REVISITING CARLOS BULOSAN: Internationalizing the U.S. Multiethnic Canon
….. “Go out into the world and live, Allos. I will never see you again. But remember the song of our birds in the morning, the hills of home, the sound of our language.” What a beautiful thing to say to a young man going away! The sound of our language! It means my roots in this faraway soil; it means my only communication with the living and those who died without a gift of expression. My dear brother, I remember the song of the birds in the morning, the hills of home, the sound of the language…
When the Bush administration made the fateful decision in March 2003 to invade Iraq after its incursion into Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, 2001, the Philippines—its only colony in Asia for over a century—became the second battlefront in the global war against terrorism. U.S. “Special Troops” landed in the southern region of the country (Mindanao and Sulu) hunting for Al-Qaeda-linked Muslims called the “Abu Sayyaf.” Up to last year, 2006, which officially marks the centennial anniversary of the arrival in U.S. territory of the first 25 natives from its new colonial possession, U.S. troops were still actively intervening in what is basically an internal civil war in a neocolonial theater of conflict (San Juan 2007b; Aquino 2005). The current crisis in the Philippines characterized by unprecedented extrajudicial political killings and forced “disappearances” carried out by State agents backed by Washington/Pentagon thus cannot be understood without keeping in mind the continuing involvement of the former colonial power in the affairs of 89 million Filipinos, three million of whom have settled in the U.S. as part of the ten-million strong Filipino diaspora around the world.
The Philippines was acquired as one of the spoils (together with Puerto Rico and Cuba) of the Spanish-American War at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. One may speculate that the twenty-five dark-skinned “subalterns” (as trendy postcolonialist would now categorize them), first recruited by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, may have been veterans of the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, America’s “first Vietnam,” which killed more than 8,000 American soldiers and 1.4 million Filipinos (Schirmer and Shalom 1987, 19). Today, approximately three million Filipinos constitute the largest of the Asian American immigrant group originating from one nation-state, the Republic of the Philippines, which is also perhaps the biggest exporter of low-paid migrant contract workers (chiefly female domestics) to all the continents (Takaki 1989, 432; Beltran and Rodriguez 1996; San Juan 2007a).
Apart from the pioneering efforts of now forgotten chroniclers like Carey McWilliams and Emory Bogardus, only one Filipino among several thousands—Carlos Bulosan—succeeded in capturing in expressive form the ordeals and traumatic experiences of Filipino workers (called the “Manongs” in the West Coast and Hawaii) in the United States in the first half of the last century. This is itself a revealing symptom of the transition from classic colonial underdevelopment to neocolonial marginality. Although elevated to the status of a “politically correct” ethnic icon by the civil-rights struggles of the sixties and seventies, Bulosan’s position as an authoritative “spokesperson” of this expatriated, deracinated community—now mainly “middle-class” after the 1965 relaxation of immigration law–has always been precarious from the start, contingent on the vitality of the progressive social movements that inspired his own singular artistic development (Solberg 1991; San Juan 1995). Today, many doubt if Bulosan’s “message” is still relevant or meaningful for thousands of Filipinos working in the Las Vegas casinos or in the care-giver industry of Florida, California, and other states. With the decline of labor insurgency during the Cold War and the predominance of the neoconservative ethos of the last decades, we can now begin to take a critical, skeptical look at the way the formation of the academically sanctioned “Bulosan” may have contributed to the demobilization, if not defusing, of the radically subversive energies immanent in the subterranean folds of the author’s “unread” texts. Pluralist Eurocentric assimilationism begets its opposite: the quest for national localizing singularity as a stage in the process of regaining a destroyed historical specificity and universality (Lowy 1998). An attempt to internationalize—that is, re-situate in the context of U.S.-Philippines asymmetrical interstate dynamics–Bulosan’s genealogy as a producer of historically determinate texts might help us understand the nature of scholastic canon-making in the putative U.S. multicultural archive and hopefully recover its original democratizing, emancipatory impulse. This is an integral part of the project of national liberation of the oppressed and exploited Filipino masses in this post-9/11 era of corporate-directed globalization.
It will be fifty-one years since Carlos Bulosan died in Seattle, Washington, on September 11, 1956. But up to now we have not settled the real year of his birth, whether 1911, 1913 or 1914. Commentaries on his work abound, but a definitive reliable biography is still wanting; Susan Evangelista’s pioneering effort in this regard is valuable for suggesting what more needs to be done: a temporally differentiated remapping of Bulosan’s intellectual itinerary or genealogy. What is certain is that he has become canonized, his 1946 testimonio called American is in the Heart (AIH; originally titled “In Search of America”) celebrated as a classic ur-text of the Asian-American, more specifically, Filipino American experience. Because Bulosan is now required reading for thousands of college students and an icon for local folks, he is in danger of becoming an allergy or aversion. Like Jose Rizal, the national hero, Bulosan is in danger of becoming inutile, taken for granted, and museumified as a literary “high priest,”or monumental anito (ancestor). Which triggers the cynical quip: so what else is new?
First, a qualified mea culpa. In hindsight I am perhaps chiefly to blame for having started a trend when the University of the Philippines Press published in 1972 my Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle, the first book-length commentary on his major texts. Subsequently I edited the first anthology of his writings as a special issue of Amerasia Journal (May 1979) and also Bulosan’s only extant novel, The Power of the People (1977; originally titled The Cry and the Dedication, hereafter The Cry), which was issued by Tabloid Books in Ontario, Canada, and subsequently by National Bookstore in 1986. This was followed by a volume of unpublished stories, The Philippines Is in the Heart (published in 1978 in Quezon City, Philippines), most of which were excluded from The Laughter of My Father (hereafter The Laughter). By the time the next collection of his works–On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan (Temple University Press) came out in 1995, Bulosan was already a canonical author, included in Paul Lauter’s Heath Anthology of American Literature and in assorted readers. This sums up my complicity with the canonizing orthodoxy.
Whatever the claims of other impresarios, the real “angel” of Bulosan’s works is the late Dolores Feria, a life-long friend of Bulosan, to whom all of us owe a great debt. Aside from several insightful commentaries on Bulosan, Feria edited the indispensable selection of Bulosan’s letters, Sound of Falling Light (1960); her effort to publicize his works and call attention to the plight of Bulosan’s compatriots remains unacknowledged and in fact unconscionably forgotten. I should like to rectify here this “sin” of omission. Meanwhile, when the Filipino youth movement burst into the scene inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the late sixties and ripened into the anti-martial law movement from 1972 up to 1986, Bulosan’s AIH (reprinted in 1973 by the University of Washington Press) was already being quoted in Filipino community newspapers, programs, forums, and ethnic festivals. I understand that AIH has gone through 15 printings and is selling at least 4,000 copies every year. And yet, especially in the last two decades, I have found many Filipinos and Filipino Americans who have never heard of Bulosan nor read any of his now acclaimed works. It now seems a sign of idiosyncratic atavism or retrogression to be caught reading Bulosan in this “war-on-terrorism” epoch.
