Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A fine storyteller with a keen sensitivity, Santos is credited as the leading fictional spokesperson for his fellow expatriates in the United States. This comes out of his personal encounter with exiled Filipinos. “Immigration Blues” is a convincing example. His portrayal of Alipio Palma is vivid and powerful.

To let the readers sink into the tragic life experience of the protagonist, Santos uses a slow and controlled narrative tempo: It is as if Alipio, being old and recovering from a terrible car accident, cannot be rushed. He does things according to his own timetable. His slow movement provides a striking contrast to the urgent matter of the two sisters. This slow tempo allows several flashbacks to take place, such as his accounts of his early, carefree days in the United States, and his marrying of his first wife. These bits of information are necessary to help the reader understand what has happened to the protagonist and why he has become what he is today.

Santos also uses concrete details in the story to dramatize Alipio’s desire to live—which offsets the tragic subject matter of the story. Alipio’s drawers and refrigerator are stacked with food that may last longer than the rest of his life—the sight of the foodstuffs seems to enliven the old man and erase years from his eyes. This is an old man who knows that food means life and sustenance, and provides energy and health.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Filipino Literature in English
The first Filipino literature published in English in the United States was in the early 1930s, a decade before Santos’s arrival in the country. The writer who made this breakthrough was José Garcia Villa (1914–1997), whose poems and stories were published by Scribner’s in 1933 as Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others. Villa lived in the United States, and his short stories, which were highly praised by critics, were included in Best American Short Stories of 1932 and Best American Short Stories of 1933. Despite the success of his fiction, however, during the 1930s Villa decided to write only lyric poetry. His Selected Poems and New was published in 1958. Although scholars acknowledge the merits of his pioneering work, Villa is little read today.

In the 1940s, poet and short-story writer Carlos Bulosan (1913–1956) came to the forefront of Filipino writers. Like Santos, Bulosan chronicled the lives of Filipino immigrants in the United States. His stories appeared mainly in magazines such as the New Yorker. His book of satirical, humorous poems, The Laughter of My Father, was published in 1944 by Harcourt, Brace and was warmly received by readers. It was followed by the autobiographical America Is in the Heart (1946), which remains an influential work today.

Also in the 1940s, Filipino immigrant N. V. M. Gonzalez (1915–1999) began publishing short stories, some of which appear in book form in Children of the Ash-Covered Loam (1954) and Selected Stories (1964). Gonzalez also wrote novels, including The Winds of April (1940), Seven Hills Away (1947), and A Season of Grace (1956). Like Santos, Gonzalez portrays the lives of Filipinos in the United States, although Gonzalez writes mainly of graduate students and other young or middle-aged people who visit but do not remain in the United States.

In the late 1950s, Linda Ty-Casper (1931–) began publishing. Her novel The Peninsulars (1964) is about the influence of Spanish colonization on the Philippines in the mid-eighteenth century. Ty-Casper has since published a total of ten novels and three short-story collections.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Santos wrote some...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Structure and Style
‘‘Immigration Blues’’ is notable for the simplicity of its style and structure. The diction is simple, and there is little use of figurative language. The story unfolds in one scene only, in the same place, over the course of only a few hours.

Memory
Embedded within a simple frame are many stories, including that of Mrs. Zafra and her marriage of convenience to escape deportation, as well as the reminiscences of Alipio about his youthful adventures with his friend Carlito and his obviously happy marriage to his wife. It is largely through this technique of using memories related by the characters, rather than through anything Alipio does or says in the present, that the story creates empathy in the reader for its main character. Alipio’s conversation is ordinary, but his memories have power to charm—memories of how he and Carlito were young gallants who wowed the girls with their cooking or how Seniang used to wear his jacket and his slippers when he was at work because ‘‘you keep me warm all day.’’ These memories add richness and depth to the story and the characterization.

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Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1970s: According to the 1980 census, there are 774,652 Filipinos living in the United States. This constitutes 0.3 percent of the total population.

Today: According to the 2000 census, Filipino Americans number 1.9 million. This is up from 1.4 million in 1990. The largest Filipino population is in California, at 918,678. Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Washington also have substantial Filipino populations. In Washington, the number of Filipinos has increased by 50 percent since 1990.

1970s: Filipino immigration to the United States increases due to the Immigration Act of 1965, which loosened restrictions on immigration from Asia. Once in the country, Filipinos are allowed, like immigrants from other countries, to bring their immediate family to join them, subject to visa approvals.

Today: Since the 1970s, the time necessary for approval of a visa application for a brother or sister has grown much longer. The process can literally take decades. Some Filipinos who immigrated during the 1980s are, therefore, still waiting for the immigration of their families from the Philippines to the United States to be completed.

1970s: With Filipino American writers such as Santos and Linda Ty-Casper publishing their work in the United States, Filipino American writing begins to make its way into the mainstream of American literature.

Today: A new generation of Filipino...

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Review the characters of Alipio and Monica, and then write a brief sketch set one year after they have married that portrays their partnership. Are they both satisfied with the arrangement they made, or is one partner more satisfied than the other? Are there any tensions between them? This is a creative exercise, but try to base your sketch realistically on the characters as they appear in the story, taking into account their personalities and motivations.

Investigate the system that allows foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens by marrying a U.S. citizen. Do the arrangements made by the characters in ‘‘Immigration Blues’’ constitute an abuse of the system? Why or why not?

Should recent immigrants to the United States from Asia or anywhere else in the world make an effort to fit in with American culture, or should they focus on preserving their own cultural heritage? Explain your answer.

Research the war of 1898 to 1902 that established American rule in the Philippines. Why did the United States embark on this war? What were its goals, and how were they achieved? What have been the long-term consequences of the American colonization of the Philippines?

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What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Santos’s Dwell in the Wilderness: Selected Short Stories (1985) contains eighteen stories from the early part of Santos’s career. Written between 1930 and 1941, these stories are set in the rural towns and villages in the Philippines familiar to Santos in his youth and early manhood.

Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults (2003), edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, contains twenty-nine short stories, most of which have been written since the turn of the twenty- first century. The authors include those who live in the Philippines as well as American-born Filipinos. The stories reflect a wide range of issues that Filipino youth encounter.

Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Sources
Bernad, Miguel A., Bamboo and the Greenwood Tree: Essays on Filipino Literature in English, Bookmark, 1961, pp. 33–41.

Blau, Zena Smith, Aging in a Changing Society, 2d ed., Franklin Watts, 1981, p. 139.

Kim, Elaine H., ed., Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context, Temple University Press, 1982, pp. 265–72.

Kingston, Maxine Hong, ‘‘Precarious Lives,’’ in New York Times Book Review, May 4, 1980, pp. 15, 28–29.

Santos, Bienvenido, Memory’s Fictions: A Personal History, New Day Publishers, 1993, p. 252.

———, ‘‘Pilipino Old Timers: Fact and...

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