- Emily Pan
America is in the Heart: A Testimony of Life in America (Part IV)
Carlos Bulosan's semi-autobiographical novel tells his story in the Philippines (see Part I), his journey in America (see Part II), his work in the Filipino labor movement (see Part III), and his later days as a writer. Bulosan, at the age of 17, bought a steerage ticket to America in search of new opportunities. Here, we will give a brief description of Bulosan's life in America and the Filipino struggle for representation, but no one could tell his story as well as himself, whose words are forever contained in his novel, America is in the Heart, which so vividly describes his feelings and experiences being an immigrant in a foreign land.
Carlos Bulosan and thousands of other Filipino immigrants had been attracted the America's legendary ideals, yet they did not know until they arrived that becoming naturalized would be a dream that remained out of reach for so many immigrants of their generation (1930s-1940s). Some Filipino immigrants even served for the United States in World War I, but even then, citizenship was not given as a token for their patriotism. This is shown when Carlos speaks to a Filipino in a large agricultural laborers' camp who says on pg. 272 and 273:
"When I first came to this camp, these lemon trees were only a foot high...I have made this valley fruitful and famous. Some ten years ago I wanted to go into farming myself, so close I was to the soil, so familiar with the touch of clay and loam. But I found that I couldn't buy land in California. I had served in the United States navy in World War I, so I thought I had the privilege. But after the war I was on the ocean most of the time, because I didn't resign when the armistice was signed. I didn't know that three years after the armistice I could no longer file my citizenship papers. I could no longer become an American citizen. I wanted to become an American citizen for many reasons, but at that time my most urgent desire was to buy a piece of land so that I could farm..."
Bulosan goes on to say that the desire to become naturalized and possess land is not simply to have a plot of earth to draw nourishment from, rather, to feel a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, the feeling of a lack of belonging and being a "criminal in an alien society" was common among Filipinos and other immigrants.
But their campaign for Filipino rights and citizenship would continue. Carlos and Jose wrote for the CPFR (Committee for Protection of Filipino Rights) and published their comrade's paper about "the struggle for a definite social security for FIlipinos in the United States" and when financial support was needed, Carlos's brother, Macario, "put up his own money when an issue was withheld by the printers due to unpaid bills" (285). They were part of a national campaign supporting the Marcantonio bill that would authorize naturalization of Filipino immigrants because Carlos knew "Filipinos worked and lived in national terms, so that when they were maligned they thought their whole race was maligned" (287). And to Filipinos like Carlos, "It became, in a way, the most effective weapon of the Filipinos" (285).
However, many groups like the Congressmen, big farmers, Liberty League of California, Daughters of the Golden West, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Associated Farmers of California, rallied against the bill and soon the CPFR was dying. That was when Carlos decided to write America is in the Heart, a testimony of his life in America. Although Carlos came to America with little or no education and speaking very little English, his brother told him on pg. 292,
"It's not impossible for a man with very little education to become a writer," he said. "You can do it, Carlos."
"I'll do it," I told him.
"I'll wait, Carlos," he said.
Indeed, Carlos wanted to write about his journey in America, as a message and testimony to those who would follow in his footsteps. And it was possible for an uneducated immigrant like Carlos to become a writer, as America is in the Heart plainly shows. One day, while reading the Old Testament, Carlos said on pg. 312,
"All of these persecutions happened a long time ago in an ancient land. But they are significant to us because we are undergoing similar persecutions. We who came to the United States as immigrants are Americans too. All of us were immigrants - all the way down the line. We are Americans all who have toiled for this land, who have made it rich and free. But we must not demand from America, because she is still our unfinished dream. Instead we must sacrifice for her: let her grow into bright maturity through our labors. If necessary we must give up our lives that she might grow unencumbered."
Although Carlos and his comrades were persecuted greatly, such as when they volunteered to serve for the United States and were refused because they were "classified as aliens in the National Selective Service Act," their fight for citizenship and representation was successful in the end (318). After a successful meeting of the delegates, "a resolution was sent to Washington asking for the inclusion of Filipinos in the armed forces of the United States" and even those who had opposed the inclusion of Filipinos worked together for once and Carlos remarked, "I was waiting for this very moment; it was a signal of triumph. But it took a war and a great calamity in our country to bring us together. President Roosevelt signed a special proclamation giving Filipinos the right to join the armed forces of the United States. Filipino regiments were formed in the United States; similar units were also formed in Hawaii" (319). This shows how a long fight for representation, equality, and citizenship was finally obtained to some degree.
In Bulosan's closing remarks on pg. 326-327, he says,
It came to me that no man - no one at all - could destroy my faith in America again. It was something that had grown our of my defeats and successes, something shaped by my struggles for a place in this vast land, digging my hands into the rich soil here and there, catching a freight to the north and to the south, seeking free meals in dingy gambling houses, reading a book that opened up worlds of heroic thoughts. It was something that grew out of the sacrifices and loneliness of my friends, of my brothers in America and my family in the Philippines - something that grew out of our desire to know America, and to become a part of her great tradition, and to contribute something toward her final fulfillment. I knew that no man could destroy my faith in America that had sprung from all our hopes and aspirations, ever.
Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart: A Personal History. University of Washington Press, 1973.
Carlos Bulosan, ca. 1940s, circa 1945, photograph, Portraits Collection, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, POR0018, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, https://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/digital/collection/portraits/id/33/rec/6.