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America Is in the Heart: A Personal History (Classics of Asian American… (1946 original; edición 2014)
por Carlos Bulosan (Autor)
Información de la obra
America Is in the Heart: A Personal History por Carlos Bulosan (1946)
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This novel helped me comprehend the life of a Filipino Immigrant in America in the 20th Century. Standard American History classes in High School skim over this topic as if they are ashamed of it, and they should be. Reading Bulosan's story and experiencing his life through his words was definitely worthwhile.
Hard not to compare to the Grapes of Wrath. It is an important part of history that very much deserves our attention. The writing and storytelling is unfortunately a slog.
It is not surprising that Carlos Bulosan found an early American inspiration in Abraham Lincoln; the U.S. President, like Carlos, was the son of uneducated farmers and was himself poor and educated only very briefly. Lincoln also was associated in his time and ours as being a symbol for the struggle of national unity, a struggle that Bulosan would take up in his own form in the latter part of his life. His novel/autobiography (a composite of his and his compatriot’s experiences), America is in the Heart, characterizes the author’s early experience and the formative years that drove Bulosan towards this cultural and political awakening. It is his childhood experiences as well as his various introductions to American life that stir in him both the brimming ideals and the shattered illusions of equality, and teach him the differences between action and reaction. The idea of America as existing and thriving in the heart is what fuels the constant hope that Carlos holds of unity and acceptance for himself and his fellow countrymen.
Bulosan’s initial struggles for survival in the Philippines and his final migration to America create a picture of what early United States immigrants endured against the face of racism, the economy, and the cultural climate that eventually led to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. As Carey McWilliams describes in the book’s introduction, Bulosan was like many other immigrants “who were attracted to this country by its legendary promises of a better life” (vii). Bulosan’s journey towards America was also equally a move to escape the poverty of his life in the Philippines, the hopelessness of the farming that would always be hindered by the government and absentee landlords. His peasant life in the Philippines is mysterious to him, full of questions. In dire conditions, he watches as his brothers leave, and his father struggles against changing conditions to maintain the dignity of his forefathers: “My father was a farmer, not a hired laborer,” he writes. “It humiliated him to hire himself out to someone. Yet he was willing to swallow his pride and to forget the honor of his ancestors” (29). A later memory of his mother not eating so that Carlos and his brothers would have enough food also haunts this early consciousness of what it meant to be poor and seemingly helpless (280-1). As Carlos and his two brothers struggle to piece together an existence in America, Carlos learns that sometimes more than honor and comfort must be sacrificed when one comes face-to-face with the deception and hardship that accompany American idealism: “Was it possible,” he writes, “that, coming to American with certain illusions of equality, I had slowly succumbed to the hypnotic effects of racial fear?” (164) Bulosan’s rage and cynicism when encountering the constant stigma of being Filipino in America surprises even himself; he soon learns that simply reacting to prejudice with sheer hatred would cause only further discontent and disunity.
It is out of this despair and hunger that Carlos discovers the power of the written word, and the complicated possibilities that can stem from human kindnesses. Through the kinship he shares with his countrymen and adopted brothers, the shared experiences of writers like Thomas Mann and Yone Noguchi, and the unexpected and often confusing kindnesses of white people like John Fante, Marian, and Alice and Eileen Odell, Bulosan finds a chance for hope of which he could be the source: “I could follow the path of these poets… and if, at the end of my career, I could arrive at a positive understanding of America, then I could go back to the Philippines with a torch of enlightenment. And perhaps, if given a chance, I could help liberate the peasantry from ignorance and poverty” (228). Even as his conditions and health worsen, his hope expands to encompass first his family, then his village and, maybe, all of the Philippines (236).
Before saying goodbye to his family to leave for America, Carlos writes, “I was determined to leave that environment and all its crushing forces, and if I were successful in escaping unscathed, I would go back someday to understand what is meant to be born of the peasantry… I would go back to give significance to all that was starved and thwarted in my life” (62). The fact that Bulosan never gets a chance to go back to the Philippines becomes subjects for his later works – and while he may never have attained a reunion with his parents and sisters as he would have liked, the political consciousness that he attains in the latter chapters of the book show a hope for this understanding of poverty and the possibilities it may spark in others. Bulosan, who initially could not find a name for the listlessness and anxiety that he feels when confronted with racism, eventually finds a way to reach the hearts of men through his writings and teachings, and a way to let them into his vision of an ideal America. “I went from town to town,” he writes, “forming workers’ classes and working in the fields. I knew that I was also educating myself. I was learning from the men. I was rediscovering myself in their eyes… I felt my faith extending toward a future that shone with a new hope” (313).