One truth cannot be doubted: the changes in the political and social milieu from the thirties to the fifties here and internationally, in particular the relations between the Philippines and the United States, will explain to a large extent the position, meaning, and significance of Bulosan’s writings—why they were forgotten immediately after coming out, why they were re-discovered and acquired new significance, and why they have become institutionalized and rendered safe. This is the task of a historical-materialist hermeneutics and epistemology. Lest I be charged for being guilty, or at least complicit, for the direction history is taking with regard to the unpredictable reception of Bulosan’s texts, and also in fear of repeating myself, I take this occasion to speculate on possible answers to these specific questions and by implication to the vicissitudes of the Filipino presence in the United States—only a part, of the ten-million strong Filipino diaspora around the planet. I undertake here a prolegomenon of transnational poetics between the hegemonic metropolis and the subalternized dependency.
I begin with actuality sutured to potentiality—to use Charles Sanders Peirce’s terminology (Merrelll 1997). On the 75th anniversary of his arrival in Seattle on July 22, 1930, a news report in the The News Tribune (Estrada 2005) juxtaposed two items that signify two themes often replicated in response to Bulosan’s life and work. First, a quotation from a letter dated April 27, 1941: “Yes, I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And the crime is that I am a Filipino in America” (1995, 173). And second, Bulosan’s essay about “Freedom from Want” published in the Saturday Evening Post (March 6, 1943) and displayed in a Federal Building in San Francisco. The lesson seems unambiguous: despite the suffering and disillusionment, Bulosan was a success story. He personified the platitudinous tale of the migrant quasi-sojourner/exile-become-famous public personality. However, there was an unexpected turn: we are told that “his star faded, he returned to Seattle to do organizing and publicity work for Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU).” So how the twist of the plot happened, what accident intervened in complicating the web of necessity, needs to be spelled out.
As in any news report, the gaps and lacunae shape the form and substance of what we read. What is puzzling to me is surely of interest to many: up to now, no one, least of all our highly credentialed ethnic-studies experts, seems to have asked the simple, obvious but seemingly intractable question: why and how did Bulosan become a writer, specifically the producer of such texts as The Laughter, AIH, stories such as “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow,” The Cry—(as for the recently found All the Conspirators, I am doubtful that this is a genuine Bulosan text, so discrepant is the style, tone and structuring of the materials). And, by extrapolation, of all the critical glosses and inquiries occasioned by Bulosan’s “name” as author of poems, essays, stories, novels, letters, and so on.
Allos (short for “Carlos”)—let us call him by the name of the protagonist in the sketch “Passage Into Life”–became a writer by accident, by force of circumstance and necessity. In the middle of AIH, after surviving blows of adversity fighting racist white men, Allos stops at a hotel in San Luis Obispo, California, and composes a letter to his brother Macario: “Then it came to me, like a revelation, that I could actually write understandable English. I was seized with happiness….When the long letter was finished, a letter which was actually a story of my life, I jumped to my feet and shouted through my tears: ‘They can’t silence me any more! I’ll tell the world what they have done to me!’” (180). Two motives are intertwined here: the need to communicate with kin, a part of the family, becomes also the means to break the silence of subalternity, to act and strike back. It is a mode of decolonizing body and psyche. Achieving solidarity, fraternal communication, is part of the process of liberating oneself from the necessity imposed by a complex conjuncture of political and economic forces, by the deterritorializing vectors of history. It embodies the dialectic of the personal and the collective, the punctual and the epochal. In short, Allos began writing as an act of rebellion against the condition he was born into, against the circumstances and exigencies he shared with others.
One cannot understand this encounter of forces by refusing to read the narrative of AIH integrally, in its composite whole. Most commentators of this synoptic life-history, disturbed by the masochistic irony of the narrator proclaiming faith in America while being beaten up and mutilated, focus on this dissonance and allied incongruities. They usually set aside Part I, chapters 1-12, unable to connect the colonial subordination of the peasant, the forcible maintenance of feudal/patriarchal despotism, with the landscape of isolation, violence, and solidarity leading to an affirmation of democratic ideals in the face of fascism and imperial aggression in the Philippines (San Juan 1996). This failure is a symptom of either academic ignorance, or, most likely, a cultivated blindness: ignorance of U.S. racial supremacy hidden behind American Exceptionalism, blindness to Filipino aspiration for freedom and national independence. This viewpoint detaches U.S. racialist expansionism from the colonial subjugation of Filipinos by the whole machinery of Anglo-Saxon white supremacy. The long and durable history of Filipino resistance to three hundred years of Spanish domination and then to U.S. aggression from 1899 to 1915, and thereafter—the Tayug uprising described by Allos is an insurrection against U.S. rule and its local agents, the quasi-feudal landlords—underwrites in a profound, intimate way the subterranean currents of revolt in Allos and his compatriots. These same currents motivated union organizing with the CIO in the mid-thirties, heightening the worldwide solidarity movement for Spanish republican forces combating fascism, and feeding the passionate drive to free the homeland from the savage terror of Japanese imperialism.
We can no longer shirk the imperative of an integrative or synthesizing mode of critical evaluation and ethical judgment. I hazard to state here that any scholarly comment on Bulosan, or any Filipino writer for that matter, that elides the enduring impact–the forcible subjugation and the resistance to it—of U.S. colonial domination of the Philippines is bound to be partial, inadequate, and ultimately useless. And so I am constantly surprised at the recurrent mistake of scholars equating the repressed “nationalism” of subordinated Filipino “wards” (voiced by the chief protagonist of AIH ) with American nationalism, or imperial chauvinism; these two are worlds apart. It seems an unforgivable error, at this late date, to confuse superpower nationalist jingoism with the “nationalist” impulses of the subjugated natives. Even though they throw around words like “capitalism” or “colonialism,” these latter-day cosmopolitanists cannot distinguish the disparity, nor really appreciate the flagrant parasitic relation, between colonial master and subjugated nationality. Of course, for hegemonic reasons, that is what we habitually get; and rare are the exceptions, depending on the climate of dissent and critical awareness of the systemic crisis we are all at present laboring under.
