just five, he is working along with his mother. At 17, his brothers and he decide to move to the US where they hope a better life waits for them. But when they get there, their endurance is tested. Around there is racial abuse; Filipinos are denied work and they are paid less than the local whites. Carlos suffers beatings and taunts but he does not give up and return. His initial years are spent trying to earn enough so that he can at least have one meal a day. He realizes that the one way to ensure better terms for the immigrants is to bargain collectively. His communist leanings make him a marked man in the eyes of the FBI. He later petitions the President for citizenship for Filipinos as their country is at war with Japan in the World War II. They wish to be in the US army. But their appeal is rejected. Years of neglect and life in crowded unhealthy surroundings take a toll and he dies at the age of 42.
Carlos, called Allos, is one of a large Filipino family that struggles to live a decent life in Philippines. While the younger children live with their mother in the countryside, the older children work in the city with the father. All hopes rest on Macario who is being educated hoping he will be able to help his siblings later. But things do not work out that way and the older boys move to the US where they hope they will be able to work and save money. Philippines were full of Americans who lived a comfortable life. The boys believe that they would be accepted into the American society but even on the ship, they are treated like the refuse of earth. Asians were considered to be almost sub-human.
When they arrive in America, conditions are bad. It’s close to the Depressions and jobs are scarce. The American resented the influx of non-whites into the country looking for jobs. Never a people who tolerated outsiders or the natives of the land, they tuned vicious when faced with loss of their livelihood. The competition for jobs was intense with racial abuse and violence being commonplace. For a time, Carlos concentrates on hanging on in America. But as time goes past, he realizes that the solution lies in organizing themselves as a sector to get better wages. But that is not easy as they are not citizens. Petitions that they send are rejected. Meanwhile, Philippines is attacked by Japan during the Second World War. Filipinos wish to fight as part of the US Army. But they are not allowed to enlist. Though in bad health, Carlos works hard to win citizen rights for them. At last, the President grants Filipinos the right to fight as part of the US Army.
- “I know deep down in my heart, that I am an exile in America…I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America”
As a Filipino in America, Bulosan’s experiences were as bad as those endured by blacks in America. They were hounded, abused and driven to death by the whites who resented the Filipinos’s presence in their country. America was in the throes of an economic recession and jobs were scarce. The Filipinos were prepared to work for low wages.
- On the highway, again, motorists had refused to take a dying man. And yet in this hospital, among white people– Americans like those who had denied us– we had found refuge and tolerance. Why was America so kind and yet so cruel? Was there no way to simplifying things in this continent so that suffering would be minimized? Was there no common denominator on which we could all meet? I was angry and confused, and wondered if I would ever understand this paradox.
Bulosan is confused by the dichotomy that he perceives again and again in America. One part of America behaves with extreme cruelty but another part of the same country is committed to the care and nourishment of all people irrespective of color or creed.
- 3. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world. America is a prophecy of a new society of men of a system that knows no sorrow or strife or suffering. America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of freemen.
Though Bulosan had had more than his share of bitter experiences on account of his being Asian, a man with brown skin, he feels that America is very likely the place where personal freedom is most likely to be guaranteed. Though things appear bad now, there is hope for the future.
- We must live in America where there is freedom for all regardless of color, station and beliefs.
Freedom was enshrined in the constitution of America. It was one of the guiding principles of the country. In real life, this may not be true but a man could appeal against injustice and expect justice to be done. Discrimination was rampant all over America but that did not have the sanction of the state.