During the Fourth of July I try to recount some of the things that I love about this country. One of the things that I love about this country is the Filipino American writer and labor activist Carlos Bulosan and his book “America Is In The Heart”.
I discovered Bulosan’s book at a very important time in my life. My early childhood was spent in military bases, so I didn’t really interact with very many Filipino Americans. When my dad retired, and I attended high school, many Filipinos who had just arrived from the Philippines criticized me for not knowing Tagalog and not knowing the culture very well. It made me feel very insecure about myself.
All that changed at around 1985-1986. During that period, 3 things happened that really boosted my self esteem and my confidence in my cultural identity. My first girlfriend was Filipina American and she and her family liked me just as I was. At the same time, the newspapers were filled with news about the People Power Revolution against Ferdinand Marcos and I was filled with a great deal of pride about the people of the Philippines. And in my freshman year of college, I took a course in Asian American history and I was assigned Carlos Bulosan’s “America Is In The Heart”. Both the class and the book changed me.
Carlos Bulosan was a poet, novelist and labor organizer who came to America in 1930. Due to racism, Bulosan worked in many low paying jobs, traveling as an intinerant farmworker in California, working in the canneries of Alaska and dishwashing in hotels. While he recovered from tuberculosis in a hospital in Los Angeles, Bulosan began to read and write.
Like other social poets of the time like Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg, Bulosan used his poetry and novels to highlight the struggles of Filipinos and other people he had witnessed in his travels. Bulosan was active in the labor movement, helping to organize Filipino American into the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 37. Due to his leftist politics and his labor organizing, Bulosan was blacklisted in the 1950s and he died in poverty.
Reading “America Is In The Heart” gave me a pride in my identity as an American and my heritage as a Filipino. There is a scene in the show Game of Thrones where Theon Greyjoy tells Jon Snow that he always struggled with an impossible choice: is he a Greyjoy or is he a Stark? Jon Snow told Theon that he didn’t need to make a choice: he is both a Greyjoy and a Stark. “America Is In The Heart” gave me that same revelation.
Someday I hope to visit Carlos Bulosan’s tombstone in Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle.. I haven’t read “America Is In The Heart” in many years, so I plan on reading it again soon. Though Bulosan experienced many hardships, he still had fate in America’s democratic ideals. He fought for this country to bridge the gap between the American reality and America’s highest democratic ideals.
Here is a video where passages of “America Is In The Heart” is read by comedian Hasan Minhaj, community organizer Ivy Quicho, and writer Junot Díaz – and features footage from throughout the United States of some of the 45 million immigrants who have become Americans since the publishing of the book in 1946.
Here is the scene from Game of Thrones where Jon Snow forgives Theon Greyjoy and tells Theon that Theon doesn’t have to choose between being a Greyjoy or being a Stark- Theon can be both a Stark and a Greyjoy.
I feel the same pride about being a Filipino American. I’m proud of being an American. And I’m proud of being a Filipino.