In the first paragraph of his introduction to the book, Carey McWilliams, an acquaintance of Bulosan, quotes what is probably the most memorable line from the book: “In many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California.” Not written primarily for teenage readers, the book is nevertheless a social classic about discrimination that explores the often painful issues of growing up, especially of reaching adulthood in an alien and even hostile environment. The book is about relationships, the enduring power of love within a family, trusting the wrong kind of people, and the value of male companionship and survival, and of female redemption and grace. If it is a harsh book, then it is also a realistic and eye-opening one in its exposure of the presence of human prejudice and cruelty.
The book is very much a coming-of-age story from an immigrant’s point of view. The first third of the book shows Bulosan’s youth within the circle of his impoverished but loving family. In the beginning of the second third of the book, Bulosan is optimistic and naive as he lands on the shores of Seattle at seventeen. Although he is soon duped, sold for hire, and abused, his disillusion never breaks his spiritual faith in the United States or his desire to forge ahead in his own intellectual development and for the welfare of all Filipino workers. In this section of the book, he is forced by “oldtimers,” the more seasoned Filipino laborers, into losing his virginity with a Mexican prostitute; his maturity cannot be complete without this sexual awakening. The final third of the book depicts the fruits of his adult labor: the formation of fledgling labor unions and the beginnings of...
(The entire section is 687 words.)