Allos’ plight was part of a collective predicament. All the known evidence indicates that Allos left the subjugated territory as part of the recruitment of Filipino labor for the sugar plantations of Hawaii and, later, for agribusiness in the West Coast and the Alaskan canneries. Most of those permitted “nationals” under indefinite tutelage, neither aliens nor citizens, were in search of an opportunity to work and earn enough to support themselves and help their parents, brothers and sisters back home. Although the “push” factor (to use the cliché of official discourse) was compelling, namely, the extreme poverty and brutalization of peasants in the administered possession (for a long time, the Philippines was under the Bureau of Insular Affairs), the “pull” factor that America was the land of promise, prosperity, and easy success exercised its seductive power on most natives, especially desperate peasants. This myth, of course, was exploded by the reality of experience and a belated “shock of recognition.”
And so it was neither personal ambition nor dire want that made Allos a writer. Rather, it was history and a body configured by the colonial milieu that converged to lead him by a circuitous or “rhizomatic” line of flight (to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term) to his peculiar vocation. Consider this history: his arrival in 1930 in the depths of the Great Depression, when 13 million people were out of work, with thousands of homeless workers and their families foraging in garbage for food. This was punctuated by the brutal Watsonville anti-Filipino riot of January 19-22, 1930, when “Flips” were beaten up and driven out of town (Bogardus 1976). It was the climax of years of racist scapegoating and vigilante atrocities against immigrant and colonized minorities. Exposure to these incidents quickly dissolved all youthful illusions in Allos whose search for his brothers in order to reconstitute the semblance of family life gave a stabilizing purpose to his nomadic existence. Consider next the breakdown of the body: in 1936 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent two years at the Los Angeles County Hospital. He had several lung operations, lost the ribs on his right side—later, in the fifties, a cancerous kidney had to be removed. It was this physical infirmity that prevented Allos from fulltime continuous work in the fields thereafter; his period of convalescence (for two years, at least) allowed him to read and educate himself, thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, but more to the love of two sisters, the socialist writer Sanora Babb and her indefatigable sister, Dorothy Babb (Alice and Eileen Odell, in AIH). This was a fortuitous encounter, equivalent to Allos’ friendship with Josephine Patrick when he moved to Seattle, Washington, in the fifties. Deterritorialized and dispossessed, the uprooted native tried to reconstitute home and family in the network of communing minds, interethnic praxis, and collaborating affections.
To be sure, Allos did not journey to the U.S. to “complete his education and become a writer” (Campomanes 113), nor even to support his parents financially. He could not do it. That might have been the result of a felicitous conjunction of multiple causes. It was mainly the friendship of the Babb sisters that functioned as the enabling condition for Allos becoming a writer with a radical, progressive orientation. The cultural-political setting of Los Angeles reinforced the personal liaison between Allos and the Babb sisters, especially Dorothy (Feria 1957), as well as with other intellectual fellow-travellers. We do not know exactly when this friendship with the sisters began, but I surmise that he made their acquaintance when he moved within the circle of left-wing CIO labor organizers, as well as Communist Party writers and cinema cultural producers, in Los Angeles between 1930 and 1936. Allos’ contact with dissident intellectuals like Carey McWilliams, John Fante and Louis Adamic, together with his involvement in the nationwide American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign-Born, a popular front organization campaigning for US citizenship for Filipinos, eased his way into the sites of East Coast publications like New Yorker, Town & Country, Harper’s Bazaar, aside from leftist periodicals like The Masses and so on. In addition, Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry magazine, may have inspired Allos to produce eventually Letter from America (1942), Chorus from America (1942) and Voice of Bataan (1943).
We learn that in the summer of 1934 Allos was involved in the Filipino Labor Union strikes in Salinas, El Centro, Vacaville, and Lompoc. Collaborating with Chris Mensalvas, the legendary organizer who arrived in the US in 1927, Allos and Mensalvas edited a short-lived proletarian literary magazine, The New Tide, which would “interpret the struggles and aspirations of the workers, the fight of sincere intellectuals against fascism and racial oppression in concrete national terms” (Bulosan 1973, 199). Affiliated with Mensalvas, Allos participated in the unprecedented Stockton strike in 1949-50, as well as in the activities of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) and the Committee for the Protection of Filipino rights. Anchored to these collective struggles, the Bulosan Imaginary acquired “a local habitation and a name.”
We can cite Filipinos who resembled Allos but whose lives followed a different trajectory. Other possible extrapolations of his life can be drawn. If Allos did not enjoy the nurturing friendship of Dorothy Babb and was healthier, he could have pursued the path of Chris Mensalvas and become a charismatic union organizer. If he attempted to get a college degree and devote himself to support his family back home and also enter the pettybourgeois circle of Filipinos in Chicago, as did Philip Vera Cruz, he probably would not have written AIH, The Laughter, The Cry, and other artistic works whose frame of intelligibility springs from the transcendence of kinship/blood filiation by the exercise of a popular-democratic will to emancipate the colony. Both Mensalvas and Vera Cruz, of course, carved out their own distinguished niches in the history of Filipinos and the multiethnic proletariat in the U.S. Both are Filipinos with singular vocations, but they did not write AIH, The Laughter, nor The Cry.
Summing up, then, Allos became a writer not through any single act of choice, as may be illustrated in certain episodes of AIH. Rather, it came about through his being inscribed within what (to use Fredrick Engels’ term) a “parallelogram” or constellation of forces: the physical dis-location of Allos from colonial Pangasinan, Philippines, to the metropole’s West Coast; his initiation into the labor-capital arena of conflict (initially through his brothers, but more effectively through Mensalvas) and, eventually, into the intellectual-cultural milieu of Popular Front politics (through the Babb sisters); the breakdown of his health as a result of years of malnutrition and neglect that he shared with the Filipino peasant/working class; and so on. In effect, the historical process of U.S. colonial domination of a people with a vital revolutionary tradition and the emerging resistance of citizens and ethnic workers in the metropolitan center made Allos the kind of writer that he was in that particular and unrepeatable conjuncture of the Thirties Depression, leftist resurgence, united front internationalism during World War II, the Huk rebellion, and the McCarthy period of the Cold War in the last century. In brief, he was not a hybrid but an organic product both of his times and his creative interventions.
Does this mean Allos had no agency, nor freedom of choice? On the contrary. The paradoxical truth stems from the proposition that the individual is really defined by the totality of social relations in which she/he operates. Thus Allos’ personal decisions acquired value, meaning, and efficacy in consonance with the play of those historical forces that I have enumerated, in particular the political and cultural pressures and tendencies symbolized by organizations, discourses, and institutional figures which allowed Allos’ contribution to register its distinctive signature. The dialectical principle of self-transformation sprung from the unity of opposites (the fusion of chance and necessity) explains Allos’ singular evolution as a Filipino bachelor, artist, racialized scapegoat, union militant, and socialist intellectual. No individual makes history alone, it goes without saying, except as a part of the contradictory social groups and forces of “elective affinities” that constitute the map of humankind’s struggle for freedom against natural and man-made necessity. This explains Allos’ continuing relevance.
