Carey McWilliams, who wrote a classic study of migrant farm labor in California titled Factories in the Field (1939), also wrote the introduction to the University of Washington reprint of America Is in the Heart, the paperback which brought Bulosan’s work back into national literary consciousness. McWilliams called the book “a social classic” that “reflects the collective life experience of thousands of Filipino immigrants who were attracted to this country by its legendary promises of a better life or who were recruited for employment here.” The work must thus be read on multiple levels at the same time: as a greatly fictionalized memoir or life story but perhaps even more important, as a study of Filipino immigration—which in turn is also part novel, part autobiography.
The work is divided into four parts. In part 1, the narrator (named “Allos”) describes his life in rural Luzon following World War I, when his brother Leon returns from service. His family is slowly disintegrating under multiple economic pressures, as absentee landlords are crippling the peasant farming economy, and eventually Allos is sent to the city to work. However, the perspective is not that of a young boy: Bulosan is clearly looking back as a writer in the United States. This adult narrator understands the exploitation of the peasants by landowners and the church and sees that radical social change is on the horizon. (The parallels to the events on the West Coast—the labor organizing and strikes—in the 1930’s of part 2 are clear.) Part 1 ends with Allos standing on the deck of the ship that will take him to the United States “and looking toward the disappearing Philippines” that he will never see again.
Part 2 focuses largely on the racial discrimination and violence that Filipinos and other minorities experienced in the United States. Allos arrives in Seattle with twenty cents, he says, and he is immediately exploited by a Filipino labor contractor who sells him to the fish canneries in Alaska. “It was the beginning of my life in America, the beginning of a long flight that carried me down the years, fighting desperately to find peace in some corner of life.” His “pilgrimage, this search for a door into America,” takes him instead through a world of gamblers and prostitutes, brutality and bestiality, and disorientation and oppression. He travels south in search of work and comes to realize...
(The entire section is 997 words.)