Carlos Bulosan’s semi-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart narrates the evolution of the character of Carlos (nicknamed as Allos) in his journey to find ‘America.’ Bulosan’s search for the ever-elusive “American Dream,” is a common story for many Filipinos. Despite mostly being set in the United States, the novel reflects the Philippines’ history of thwarted dreams and disillusionment.
The book is divided into four major sections. The first section is his memories as a young boy in a province in the Philippines. He narrates his experiences of helping his father in the farm and his mother in selling dried fish to the townspeople. He discusses the many hardships that faced his family, especially in their frustrations to find enough money to send his brother Marcario to school. The second section starts off with the narrator’s arrival in America. It is in this section that we learn of his experiences of racism, oppression, and violence as a Filipino migrant in the States. The third section narrates the protagonist’s intellectual awakening and self-education caused by his infirmary in the hospital. The final section presents the transformation of the naïve young Allos into Carlos Bulosan, a man who rallies for the freedom and equality.
Allos, still a young boy in the Philippines, is aware of the nation’s social problems.
“…the Philippines was undergoing a radical social change; all over the archipelago the younger generation was stirring and adapting new attitudes. And although for years the agitation for national independence had been growing…For a time it seemed that the younger generation, influenced by false American ideals and modes of living, had become total strangers to the older generations…the young men were stirring and rebelling against their heritage.”
Even in the beginning of the book, the image of ‘America’ is one that stirs up complex messages.
Allos reveals the lack of freedom they had in their own land. The life of his family revolved around trying to make ends meet and the constant demands to meet the educational expenses of his brother, Marcario who represented the unfulfilled hope for the family. His father had sold the family farm, hectare by hectare in order to pay for the increasing demands of Marcario in his education. The family had come to place all their hope in him, issuing him [Marcario] as the “messiah” or hero of the family—believing that he would save them from their cyclical struggle of voiceless poverty. They were voiceless in the sense that they were from the province and were “native,” his father unable to fight for his land in the Pangasinan government where “..the wise men at the court spoke to him in Spanish and English.” His father had no power as he was unable to speak in the language of either colonial ruler. Marcario on the other hand, had come to understand his significance to his family, and was painted by Allos as exploiting his role by constantly demanding more and more from his father, until they had nothing left to give.
However, his brother was unable to “save” his family from their struggle, as he encountered problems with his female student. His brother, Marcario, thus came to represent the paralyzing predicament of the nation. The nation had come to place all their hope and faith on their colonial administrators, or at the very least the ideals propagated by the colonizers, which was to save the nation from their economic problems, ignorance, and uncivilized ways. This “blind faith” on Marcario as the family’s “Messiah” seems to reflect the nation’s seduction with the trust that America—both as a colonizer and as a geographical body—would deliver them from their “Otherness.”
Allos, as narrated by his older self, is still unaware of the realities of America, conscious only of the realities of the Philippines.
Thus, as Allos journeyed towards America in the hopes to ‘be saved’ from the inequalities he experienced in the Philippines. He believed that in his achievement of the ‘American Dream,’ he would one day return to save his family and share with them the abundance of wealth, freedom, and enlightenment that he believed was achievable in America.
As he arrives in the US, he is filled with an immense sense of hope and excitement in the attainment of a dream that he had long ago formulated as a young boy. Upon his entry into America, he comes to believe that it will not only fulfill the ‘promises’ of success for all those who venture to the ‘new world (i.e. America), but also continues to hold even more fruitful benefits that can be still be discovered.
“We arrived in Seattle on a June day. My first sight of the approaching land was an exhilarating experience. Everything seemed native and promising to me. It was like coming home to after a long voyage, although as yet I had no home in the city. Everything seemed familiar and kind–the white faces of the buildings melting in the soft afternoon sun, the gray contours of the surrounding valleys that seemed to vanish in the last periphery of light. With a sudden surge of joy, I knew that I must find a home in this new land.”
The arrival of Allos is reminiscent to the literature of the colonizers as they wrote about the excitement and wonder of the new lands and territories that they ‘discovered.’ However, this would not be the case for Allos who endures racism, poverty and loss in the so-called “land of milk and honey”.
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E. San Juan
Caroline S. Hau