Alone among contemporary Anglo Americanists, Michael Denning, in his wide-ranging The Cultural Front, deploys a historical-materialist analytic to chart and assay the exact placing of Allos’ AIH in the precarious, ever-shifting field of hegemonic contestation. Denning’s genealogy of literary forms is highly instructive; however, he has needlessly limited himself by concentrating on AIH to the neglect of Bulosan’s other writings. In this he shares the prevailing tendency of current scholarship to virtually equate AIH with all of Bulosan and thus prejudice any larger, more informed aesthetic or moral judgment. No wonder young Pinays sometimes say that Bulosan is passé, obsolete; that he no longer speaks to the hip-hop, rapping gangs in Daly City. Manhattan, or elsewhere. He no longer speaks to the volatile and ludic desire of Pinays dreaming of becoming postmodern babaylans. Everyone knows that the few surviving “Manongs” are today an object of sanctimonious nostalgia, or exoticizing charity. Even before Vera Cruz’s resignation from the Mexican-dominated United Farmworkers of America, Filipinos have already moved from the farms to service and care industries, some to professional-managerial occupations, a few to bureaucratic niches. Some have been deported as suspected terrorists (Beltran 2004); others as victims of the USA Patriot Act (witness the fate of the Cuevas family of Fremont, California) and the racialized war of the “civilized” on fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.
We need a renewal of critical practice to address the changes bifurcating Allos’ time and the present. The obsession with the melodramatic aporias and the populist Americanism of AIH needs to be rectified; the clichés and banalities are accumulating. In this light, I submit that the entire body of Bulosan criticism needs to be “decentered” if we are to free ourselves from stifling scholastic orthodoxies and “model-minority” pieties. Official protocols, concepts, and tropes need to be re-assessed and altered. There are various strategies for renewing our critical spirits; my suggestion is only one among many. What would our assessment look like if we took The Cry as the pivotal center of the still evolving Bulosan corpus, or The Laughter as the organon of interpretive strategies, or even the short fiction and letters as providing the foundational criteria of judgment? Or even the allegorical fables and pedagogical instruments such as “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” “Story of a Letter,” or “Homecoming,” and the substantial number of stories gathered in The Philippines Is in the Heart? We could try this experiment of paradigm-shifting and pedagogical make-over. I am quite sure we will wake up from our dogmatic slumber and breathe anew redemptive winds from a newly discovered horizon of thought and moral economy of feeling, action and hope.
We can learn much from Denning’s historical triangulation of the “sentimental education” of the writer caught between the old world of tribal jealousies and the new world of international solidarity against fascism. This is, indeed, a genuinely internationalist mode of transcultural inventory. AIH certainly makes sense as a typical Popular Front expression with a “sentimental, populist, and humanist nationalism” that is qualified by its ethnic particularity, manifesting generic affinities with Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory and Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy. But is it valid to consider the Manongs as immigrants similar to the Irish, Italians and so on? In becoming a positive image, the power of the Negative has been annulled. Denning’s Popular-Front optic assuredly invests AIH with larger political resonance. But its fixation on the inadequate immigrant paradigm prevents a grasp of the subversive impulses born from the condition of exile and colonial state-lessness, emancipatory impulses which transgress the vertigo-inducing play of differences in their drive for contacts, linkages, affiliations and connections. This is a recurrent mistake of numerous ethnic-studies scholars.
AIH’s narrative’s political vision, Denning suggests, is “embodied in the figure of the itinerant organizer” (1997, 276-77). Let us review the background of this mediating figure. The Filipino worker in the U.S. up to 1934 was considered a “national,” a nomadic subaltern without citizenship rights, almost a refugee. We need to emphasize that between the defeat of the Aguinaldo Republic (1901) and the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth (1935), Filipinos in the U.S. were, strictly speaking, not immigrants but exiles, deracinated subjects, displaced colonials, sojourners not settlers. Their textbook label was “colonial wards.” Their quasi-national sovereignty was wrested from them by U.S. military-economic aggression and territorial annexation. About 1.4 million Filipinos died in this extension of messianic “Manifest Destiny” through President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation.” This is a requisite, even ineluctable, distinction. After 1935, they became full-fledged aliens and were subject to repatriation or deportation (McWilliams 1997); immigration from the Philippines was restricted to fifty persons annually (Takaki 1989). These are the historical parameters for Filipino subject-position or citizenship identification in the decades between colonial annexation in 1898 and formal independence of the country in 1946.
What is the consequence? Failure to recognize the colonial relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. (and the neocolonial tie-up after 1946) and the racial-national subordination of Filipinos leads to marginalizing the first part of AIH, that is, the democratic struggle of peasants against feudal exploitation, and the nationalist demand of the popular masses for sovereignty and the right of self-determination (Chung 1996). This is what a U.S.-centered, liberal framework expunges from sight: the national-popular vision that informs Allos’ work, given that the Filipino proletariat still remains inchoate, without national cohesion or autonomy, unable to realize its ethicopolitical hegemony in a specific social formation. The problem is not one of representation, but one of presentation, of re-cognition and respect for individual Filipino worth affiliated to a sovereign collectivity. Dispossessed and dispersed, Filipinos (from Allos’ time to the present) is still in the process of becoming—in search of a true sovereign homeland.
There is no denying that Allos was a product of his time and place. Critics have charged him for the sexism of his fictional characters (Lee 1999; Koshy 2004). Yet it is imperative to make the elementary discrimination between Allos the author and the fictional construct, the “Allos” of AIH, who, as everyone knows, is a composite portrait of numerous Filipinos who embody varying attitudes, thoughts, patterns of behavior, etc. Unless proof is offered, it is wise not to fuse the narrative persona, the invented character, with the author. Trust the tale, not the author, D.H. Lawrence counseled his readers. Allos, unfortunately, did not always anticipate this possible confusion and its damaging consequences.
Is sexism found in the characters’ actions and thoughts? Of course. But the heterosexism and the homosociality discerned in the narrative needs to be plausibly grounded in their concrete historical environment, just as the close fraternal intimacy of African slaves in the Southern plantations, or of colonized subjects in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or Cuba, needs to be inscribed in situations of extreme deprivation. While it is true that in Allos’ time, what Koshy calls “commodification of desire” has become the regulatory principle of capitalism, it is necessary to pay close attention to the tributary or feudal social entanglements in the Philippines and the distortion or exacerbation of these feudal bonds by the colonial U.S. regime. Sexuality of the Filipino colonial subject is much more complex because of the mixture of several modes of production and their manifold layering in the fractured social formation. Clearly, the historically-derived category of “biopower” and corollary notions appropriate for developed industrial capitalism cannot be superimposed on a backward, uneven, feudal/comprador setting. Capitalist biopower by definition can not function at all inserted into a tributary kin-centered social order complicated with archaic survivals incorporated in a distorted Christian bureaucratic setup. It is a serious failure of judgment to impose the capitalist binary male/female sexuality on an archaic, feudal formation such as the U.S.-dominated Philippines then and now.
