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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Carlos Bulosan
(1913 - 1956)

The first Filipino writer to bring Filipino concerns to national attention, Carlos Bulosan came to Seattle in 1930, steerage class, inculcated with the ideals of brotherhood and equality he had learned in American schools in the Philippines. Arriving at the start of the Great Depression, he quickly learned the bitter truth that when jobs are scarce, minorities and immigrants become scapegoats, and the egalitarian rhetoric was far from reality for such as he. From the 1870s, the Chinese had been targets of such racial hatred; in the 1930s, the Filipinos were perceived as the latest influx of the “yellow horde” who worked for little pay, taking jobs away from whites. In his brief experience as a migrant laborer, Bulosan endured living conditions worse than those he had left behind. Bulosan found “that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California. I came to know that the public streets were not free to my people: we were stopped each time these vigilant patrolmen saw us driving a car. We were suspect each time we were seen with a white woman.”

In Los Angeles, Bulosan met labor organizer Chris Mensalves. Together they organized a union of fish cannery workers, and Bulosan, working as a dishwasher, wrote for the union paper. Writing became a means of defining his life, and his concern for just treatment for Filipino workers became one of his major themes. In 1936 the effects of poverty and constant moving led to tuberculosis. Bulosan entered the hospital, and in 1938 he was discharged, after three operations for lung lesions and an extended convalescence. His enforced confinement became his education. Bulosan read at least a book a day, from Whitman and Poe through Hemingway, Dreiser, and Steinbeck.

With some of the most important Pacific action of World War II occurring in the Philippine Islands, names such as Bataan and Corregidor became household words, and the climate was right for Bulosan to rise to national prominence. The Saturday Evening Post paid nearly a thousand dollars for Bulosan’s essay “Freedom from Want” (an essay which was illustrated by Norman Rockwell and displayed in the Federal Building in San Francisco); his work appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, Poetry and other prestigious magazines, and he was featured on the cover of news magazines. His book of reminiscences, Laughter of My Father, was broadcast to American soldiers around the world, and Look declared his autobiographic novel, America Is in the Heart, one of the fifty most important American books ever published.

However, Bulosan died in 1956, in poverty and obscurity. The political climate had changed, and narratives of the underdog, the remorselessly common person, were no longer appealing. In Asian American literature, though, Carlos Bulosan’s impassioned work has an enduring place.

The selections in the book from chapters 13 and 14 of America Is in the Heart describe Carlos’s arrival in the United States at age seventeen, penniless, idealistic, and naive. Thrust into a violent, dog-eat-dog world, Carlos struggles to maintain his belief in himself and the faith in the American ideals of democracy and justice that he had been taught in the Philippines. America Is in the Heart is a reminder to Americans to live up to the ideals set forth by the founders and a searing record of the painful experience of Filipino immigrants in the United States in the 1930s.

Amy Ling
late of University of Wisconsin at Madison

King-Kok Cheung
University of California, Los Angeles

In the Heath Anthology
from America Is in the Heart
      Chapter XIV (1946)
      Chapters XIII (1946)

Other Works
The Voice of Bataan (1943)
Laughter of My Father (1944)
The Dark People (1944)

Cultural Objects
Text/Image fileText/Image fileFilipino immigrant laborers

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Carlos Bulosan, Bestselling Author
A biography and photograph.

In the Heart of a Pilipino American: Carlos Bulosan
Offers biographical notes, criticism, and a related bibliography.

The legacy of Carlos Bulosan
A biographical and historical article from The Seattle Times.

Secondary Sources