America Is in the Heart Summary
America Is in the Heart is a semi-autobiographical novel by Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino writer who became a driving force in the Filipino rights movement in the United States. The narrative follows the journey of the narrator, Allos, as he emigrates from the Philippines to the West Coast of the US in 1930, finds work on farms and in canneries, and helps to establish a labor union.
The book begins by describing Allos’s difficult life growing up on a farm in the Philippines, where, at the age of five, he began working in the fields and helping with the housework. Allos encounters hardship and fights oppression during his time in the Philippines, as his family constantly struggles to make ends meet and finds themselves subjugated by the owners of the land they farm. In the wake of peasant rebellions, Allos leaves for America, where he expects conditions to be better, but he encounters hatred and violence from white farm owners, who exploit the Filipino workers and treat them with cruelty.
In America, however, Allos engages in focused attempts to stop the oppression of the Filipinos. He joins the labor movement and then the Filipino rights movement in an attempt to organize the migrant workers and secure their fair treatment. Eventually they form a union. They also gain the right to serve in the armed forces. Allos falls ill with tuberculosis just as his activist career is beginning, but while in the hospital he reads voraciously, and as the US joins World War II, he begins to write.
Allos’s life in America highlights the struggle of Filipino immigrants to succeed in a country that falsely professes to ensure freedom but continues to suppress the rights of immigrants. Ultimately, Bulosan ends on a note of hope, as Allos concludes that no amount of hardship or prejudice can destroy his belief in the potential of the American dream.
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,...
(The entire section is 1,313 words.)