What postmodernist critics privilege as the valorization of semiotic differences turns out, ironically, to be a mandate for monolithic vision and straight-jacket pronouncements. This mandate is often announced in a theater of consumption where hedonistic lifestyle and consumerist pleasure conceals the labor that produces the occasions and means of pleasure. Allos’ predicament lies not chiefly in his perverted sexuality, but in the control of his labor-power (organically tied to the dynamics of his psyche and bodily functions) by the colonial bureaucracy and later by U.S. monopoly capital. Representations of intimacy, affect, libidinal fantasies, and so on, cannot be properly assessed unless the mechanisms of reification that sustain the imperialist order are clarified; but they cannot be clarified if the concept of class and the exploitation of labor are dismissed or marginalized as useless in discussing sexuality, difference, etc., because “class” is allegedly totalizing or homogenizing. Instead of “class,” an abstract conception of particularity or singularity operates in its place which prevents the understanding and appreciation of Allos’ perennial search for community, the “concrete universal” of social justice and national-popular sovereignty.
In contrast to mainstream prejudice, I would argue the unorthodox position. What AIH foregrounds, after muddling through undecidables and disorienting indeterminacies fostered by a system in which “all that is solid melts into air” (as Marx lauded capitalism), is the centrality of class as a social category which Filipinos and other oppressed groups can use to understand how they can transform their condition decisively. The notion of class exploitation is more decisive than race or sexuality because it challenges directly the power of capital. Without a change in the mode of production, no significant change in social relations, including practices of sexuality and ethnic interactions, can be realized. Engagement with social class (not to be construed in terms of income or status), including the colonial condition of the Filipino workers and peasants condemned to labor in occupied territory, leads us directly to confront the processes of material production and the unequal division of labor, the sociohistorical reality to which the oppressive hierarchies of gender, race and sexual preference are anchored and legitimized, made normal and common-sensical. Bulosan concurs with this stance in his conception of the writer as citizen and worker, eloquently inscribed, for example, in a letter of January 17, 1955 published as “The writer as worker” (Midweek 27 July 1988) as well as in his programmatic autobiographical sketch in the standard reference work, Twentieth Century Authors.
This is not to privilege the past, or glorify descent, lineage, ancestral origin. Because Filipinos are united in their shared condition of being colonized, and in the process racialized and inferiorized across the public/private divide, the key to their liberation is the destruction of the colonizing system, its institutions and practices, which still prevail in deiverse altered forms. This is the goal of the project of “becoming Filipino” in AIH, since—amid the ruins of the homeland and the barbaric reign of white supremacy in the metropole—the chief basis on which Filipinos can unite, given the multiplicity of their languages and ethnic differences, is the political project of national self-determination, the collective project of popular, democratic sovereignty. This project (practiced, for example, by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army) has been stigmatized and denounced today by the high priests of the globalizing power bloc as “terrorist.”
We are Filipinos not so much because of ethnic markers, common origin, or shared memories—they do play their integral part—but primarily because of being united in a political project: that of liberating the Philippines (in its geographical locus and in the diaspora) from class inequality and national bondage. A redeemed future, what Ernst Bloch (1970) calls the reality of the “not-yet,” does not exist separate from the actual movement of our minds and bodies. Allos tried to assay in the motion of events the shape of an emerging future. This is the project of actualizing a “concrete universal” in which particulars find their effective place within a determinate and differentiated totality. Frankly I do not think that postmodernist critics, trapped in the fetishism of hybridity, infinite substitution of signs in a “third space,” hyper-real simulations, and other “morbid symptoms” (to use Gramsci’s phrase) of reification, can really grasp and appreciate the value of this project as a “concrete universal,” a totality that embraces multiplicity and individuality in a way that can only be posited by the mystified Allos as “America,” with all its unfortunate essentializing, pejoratively utopian connotations.
This leads me to the task I mentioned earlier, that of shifting the center of gravity, the Archimedean point of critique, to the post-WW II period of Allos’ career, from 1946 to 11 September 1956, our 9/11 benchmark. This is an attempt to define what Felix Guattari calls “a transversalist conception of subjectivity” conceived as a collective “assemblage” of enunciations (4, 127). Let us review the historical-empirical coordinates of this career that would constitute the field of conditions from which certain inferences about the temper of his life and the qualities of his art can be drawn:
(1) GESTATION: from 1911 to 1930, the period of youth and adolescence, coinciding with the pacification of the islands; the massacre of recalcitrant Moros (inhabitants of Islamic faith); the passage of the Jones Law in 1916 (following the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act) which imposed “free trade” and confined the Philippines to feudal-agricultural status.
(2) EMERGENCE: from 1930 to 1946, the period of apprenticeship and maturity, ushering Allos into the Depression metropole; a series of anti-Filipino riots; the June 1932 “Bonus March” in Washington DC; the passage of the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act and the 10-year Commonwealth interregnum which installed neocolonialism; CIO organizing (1934-37) and the July 1934 General Strike in San Francisco; World War II, the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, and the return of Gen. Douglas McArthur. This period also saw the beginning of the New Deal in 1933 with F.D. Roosevelt’s administration, and the publication of key modernist works by Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, and William Carlos Williams, as well as Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. From 1938 (when he was released from the hospital) to 1941, Allos reached the point of disenchantment and rupture; he confessed in his autobiographical testament that “it took me another five years before I was able to put my grand dream on paper in a literate form” (1995, 216).
(3) BREAKTHROUGH: from 1946 to 1956, Allos’ return to labor-union activism as editor of the ILWU 1952 Yearbook. He was invited to undertake this editorial job in 1950 by his old friend Chris Mensalvas who was president of ILWU, Local 37, the Filipino cannery workers’ union, from 1949 to 1959. FBI surveillance of Allos, dormant since his days with the leftist Hollywood circle, heated up during the attempt to deport Mensalvas and Ernesto Mangaoang, ILWU official, branded as “communists.” The year 1948 may be a pivotal year for Allos, as intimated by two letters where the theme of individual sacrifice for the good of the community is an obsessive leitmotif: one where he wrote to his nephew Arthur the following lines: “”Every man dreams to make something of himself, but sometimes he gives up these dreams for others. And that is the greatest decision of all for a man to make” ; and another letter to his nephew Fred where he urges Fred to apply his intellectual gifts “toward the safeguarding of our great heritage, the grandeur of our history, the realization of our great men’s dream for a free and good Philippines. That is real genius; it is not selfish; it sacrifices itself for a free and good Philippines” (Campomanes and Gernes 33, 36).
