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  • Rachel Egoian

Elaine Castillo's America Is Not the Heart: What Does It Mean to Be a Filipino Woman?

The story is first told through second person point of view, establishing the narrator, Paz or Pacita, as defensive and vulnerable as she shares her difficult experiences growing up in poor family of six siblings and her mother, while her father would regularly leave every three years at a time due to his job in the military. As readers, we understand and may even find some connection within our own lives to the struggles and tensions that arise as Paz explains the challenges faced for a second eldest daughter and what sacrifices were made to help her family survive. As the second eldest daughter, there was little opportunity in which she had to truly fight and gain her own independence to which we understand her stubbornness as perseverance and strength. Later, we see a transition in her role as the main breadwinner of her family in which we question what are her new or old challenges she still faces in supporting her family and even her additional family of her husband, Pol, coming to America all the while raising her only American born daughter.

The characters are surrounded by medical and health influences in their pursuits of becoming doctors or nurses. Other political and controversial themes that come up in the novel and challenge the Filipino identity are to be acknowledged as discriminating issues of orientalism, otherness, and racial science. Orientalism is a term explained from Edward W. Said’s text, Orientalism, referencing that is academic and political concept that suggests Asian or Middle Eastern stereotypes through the lens and colonial attitudes of White Europeans. Otherness is term that suggest issues of “them versus us” and the idea of segregating individuals as other or different. Racial science is another term in which biologically defines unequal and biased explanation of race. We can understand these terms more clearly as we perceive the characters experience growing up in their societies in the Philippines and America.

In the novel, Castillo refers to the topics of faith healers and racial science in the Philippines, stating that “Paul Freer, the first dean of the Philippine Medical School, met with W. Cameron Forbes, the governor-general of the Philippines in 1913…that the natives were inherently unhealthy, prone to all manner of plagues, cankers, and skin disorders…Worse, there was a danger they would spread their infirmity to whites.” Another references suggests that “One thing was clear: the locals had to be cleansed before anything could be done with them. Inspections, experiments, education, regulations; medical schools and rigorous training. Perhaps the obsession with cleanliness was part of why Americans invented the water cure in the Philippines.” Another alarming statement, Victor G. Heiser a Pennsylvania doctor and later became Philippine Director of Health in 1902 to create project that would “wash up the Orient” and “came up with the condition called philippinitis… symptoms included mental and physical torpor, forgetfulness, irritability, lack of ambition, aversion to any form of exercise.” The following passages suggest cruel and discriminating perception of Filipinos through reinforcing negative stereotypes and characteristics in order to dehumanize and animalize their identity. Racial science has greatly affect the Filipino identity by stripping away any dignity and defining us as “other.”

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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.

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