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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

Published in 2018, America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo tells the intergenerational story of a Filipino immigrant family. The novel's title is drawn from a 1946 semiautobiographical work by Carlos Buloson titled America Is the Heart , which chronicles the experiences of a young Filipino man in his...

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Published in 2018, America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo tells the intergenerational story of a Filipino immigrant family. The novel's title is drawn from a 1946 semiautobiographical work by Carlos Buloson titled America Is the Heart, which chronicles the experiences of a young Filipino man in his immigration to America.

Like Bulosan, Castillo also writes about the immigrant experience and Filipino diaspora. Her alteration of the Bulosan's title does not negate the views expressed in his work; her use of the word "not" is used to imply that America is not someone's entire heart and that the immigrant experience is multifaceted and multicultural. There is no singular experience; each is unique to the individual, the culture, and the past, and may only be truly understood by the individual person. This message is most strongly conveyed by Castillo's use of multiple languages within the novel itself: the dialogue switches between English, Spanish, and the three Filipino languages (Tagalog, Pangasinan, and Ilocano) without translation. Characters at times struggle to overcome these language barriers, and Castillo uses these struggles to demonstrate the difficulties faced by immigrant communities.

The experiences of Hero (a nickname short for Geronima), the central character in Castillo's America Is Not the Heart, go beyond the typically presented immigrant experience and are incredibly layered and complex. She is from a wealthy Ilocano family, but was disowned after joining the New People's Army (a Communist guerrilla group) to work as an army doctor. Hero was eventually captured and tortured, which left her with two broken thumbs. Unable to return to her family in the Philippines, she moves to Milpitas (a San Francisco suburb) to live with her uncle Pol, his younger wife Paz, and their daughter Roni. Here, Hero struggles to return to a sense of normalcy and heal from her traumatic past. She meets a makeup artist named Rosalyn with whom she develops a romantic relationship and to whom she reveals her past.

As Hero begins to open up to Rosalyn, the novel transports the reader back to the Phillipines in fragments to reveal Hero's torture and Paz's upbringing in poverty (which stands in stark constrast to Hero's privileged childhood). However, the majority of the novel is set in Milpitas, California, as Castillo explores the complex Filipino immigrant society, which spans socioeconomic and cultural barriers. Hero babysits Roni, a job that exposes her to a variety of characters within the neighborhood and forces her out of her protective comfort zone. Castillo focuses on the daily lives of the characters, a technique that may seem hyper-focused and mundane but that is used to demonstrate the intricacies of navigating immigrant society. As the novel progresses, Hero begins to find her footing and a new home in Milpitas, along with a much-needed sense of belonging to the tight-knit community. While her hands may never heal, her heart is able to.

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