While the Philippines was granted formal independence in 1946, it remained economically, politically, and militarily dependent on Washington through the infamous “parity” amendment to the Philippine Constitution; the Huks (“Huk” is the acronym for “Army Against the Japanese”), organized in 1942 to fight the Japanese occupiers, was declared illegal in 1948; its leftist representatives were ousted from the Philippine Congress in 1946. Gradually the Huk rebellion declined beginning in 1951 with the arrest of many nationalists, including the poet and trade unionist Amado V. Hernandez (whose arrest Bulosan denounced in the 1951 ILWU Yearbook). The key document for this period is Bulosan’s article, “Terrorism Rides the Philippines,” deeply prophetic in this period when State terrorism (implemented by President Macapagal-Arroyo backed by Washington/Pentagon) is inflicting havoc and untold suffering. When Bulosan died, fascist repression eased the way for the signing of the U.S.-Mutual Defense Treaty; the replacement of the Bell Trade Act with the Laurel-Langley Agreement reinforcing Philippine dependency; the U.S. National Security Council authorized expenditures to suppress the Huk insurgency. This period of the Cold War includes the Taft-Hartley Act restricting trade union power, the Korean War, McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade, the advent of mass television, and major works by Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, J.D. Salinger, and James Baldwin.
The above parameters are pedagogical indicators or guides for further biographical and sociocultural investigations. They are not meant to replace analytic inquiries of specific texts or of sequences of expressive practices alongside, or coeval with, the written word. Within this synchronic and diachronic field of conditions, we can infer the mediating factors of culture and nature that would allow us to elucidate the complex interactions between the individual and his world. I propose that this schematic periodizing of Allos’ itinerary as an exiled native endeavoring some kind of “homecoming” be considered as a heuristic point of departure for the project of decentering the multiethnic archive and a metropole-centered, hegemonic criticism. In the process, it might also serve to renew the submerged liberatory energies of Bulosan’s works for the next generation of Filipino-Americans (not all of whom, I trust, will be sucked into the abyss of cyberinformation and commodified simulacra) in what is now a planetary diaspora of ten million overseas kababayan. This will also be a means of foregrounding the theme of exile and return that underlies, and to some extent, makes coherent the fragmentary, unravelled strands of Allos’ life.
During this last decade of his life, Allos wrote The Cry as well as numerous essays, poems, and still unpublished stories and articles. Notable is an unsigned protest (already noted earlier) against McCarthyite repression in the Philippines entitled “Terrorism Rides the Philippines” in the 1951 ILWU [International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union] Yearbook. The value of this essay cannot be over-emphasized. It shows Allos in the thick of the motion of events, the “not-yet” moving to the “concrete universal.” Contrary to the rumor, Allos did not lapse into despair despite being blacklisted, ostracized from Establishment media, reviled and calumniated by reactionary Filipino journalists. Apart from the ILWU, he affiliated with the progressive group surrounding Josephine Patrick, his comrade in Seattle, who was active in the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign-Born and in the Communist Party USA with its Popular Front program. At this time, together with novelist Howard Fast and Black educator W.E.B. Du Bois, Allos supported an effort to publish the autobiography of Luis Taruc, one of the leaders of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines (De Leon 1999). Taruc’s Born of the People (actually authored by William J. Pomeroy), was published in 1953 by International Publishers in New York (Pomeroy 1992).
A catalyzing encounter of visions and sensibilities occurred at this point in history. I suggest that it is Allos’ acquaintance with the poet-unionist Amado V. Hernandez’s work and encounter with Taruc’s biography that afforded the condition of possibility for the construction of what can be called “national allegory” (to use Fredric Jameson’s controversial notion), by no means a photographic documentary or “realistic” description of the Huk insurgency in the Philippines. (Bulosan never became a U.S. citizen and never visited the Philippines.) Now a cursory examination of the essay, “Terrorism Rides the Philippines,” together with selected letters to friends during this period, will easily demonstrate Allos’ sufficient understanding of the political, cultural and economic situation in the Philippines. He followed events closely, tracking the nuances and innuendoes in the news reports and communication from friends. But he was more interested in how his situation was refracted and elaborated by events happening in the Philippines, how he could make sense of his life in relation to the situation of his compatriots, than in compiling raw facts and and inventorying incidents for their own sake.
The Cry invents an example of an exceptional genre called “minor literature” by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1986). Like AIH, it is not the stereotypical autobiography of the individual hero confronting the problems of a “godless” cosmos, nor a psychological novel in the manner of Dostoevsky or Faulkner, but a synthesis of typical individuals and representative situations. The Cry does not claim by any means to simply document experience because “it was there.” That notion is at best a “mimetic fallacy,” at worst just a mistaken view of the concept of realism. Realism—specifically, a critical one where verisimilitude functions to render the determinately typical, not the statistical average (Lukacs 1972)– is not a mechanical reproduction of sensory data, or unmediated transcript of impressions; rather, it is a sophisticated aesthetic convention with a code of rules and protocols. It is ludicrous to oppose imagination to experience (Del Rosario 1995, 4; see also Teodoro 1985) since the raw materials of experience are already mediated through the imagination, through the transfiguring aesthetics of novelistic invention. A “minor” literature seeks to fulfill the responsibility to the Other, the Other here conceived as the realm of possibilities, as the negative Alterity that interrogates the Modernity inaugurated by Hobbesian individualism and Lockean liberalism—to use Enrique Dussel’s (2007)articulation of the difference.
This is the moment to return to my thesis whose import may now be obvious but still needs specification: Allos’ body of writing cannot be fully understood and appreciated without respecting his ethico-artistic motivations (which may or may not be realized in practice) and its ideological, philosophical grounding. This can be found, among other texts, in “The Writer as Worker” (noted earlier), or in the letters where axiomatic principles and thought-experiments may be found. In one letter dated April 8, 1955, Allos reflects on his own work:
My politico-economic ideas are embodied in all my writings, but more concretely in my poetry. Here let me remind you that The Laughter is not humor: it is satire; it is indictment against an economic system that stifled the growth of the primitive, making him decadent overnight without passing through the various stages of growth and decay. The hidden bitterness in this book is so pronounced in another series of short stories [now collected in The Philippines Is in the Heart], that the publishers refrained from publishing it for the time being….(1995, 184).
