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Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: Reconciling Postcolonial Conflict

America is in the Heart starts with Bulosan’s childhood and traces a hard immigrant knowledge defined by poverty, rootlessness and illness and culminates in a remaking of his self via writing. As Rajini Srikanth notes, the novel is “curiously marked by a faith and idealism in the possibilities of the United States even as it relentlessly exposes the grim existence of Filipino migrant workers in the country”(98). It is curious indeed, that Bulosan should finish his novel on an irrevocable note of faith as the novel is peppered with episodes of cruelty in America. His experiences in America are marked with ambivalence and rootlessness, traits that Paul White discovers is typical within migrant literature simply because “the act of migration usually relates to the calling into question of many of these elements of identity that make up the individual’s character and psychological self-image” (two). The novel distinctly occupies two spaces, the Philippines and America. Literacy and writing are important tropes that differentiate his experiential existence in those two spaces, and eventually permit him to recreate the vision of America that he is comfy with. Via writing, Bulosan negotiates a space for himself within the imagined binaries of colonizer and colonized.

The novel’s central difficulty is highlighted quickly when Allos finds himself standing among his brother Leon and his father, “my brother on my left, my father on my right”(21). This vision represents the dilemma that Allos faces as he struggles to reconcile his Filipino self with his desire to be an American. As he stands among Leon and his father, he recognizes a dichotomy that he is unable to bridge initially. The Old World represented by his father, is organically rooted in the earth. In the old world, Allos is an illiterate small boy who yearns to be educated and literate, vowing to turn into a writer so that he can exhume the ghosts of his fellow colonized subalterns, producing them “live once more in his words” (57). The New World is represented by Leon and his new-fangled manners as he adopts American etiquette because “he was getting educated in the American way” (20). Right here, I have to clarify that the new planet does not refer to America itself, but his concept of America when he was a little boy, as presented by Leon.

This dichotomous notion of the Philippines and America as colonized and colonizer is ultimately problematic due to the fact it traps Allos in an imaginary difference. This binary assumes America as superior, and it is on this premise that Allos travels to America. Allos first notices his distinction on board the ship to America when an American girl comments that “those monkeys” (99) need to be shipped back to the Philippines. His narrative requires on a quicker pace when he reaches America. He travels almost aimlessly, wandering from Seattle to Alaska to Sacramento to Stockton to Washington to San Jos? to California and so on. This is in stark contrast to his life in Mangusmana exactly where he describes with some melodrama that he was “leaving all of his childhood now” (30) when his father persuaded him to leave for the city. The individuals in this section of his life are virtually equally random. We meet Julio, Max, Marcelo, Conrado, Paulo, Claro, Nick, Alonzo, to name a handful of, some who do not have any substantial objective in his life. The lives of the Filipinos are also insignificant in America. They are gunned down mercilessly “for fun” (129) till the next Pinoy comes along. This seemingly quick pace and disregard for human life creates a feeling of alienation that a migrant culture faces when they are “confronted by an option ethnic awareness that labels and confines them to a stereotyped ‘otherness’ from which there seems little chance of escape” (White, three).

Faced with inhumanity, Carlos struggles to make sense of the violence and stereotypes imposed on him. He is right away introduced to the harsh realities of the remedy of migrants as he is ruthlessly milked for his worth by opportunists who sell them as low-cost labour to canneries and plantations, leaving them with a pittance following deducting “twenty-5 dollars for withdrawals, one hundred for board and room, twenty for bedding, and another twenty for some thing I do not now remember” (104). Confronted by “brutality he had not seen in the Philippines”, he remains resolute in not “completely succumbing to the degradation into which a lot of of his countrymen had fallen” (109). When he finds function with a big household, he learns that Filipinos like him had been stereotyped as “sex-crazy,” going “crazy when they see a white woman” (141). This episode is also considerable due to the fact she goes on to classify him with “niggers and Chinamen, with their opium” (141). This scene illustrates the othering that the dominant White imposes on their colonized subjects that accounts for the struggles that Carlos experiences.

The discouragement that he feels in America is projected onto the ethnic ladies, and he is disgusted with them as he sees the ideals of America in the White girls. The ethnic females are “careless” (150) with themselves. Most notably, we have the scene in the bunkhouse exactly where Carlos is “pinned down on the cot, face upward, even though Benigno hurriedly fumbled for his belt” since “a naked Mexican lady was waiting to get him” (159). We also have Myra, “a young Mexican girl who was often flirting with the other men” (149). The White females, on the other hand, are described with purity, the “onionlike whiteness of a white woman’s body” (141). Marian is another instance as she prostitutes herself for Carlos, at some point dying of syphilis (218). The classic instance, nevertheless, would possibly be Eileen Odell, exactly where he states that “she was undeniably the America I had wanted to find in those frantic days of fear and flight, in those acute hours of hunger and loneliness. This America was human, great, and real” (235). As Dolores de Manuel puts it, “American girls, in contrast, signify the goodness and purity of American ideals, offering friendship and acceptance to the oppressed” (40).

