Carlos Bulosan

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Why might Bulosan have titled his book America Is in the Heart? Could there be ironic undertones?

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Carlos Bulosan was a Filipino-American who wrote to share his experience as an immigrant. The book America is in the Heart tells of his life, growing up poor and working in America to support his family. "America is in the Heart" was published first in 1946 by Hummingbird Press. It was later republished by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1972, with an introduction written by Carlos P. Romulo, who served as United Nations delegate from the Philippines for twenty years. The book sold more than 200,000 copies. "America Is In The Heart" has been adapted into a stage play, "America Is In The Heart: A Play"

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America is in the Heart is the partially autobiographical story of Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino immigrant. Bulosan relays his experiences facing discrimination as an immigrant in California and the Northwest. He writes of a time when he commonly was treated by Americans as an outsider and a problem to be solved. There were signs on fishing piers that read, “Dogs and Filipinos not allowed.” He struggled in the Great Depression, a brutal financial time for all Americans and doubly so for immigrants. He highlights the racial injustice he and so many others faced. In one scene, a labor camp was set on fire and Bulosan witnessed white men attacking Filipinos. Bulosan reacts by asking, “Why was America so kind and yet so cruel?”

This becomes the crux of your question. Bulosan, like so many immigrant Americans, is dedicated to the ideals of a country he has worked so hard to become a part of. Bulosan sees a place for himself in the American dream. It was his activist endeavor to try to make white America see that same place for him. As such, he publicly made known and humanized the prejudice he experienced on a daily basis. It is likely that Bulosan did feel America in his heart. He saw the possibility of a better and kinder America. Bulosan was an American hero, working to bring America to the ideals he had envisioned.

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This is an interesting question. America is unique in that to modern Americans, it has long been thought of and discussed as an ideal or state of mind, rather than simply a physical place. Examine Simon and Garfunkel's iconic song, "Gone to Look for America," wherein the singer has been physically in the United States of America all along, but has embarked upon a journey to find the "true" America, or the idea of the America he believes in. For Bulosan, America is "in the heart" in that he knows that his own ideal of what America is will always be available inside him.

However, we could certainly argue that there are some "ambivalent" undertones in how Bulosan sees modern America, as it truly is, rather than as he hopes it could be. If America is "in the heart," given what Bulosan has shown us about modern America, we could read this to mean both that true America only exists in his heart, or that the way it exists in the hearts of others (racists and bigots) is quite different to how Bulosan sees it. "America is in the heart" could mean that America means something different to each person, which is not always a good thing.

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The original question had to be edited.  I would suggest that the title of Bulosan's work is to reflect that the vision of America that he obviously loved is one that exists in his heart.  The conclusion of the text reads as such:  “the American earth was like a huge heart unfolding warmly to receive me. . . . It came to me that no man . . . could destroy my faith in America again.”   Despite everything he endures in America, Bulosan believes that the America that means the world to him is one "in the heart."  Given that he ends the work with this, it makes sense for us to take him literally at this conclusion point.  Bulosan's sacrifice and endurance of the difficulties in America have not dampened his love for it.  

While it might be easy to accept an ironic or ambivalent undertones, the ending of the work is persuasive to take Bulosan at his words.  His vision of America is so strong and so powerful that nothing individuals could do in terms of discrimination, hatred, prejudice, and cruelty would detract from what America means for him. Bulosan's ending reminds the reader that while there are "injustices" in America, what it means is where love for it resides.  Bulosan recognizes that sometimes what one loves is more important than whether it fully loves one back.  It is for this reason that the title is appropriate because no matter what happens to him in America, the vision of love he has for it is in his heart.

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