Allos is more teleological and reflexive in the 1955 autobiographical sketch for Twentieth Century Authors. Notice that after recounting his life-history, the “voyage in and out,” he returns to the traumatic moment of illness—his first one in 1936-38 precipitated the discovery of his artistic vocation, as I have described earlier—against the background of a seemingly irretrievable past, a loss that cannot be healed by elegiac reiteration and memorializing prayer, against which the compulsion to launch forward erupts in this agonistic, prophetic confession of faith:
I am sick again. I know I will be here (Firland Sanitarium, Seattle, Washington) for a long time. And the grass hut where I was born is gone, and the village of Mangusmana is gone, and my father and his one hectare of land are gone, too. And the palm-leaf house in Binalonan is gone, and two brothers and a sister are gone forever.
But what does it matter to me? The question is—what impelled me to write?
The answer is—my grand dream of equality among men and freedom for all. To give a literate voice to the voiceless one hundred thousand Filipinos in the United States, Hawaii, and Alaska. Above all and ultimately, to translate the desires and aspirations of the whole Filipino people in the Philippines and abroad in terms relevant to contemporary history.
Yes, I have taken unto myself this sole responsibility. (1995, 216)
This vow reiterates the one made in AIH as he recalls the Tayug peasant uprising near his hometown: to “give significance to all that was starved and thwarted in my life” (1973, 62), the kernel of the life-long project for which he became a writer, not just any writer but an “organic intellectual” of the Filipino masses (San Juan 2000). Because of this over-riding commitment, Allos’ portrayal of all “the wretched of the earth” departed from the code of classic realism and adopted a more tendentious cast, a Brechtian teaching/learning rationale aimed at “conscienticization.” This defines more precisely the allegorical/didactic style and dialogic norm of his texts, qualities that display affinities with the “rhizomatic” poetics of Kafka and other decolonizing “third world” writers. Indeed, Allos’ texts show characteristics of “minor” (employed in a special sense) writing formulated by Deleuze and Guattari–“deterritorialization of language, the connection of the individual to a political immediacy, and the collective assemblage of enunciation” (1986, 18)—aspects of which I have touched on here and elsewhere.
There is, to be sure, nothing minor in Allos’ intervention in counter-hegemonic revolutions. When Allos’ novel first appeared in the Philippines as The Power of the People just after the February 1986 “People Power” revolt, I argued that the work can be viewed as a kind of “national allegory” in the sense that the Chinese Lu Hsun’s or the Senegalese Ousmane Sembene’s works functioned as polysemic indices and symbolic fables of their distinctive social formations. It addressed in an oblique way the crisis of that specific conjuncture in U.S.-Philippines history, the persecution of Filipino militants Mensalvas and Mangaong figuring as a synecdoche of the repression of the Huks by the Magsaysay puppet regime in the Philippines (De Vera 1994).
Uncannily, the Huk uprising brought back images of the Tayug insurrection—an image compulsively repeated in national-democratic narrativization of Philippine history. This episode spanned the early years of the Cold War era prior to the explosion of the Civil Rights struggles in the sixties and the resurgence of “third world” liberation movements from Algeria and Cuba to Vietnam and Nicaragua. The threat of deportation for Filipino activists (recall the earlier fates of Pedro Calosa and Pablo Manlapit) foreclosed Allos’ dream of returning to the land of his birth. He never applied for U.S. citizenship (Guyotte 1997), fearing perhaps that he would be turned down since the FBI had already been on his trail since his days with the Hollywood prime suspects (one wonders if he ever met Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, or Thomas Mann, all exiles from Nazi Germany, in Los Angeles). In any case, for Allos (circa 1955), the stakes were no longer the urge to belong to a utopian “America” or return to a pastoral refuge in Pangasinan; it was now writing “for or against war, for or against life” (1995, 184). In doing so, he reclaimed for the Filipino diaspora the proletarian incarnation of a critical universality first fully announced in Marx and Engels’ 1848 Communist Manifesto.
Can we not consider The Cry as a sublimated sequel to AIH? Again, from a dialectical viewpoint, there was negation and affirmation across the terrain of thought and lived experience. Clearly the search for community across race, gender and class persisted, but sublated into another level: now, the guerilla contingent becomes the site of the unfolding of a concrete and critical universal, the unwinding of a unity of opposites, the stratified totality of a nation in the process of becoming. It was an allegory of the people’s self-movement, a spontaneous but also necessary internal self-transformation, with all the inconsistencies, excesses, and contradictions that characterize such beginnings in history. It could not be just a repetition of the Manongs driven by an alienated and alienating environment until the war against fascist capital unites everyone. His letters to Dorothy Babb (the person most intimately attached to Allos) from 1937 to 1942 closes that period of beleaguered self-examination and familial anxieties. Allos’ tried-and-tested sensibility had to wrestle with the new forms of barbarism, including the vagaries of self-indulgent petty-bourgeois desire, and explore new forms of popular resistance and class-sectoral alliance.
A historic rupture occurred in Allos’ journey, as well as in the itinerary of the Filipino community in the U.S., marked by the Huk insurrection from 1946 to 1952. It was heightened by the anti-communist panic surrounding the Korean War and the confrontation with Communist China. Allos’ possible meeting with Amado V. Hernandez may have re-kindled memories of his impassioned solidarity with the Spanish Republican forces expressed in poems like “Biography Between Wars,” “Meeting with a Discoverer,” and others. One letter confessed his “secret dream of writing here [in the U.S.] a 1,500 page novel covering thirty-five years of Philippine history,” with the fourth one covering 1951-1961, which I consider will be a great crisis in Philippine history” (1995, 180). This “crisis” was fully dramatized in the bloody sacrificial encounters of the insurgents in The Cry.
Allos would not traverse that ten-year crucial passage, uncannily prophesied in November 1949, foiled by the combined weight of the past and the burden of the present. Had he lived a few more years, his involvement with the ILWU would have eventually connected him with Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, and the vanguard of the California farmworkers’ strike then training in the fields of Delano and Coachella in the early sixties. The Manongs rediscovered, or more precisely re-invented, themselves in reaffirming the right to strike. But FBI harassment and racial exclusion would not prolong his life to the time of another renaissance of popular-democratic faith, the Civil Rights and anti-war movement of the Sixties. Refracting the leitmotif of homecoming that sutures the solitude of his stories, poems and letters, The Cry enacts the return—one traumatized character (Dante) already home from the U.S. awaits the coming of another one, the “wounded” messenger (Felix Rivas) who never appears, suspending the denouement, converting this expectation of the advent of the legendary bearer of “Good News” into a permanent condition. Is this Allos’ metaphor for hope, the “Not-Yet” pregnant in the womb of the present, realizing his responsibility for Others?