Robinson Crusoe is an critical figure in the novel that occupies both spaces. Carlos is 1st introduced to Robinson Crusoe by his brother Macario. Robinson Crusoe’s tale is basically one particular of an exile, and there are many parallels amongst Carlos’s life in America and Crusoe’s exiled life on the island. Macario’s guidance foreshadows Carlos’s life in America when he says that “Someday you might be left alone someplace in the globe and you will have to rely on your own ingenuity” (32). Carlos thinks of Robinson Crusoe again when he is symbolically exiled in the hospital. He information his “lostness” (252) and concludes that he is lonelier than Crusoe because he was “lonely amongst men” (252). Macario also straddles each spaces. In the Philippines, he was regarded as a robust wall, “protecting me from the attack of an unseen enemy” (21) even so in America, Carlos notes that “he spoke more quickly now. As I walked beside him, I felt that he was afraid I would learn some horror that was crushing his life” (130). These comparisons compound the rootlessness that Carlos faces in his search for identity in America.

It is in the midst of such confusion that he decides to create. As Oscar V. Campones claims, the Filipino novel is “a literature of exile and emergence rather than a literature of immigration and settlement” (51). I agree with him in this case due to the fact Carlos’s motivation for writing was driven by “loneliness” (289) in a land where he could not get acceptance, attempt as he might. Writing in English, the colonizer’s language is fundamentally akin to the empire striking back, though I will not delve into specificities of this term in this paper. Via writing, Carlos, confronts his struggles and offers with the troubles of his assimilation. He demonstrates the “exile’s need to retain cultural roots, whilst at the same time becoming drawn to the abandonment of ‘otherness’” (12). In the very first two parts of the novel, Allos wanders about, attempting to match into America. His disillusionment heightens when he finds out that Macario succumbed to Helen, a “professional agitator” (203) who disrupted their strikes. He describes his disappointment as “god of yesterday falling to pieces” (202). Nonetheless, this rootlessness slowly decreases by Part Three when he meets the Odell sisters and they acquaint him with writing. Via this act of writing, he “reinscribes himself within the new globe, not merely assimilating to their environment in America” (de Manuel, 39).

Writing offers a bridge for Carlos (who becomes Carl at this point) to return to his past and embrace what he had tried to shed in America while trying to assimilate. Carl starts embracing his past, most emblematically when he dreams of Binalonan, explaining that his father had “come back to me in a dream, since I had forgotten it” (283). Symbolically, Macario addresses him as Allos again (261) and they reunite with Amado. Carl also notices that there was “something urgent” in the friendship amongst Amado and his pals. He notes that “they developed a wall about themselves in their environment” as a defense against their environment (170). What this means is that there is solace in returning to the familiar and usefulness in keeping a bond with their origins and past as they break these ties by becoming assimilated into a new culture. It is for that reason very essential to note that in the final chapter, Allos/Carlos/Carl thinks of the “bells that had tolled in the church tower when I had left Binalonan” when he heard the bells in America. Via writing, he recognizes yet another vision of America that has place for him, one that creates “a fresh mode of relation toward their present and their past, a way of seeing themselves within the new order” (de Manuel, 39).

In my focus on the rootlessness of migrants as effectively as the value of writing, I have left out numerous crucial concepts and performs of authors pertaining to postcolonialism and Marxism that are equally essential in understanding this novel. In distinct, Edward Said’s discussion on binary oppositions and Frantz Fanon’s suggestions on the colonial complex would offer you other perspectives that give a more complete evaluation of Bulosan’s semi-autobiographical function. Bulosan’s novel launches us into a discussion of the struggles that migrants feel in their search of an identity. The displacement that they feel stems from stereotypes that the colonizers impose and trap them in. There is a continual anxiety that America would modify Carlos (126) and Carlos in turn notes that the individuals he knew in the Philippines have changed. Writing allows Bulosan to come to terms with himself as an exile. It is a remedy that nurtures him and “provides him with emotional and imaginative nurturing, and reconnects him with a required ground of his being” (de Manuel, 46). Noticed in this light, the overwhelming hopefulness that he ends the book on is not as strange since he has managed to reconcile his struggles. In a strikingly bildungsroman fashion, the initial dichotomy of the Philippines and America that Allos initially faces is reconciled most symbolically in the dream that is described by Campones as “the dream of return as formed from the site of departure that reflects back the thought of exile’s loss and gain” (67). Ultimately, Bulosan is in a position to finish on such a hopeful note due to the fact he has skilled so much much more than he would ever in the Philippines.

Operates Cited

Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart: A Private History. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1973.

Campones, Oscar V.. “Filipinos in the United States and Their Literature of Exile”. Reading the lIteratures of Asian America. Eds. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1992. 49-73.

de Manuel, Dolores. “Imagined Homecomings: Techniques for Reconnection in the Writing of Asian Exiles”. Concepts of Residence: Literature of Asian Migration. Ed. Geoffrey Kain. Michigan, Michigan State University Press, 1997. 39-47.

Srikanth, Rajini. “Unsettling Asian American Literature: When More than America is in the Heart”. Beyond the Borders:”American Literature and Post-Colonial theory”. Ed. Deborah L. Madsen. Michigan: Pluto Press, 2003. 92-110.

White, Paul. “Geography, Literature and Migration”. Writing Across Worlds: Literature and Migration. Eds. Russell King, John Connell and Paul White. London: Routledge, 1995. 1-19.
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