Carlos Bulosan emigrated to the United States from his native Philippines in 1930. Like countless other young men who had been driven to the United States by the promise of better jobs, Bulosan found instead the crushing defeats of the worst economic depression in U.S. history. The story of his struggles during the 1930’s and early 1940’s, chronicled in the autobiographical America Is in the Heart (1946), had a profound impact on ethnic writing after it was republished by the University of Washington Press in 1973.
It is difficult to piece together Bulosan’s real life story, in part because his most important literary legacy is itself a creative mix of fact and fiction. Even the basic outline of his life is in some dispute: Scholars disagree about the date of his birth, the date and location of his death, and his age when he died. What is known is that he was born in the village of Mangusmana, near Binalonan (in Pangasinan province, on the island of Luzon) in the Philippines and was one of several children. Like many rural Filipino families at that time, his parents suffered economic hardship due in part to U.S. colonialism. He completed only three years of schooling and, drawn to the United States by the promises of wealth and education and the dream of becoming a writer, he followed two older brothers and purchased a steerage ticket to Seattle for seventy-five dollars, arriving on July 22, 1930, while still a teenager. He would never return to the Philippines, and he would never become an American citizen. He worked at a series of low-paying jobs in an Alaskan fish cannery and as a fruit and vegetable picker in Washington and California. Conditions in the early 1930’s were miserable for all migrant workers (as documented in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath) but particularly for Filipinos (then called “Pinoys”) such as Bulosan, and he experienced racial discrimination and poverty. However, he slowly improved his English, befriended other immigrant laborers suffering similar conditions, and soon was writing for and editing union and immigrant papers such as...
(The entire section is 866 words.)