Anyone who reads this book cannot come away unmoved–cannot come away unchanged–cannot come away unenlightened.
Carlos Bulosan was born in 1913 in Pangasinan, in Luzon, in the Philippines. He was the son of farmer.
The first few chapters of the book detail his life in the Phillippines, working on a farm, plowing with a carabao and struggling with his family to make a living. After a difficult childhood, he immigrated to the United States in 1930.
Mr. Bulosan tells of the struggles, prejudice and injustice suffered by he and other pinoys as they manage to eke out a living in their new country. Carlos worked in the fisheries in the Northwest for a time. He eventually wound up in California where he did migrant work for many years.
Few books detail the struggle of migrant workers and immigrants as well as this book. If you read The Grapes of Wrath-compound the situations, add a big helping of racism, changes the characters to brown and you might get close to the meat of the book.
This first hand account of the farm worker in California in the 30s and 40s is often brutal. It reminds the reader of recent events where the victim was too brown, too black, too poor or any of the above and in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Parallel to this struggle is the struggle of the Mexican-American. To the scholar and to those who lived the farm worker experience, the reading will make the similarities apparent. His participation in attempts to unionize the workers in that era is one example.
The book gives the reader a glimpse of the prejudice apparent during his era. Some stores in California, at the time, had signs that read, “Dogs and Filipinos not allowed.”
The book shows the ugly underbelly of America. Carlos suffered beatings, threats and ill health due mainly or in part to his struggle in labor. Yet, through the years, Mr. Bulosan maintained a strong love for America. In fact, the book ends with a statement that no one could destroy his faith in America.
For those interested in the history of the Asian-American experience, for those who want to understand the past and for those who just love a great book-American Is In The Heart is for them.
Gene Smith is a writer from West Virginia. He spent 20 years in the Navy where he experienced the association of many Filipinos, their stories and an occasional sign that read, “Sailors and Dogs Keep Off The Grass.”
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