It is this faith and hope that shades Bulosan’s every interpretation of America into one of a country blossoming with possibility, even when it is at its most hateful. Ironically it is in America, and not in his childhood as a farmer’s working son, that Carlos begins to understand his father’s love for “the earth where his parents and their parents before him had lacerated their lives” (76). In the same American pea fields where he toils for his next meal, he finds the reminder of his own home, his father’s land, and “discover[s] with astonishment that the American earth was like a huge heart unfolding warmly to receive me” (326). In his eyes, America becomes a caring and grieving mother – a mother who can be giving and generous if only the right questions are asked. The experiences of some of Bulosan’s comrades leaves them filled with bitterness, hunger driving them to crime and desperation; Carlos manages to overcome the struggle within and finds himself feeling at peace. At a crossroads of social and political awakening, Carlos is able to find a way for the goodness in his heart to most effectively inspire others: “My brother Macario had spoke of America in the hearts of men. Now I understood what he meant, for it was this small yet vast heart of mine that had kept me steering towards the stars” (314). It is through Bulosan’s words and actions that he finally is able to understand and express the optimism of his America, the hopes of his heart.
Hmm I am personally conflicted about America Is in the Heart. Although a semi-autobiography that never undermines the impact of violence, self-inflicted or otherwise, ugly and unclothed, its apparent one-dimensional portrayal of women as seemingly damsels in distress is difficult to ignore. Despite this weak spot, its most riveting and tearing moments are tightly fastened to its narrator’s struggles to attain education and freedom whilst his native country uncertainly wades the murky waters and waves of post-colonialism. As these waves splash, soft yet insistent with its gift of fresh-from-the-oven independence, its own version of the “American Dream” materialises along the crippling poverty and evident social class divide in the Philippines. And with the phrase’s notion of a better life it turns its promises into a nightmare of (police) brutality and (racial) discrimination. It shatters into a broken dream. Bulosan further complicates these acts of aggression with his contradicting characterisation of Americans his narrator, Carl, encounter. Amidst this despairing narrative it clings onto hope in its rare visits through far and between gentleness and kindness. Somehow there is an implicit sentiment that still believes in the innate goodness of people; and an explicit belief on the strength and inspiration literature gives. As it jumps from state to state, from one work to another, from person to person, America Is in the Heart at its core desires belongingness and acceptance.
Under Spain for more than three hundred years, more than three decades under the U.S., the Philippines of today still looks up to its colonisers like a child needing parental guidance, at times a teen in rebellion. I don’t think any good parent would have done nor do what it’s doing at all—most particularly the U.S. I am starting to think of it as a wild case of Stockholm Syndrome instead.
“Why was America kind 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?”
As a Filipino myself I wonder if I am too harsh and critical of my own country. I may even be a hypocrite since I left the Philippines two years ago for a “more promising” job in another and plan to leave this one again in a year or so. I am also looking for belongingness and acceptance. I haven’t felt I belong anywhere nor is there anyone / anything there / here for me. It makes me ask, is this a reflection of my own country’s confusion with its own identity? Perhaps, perhaps...
Personal mulling aside, America Is in the Heart is an essential story not only of the Filipino migrant experience but also of marginalised people and their constant fight for equality and respect. A book that will benefit from a better editor, it is an undeniable horrific and heartrending story.
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Wikipedia en inglés (2)
"First published in 1946, this autobiography of the well-known Filipino poet describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West. Bulosan does not spare the reader any of the horrors that accompanied the migrant's life, but his quiet, stoic voice is the most convincing witness to the terrible events he witnessed"--
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Sistema Decimal Melvil (DDC)818.5209Literature English (North America) Authors, American and American miscellany 20th Century 1900-1945 Biography
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