| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
(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.”
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.
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.
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.
late of University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of California, Los Angeles
In the Heath Anthology
from America Is in the Heart
The Voice of Bataan
Laughter of My Father
The Dark People
Filipino immigrant laborers
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
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.