While debate about Bulosan’s life continues to exist, the importance both of his career and particularly of America Is in the Heart is clear. In this fictional immigrant narrative, he combined fact and myth to create an ethnobiography of his people’s experience in the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century. He fictionalized much of his own life in the story but was true to the oppression and discrimination that he and his fellow Filipino immigrants experienced during the 1930’s. Unlike the authors of ethnic autobiographies that had been produced in earlier waves of immigration (such as the Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie or The Americanization of Edward Bok, both published in 1920), Bulosan stressed the class struggle which he saw played out in his own life and created a counterpoint to the standard American Dream portrayed in such works. The result is a powerful story which tells of his own life and that of his people from an anti-imperialist and working-class perspective.
Bulosan’s other works have broadened his reputation, but America Is in the Heart remains the book by which he will be best remembered. Like other Asian American fiction (written by, for example, Amy Tan and Gish Jen), it explores a number of ethnic issues, including the theme of dual identity—the conflict between the protagonist’s roots in an ethnic community and culture and the character’s search for an individual identity. Furthermore, like a number of classic American works, from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), America Is in the Heart is also the story of a journey of self-discovery. The narrator witnesses countless instances of violence and discrimination but by the end of the story comes to an understanding of himself and of the country he has chosen as his own. Like a number of works from the 1930’s (not only that of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but also the novels of writers such as Jack Conroy and John Dos Passos), the book depicts life at its most miserable during the worst economic depression in American history.
Many ethnic American literary works have uncovered an American history that the dominant culture has arguably ignored, including slavery, the extermination of Native American tribes, and the expropriation of Mexican lands. Bulosan’s work amplifies two important aspects of these ignored topics, first exposing what U.S. imperialism meant in the Philippines in the early years of the twentieth century and then what further injustices befell the victims of that imperialism who fled to the United States looking for its fabled riches. In the first part of America Is in the Heart and in numerous short stories and the later novel The Cry and the Dedication, Bulosan writes about his homeland and what has happened to it as a result of American intervention, beginning with the Spanish-American War in 1898. Moreover, in much of Bulosan’s works, including the remaining four parts of America Is in the Heart and his short stories and essays, to say nothing of the trajectory of his own career, Bulosan documents how he and his fellow Filipinos have been systematically mistreated and brutalized in the American land of promise. Few ethnic writers can ignore their history, but Bulosan lived his and wrote about it almost obsessively.
America Is in the Heart
First published: 1946
Type of work: Autobiographical novel
Allos emigrates from his native Philippines in 1930 and spends a decade working as a migrant laborer up and down the West Coast before finding his calling as a labor organizer and writer.
Carey McWilliams, who wrote a classic study of migrant farm labor in California titled Factories in the Field (1939), also wrote the...
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