- Rachel Egoian
America Is In the Heart a Novel by Carlos Bulosan: The Filipino Family, Home and Manhood
In our recent story on the novel, America Is not the Heart by Elaine Castillo, we explore the experiences shared by Filipino women that unravel the perspectives on the standards of beauty and health; however, I would like to address its connections to Carlos Bulosan’s autobiographical novel, America Is in the Heart: A Personal History. In the epigraph from America Is not the Heart, the novel connects back to Bulosan’s passages, expressing that “I knew I could trust a gambler because I had been one of them,” which represents his understanding of the challenges that served as risks and chances of escaping his harsh reality growing up as a peasant in the Philippines, acknowledging the political and economic corruption that greatly affected the lower working class and farmers, as well as, his conflicting aspirations of migrating to America to achieve the American dream.
In his reflection, Bulosan illustrates his experiences through his tactful imagery of his childhood, describing in detail of his family and home, which serves as symbolic markers of his Filipino identity, shaping his goals and values as a young man. Through his observations living a life of peasantry in Binalonan, Pangasinan, he expresses that “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 it meant to be born of the peasantry.” He continues, stating that “I would go back because I was a part of it, because I could not really escape from it no matter where I went or what became of me. I would go back to give significance to all that was starved and thwarted in my life.” The passages convey a message of his escapism and why he must leave as it is part of his identity and growth as an individual in understanding serious global and societal issues. Transitioning the desire to escape, Bulosan mentions his dreamer-like attitude, exploring his aspirations to one day get an education to a become a doctor or a journalist, featuring his goal in migrating to America.
The representation of manhood in the text conveys a sense of vulnerability and anxiety on Filipino men in which the burden of being the eldest son or a boy in a family represents the idea of escaping and sometimes abandoning their families in order to avoid harsh realities and fate. We observe the roles of each brother in which the eldest brother, Macario, is the only son that is provided with an education. In the text, it references to American and Spanish influences on education in the Philippines that it only became popular originally for rulers and upper middle class; however, America’s influence provided free education allowing some access for the poor class to attend school. America provided free education, but with limited sources for acquiring more schools in the poorer areas, many students had to travel long distances or move away from their families which room and board were costly. Bulosan’s other siblings were to work at home on the farm or in the market; although, dwelling in their fatality, they eventually left their home and family, finding their way through joining the military, marriage, politics or hard labor jobs that followed their pursuits in migrating to America.
As the reader, we are able to comprehend the experiences of peasantry and farm labor as sources of survival. We read about the father’s constant battle in maintaining ownership of his land and how the corporations or the church strip away his property. The right or privilege of receiving an education is acknowledge and how there is little opportunity for the lower working class to obtain an education even as sons of a family where the schools are far away and must pay boarding. In addition to the economic struggle, his family especially his brothers represent the different paths of escaping their fates in terms of learning how to survive with little opportunity. Leaving their family behind, it is a consequence of escaping their harsh realities and facing their manhood. It touches on the close experiences of the Philippines’ economic struggle for the lower working class and how many young men sought after a better life in America in order to help their families. Today’s current generation of Filipinos and Filipino Americans will be able to reflect on this as a source of historical experience and knowledge that touches on the sufferings and survival of Filipinos. In addition, our current generation can take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and burdens that immigrant families encounter while assimilating into America. Reflecting on Bulosan’s shared experiences growing up, it reminds myself to be thankful for the sacrifices that my family makes in order for me to succeed and reach my goals in which they have always supported me with my academic career even as I move onto my masters program. Bulosan’s message resides in the importance of family struggle, which tremendously shapes and influences who you are when facing the rest of the world as society’s pressures tries to take hold onto you and your identity.
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Rachel Egoian - Pleasant Hill, CA
Originally from the Bay Area and a graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Education, Rachel has a profound interest in Asian American literature and communities. In addition, she is a recent graduate student at San Francisco State University for the English Literature Master’s program. Coming from a mixed ethnic background as an Armenian, Irish and Filipina, she values the importance of culture and self-identity. Through the foundations of literary criticism, she encourages and stresses the need for diversity in literature.