Cultural practices and artistic representations, of course, are products of history and the interpellations of group consciousness. And though not directly caused by practical necessities, they register both the pressure of the moment and the exigencies of the embattled artist. Suffice it here to assert, again, that the central theme of exile and tortuous return in all of Bulosan’s works can be rearticulated as the project of liberating the homeland from feudal and colonial oppression, a collective project of national, democratic self-determination. This desire to complete the “unfinished revolution” of 1898 amid the self-alienation and deracination of the colonized subject transplanted to the “belly of the beast” is one which, in varying historical arenas, resonates in the life and deeds of such revolutionary militants and thinkers as Jose Marti, Aime Cesaire, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and others. I cite two reviewers who elaborate on this theme in their own way. This is a topic that, to my knowledge, only one scholar, Tim Libretti (1995), has so far explored in depth. From a sympathetic perspective, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes:
Poverty, shame, and shattered dreams prevented the [Filipino] migrants from going back to the Philippines. Many died in the United States, old, alone, and broken in body.
Bulosan shared that fate, but in The Cry he revisits his native land the only way he can. The anguish of the novel is not only the anguish of its characters, but of its author as well; the book represents the act of an imagination in exile attempting to carve out a space away from the confusions of America, and attempting to return home with a starkness of clarity that life in America did not allow. Bulosan saw himself in those revolutionary seven, hampered by deep physical and emotional pain, but striving for a distant yet definite goal (1996, 6).
While Nguyen wonders how the novel “feels contemporary in that the situation today is not any different than in 1950” so that the work of writing for the sake of justice and social change proves even more imperative, Tomio Geron reaffirms the need to move away from Popular Front categories to confront the historical necessities, both personal and collective, that transformed the naïve and trusting peasant boy from the village of Mangusamana, Philippines, to the prophetic visionary forging the “conscience of his race”:
…Bulosan writes from the perspective of “exile” rather than the traditional Asian American “immigrant.” He saw American imperialism in the Philippines as the cause of his family’s dismemberment and dislocation, and connected it directly to the exploitation he suffered at the hands of capitalists in the United States. These appraisals argue against cultural-pluralist and assimilationist notions of “multiculturalism,” examining power relations in the Filipino experience in America and the Philippines (1995, 13).
These varying testimonies argue that it is possible to offset the hegemonic doxa that endorses the immigrant story of hard work and success implicit, if somewhat parodied and undercut, in AIH. But it will need a massive consensus to offset that view, one premised on the argument that Allos’ role as exiled writer-activist cannot be fixated and reified to the early period of his struggle in the U.S., the thirties and the Popular Front agenda. When AIH ends with the united-front campaign against German and Japanese imperialism, we do not pack up our bags and go back to the disenfranchised communities to enjoy the rewards of pax Americana. Allos himself did not settle back to bask in the glories of American Exceptionalism; his utopianism, however much romanticized or displaced by a yearning for “roots” in the past growing into the future, proved resilient to compel him to re-engage with his new-found “brothers” in the ILWU as well as in the homeland where the survivors of Luis Taruc’s guerillas would soon evolve into the embryonic avatars of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army.
We owe it to Lane Hirabayashi and Marilyn Alquizola that finally, after five years of waiting, the FBI records of surveillance of Allos has been released to the public by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act. This, I hope, will spur the de-centering of the Bulosan canon to liberate its emancipatory energies in a world-systemic critique. We need to undertake the task that Pascale Casanova recently reminded us, the task of re-establishing “the lost bond between literature, history and the world, while still maintaining a full sense of the irreducible singularity of literary texts” (2005, 71). It is analogous to recognizing the dialectical reciprocity of Allos, the singular individual, and Bulosan as representative of the Filipino collectivity, the emergent provocative voice not only of the Filipino masses of workers and peasants, but also of all the dispossessed and disinherited of the earth. This is the concrete universal we need to theorize and achieve against the temptation of model-minority success and postcolonial mimicry.
At about the time Allos wrote “Terrorism Rides the Philippines,” two labor-union militants were born as prophetic signifiers of the future: Gene Viernes in 1951 and Silme Domingo in 1952. Both young men matured in Seattle during the social ferment of the Sixties and the anti-Marcos mobilization from 1972 to 1986. They also became involved early in their life with the ILWU, Local 37, Bulosan’s and Mensalvas’ union. In 1981, both were murdered by pro-Marcos thugs supported by reactionary elements of the Filipino American community in Seattle, Washington. Domingo was a key militant of the leftist Union of Democratic Filipinos leading the resistance against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship; the trial of the murderers revealed the complicity of local Filipino leaders with the brutal gangster tactics of the Marcos regime to suppress dissent in the United States. This is unequivocal proof of Allos’ belief that one cannot divorce the struggle back home against feudal-comprador barbarism supported politically and militarily by the imperialist bloc (see Schirmer and Shalom 1987, 143-52) from the fight for social justice and equality in the metropole of finance capital. Both fronts in the popular-democratic struggle are linked dialectically, as dramatized by the character Dante in The Cry—a shadowy double or hypothetical surrogate for Allos—whose “wounds” inflicted by his ordeal in the U.S. must needs be cauterized and cured by facing the same enemies he fled from in the guise of the local landlords, bureaucrats, and predatory warlords who safeguarded their masters’ interests. This is also what Philip Vera Cruz found when, despite his public protest, he witnessed Cesar Chavez endorsing the vicious Marcos dictatorship in the Seventies. Vera Cruz had no alternative but to resign from the very union that he, Larry Itliong and other Filipinos helped organize with the historic Delano Grape Strike in 1965 nine years after Bulosan’s death.
In April 2006 the Library of Congress held a symposium honoring Carlos Bulosan and his still unassayed contribution to U.S. multicultural democracy in the light of the one-hundred year anniversary of the Filipino arrival in U.S. territory. This is an unprecedented and salutary event. The Philippines is currently experiencing a political crisis reminiscent of the imposition of brutal military rule by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. Were he alive, Bulosan would be the first to rally Filipinos against the unprecedented extra-judicial political killings and abductions by the fascist terrorist Arroyo regime of lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians, and other citizens in their country of origin. Amid the “war against terrorism,” with the Philippines declared as the “second battlefront” after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it is an opportune time to re-appraise Bulosan’s works, its resonance and incalculable influence on the contingents of young Filipino migrants (called OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers) in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere.
There are signs that, despite the apathy I noted earlier, Bulosan’s writings are finally being re-discovered and renewed at the same time, by a new generation of readers here, in the Philippines, and in the unprecedented Filipino diaspora around the planet. One example of renewal is the prodigiously resourceful staging of the short story, “The Romance of Magno Rubio,” directed by Loy Arenas. There is no doubt the beneficiaries (mentioned by Mensalvas in his obituary in which he inventoried Allos’ Estate as “one old typewriter, wornout socks, old suit” and “Beneficiaries” as “His people” will now exceed the number of those heroic Manongs whom Bulosan—as Dolores Feria, his devoted friend reported a year after he died—cherished in his shy and gentle way; the kababayan (compatriot) whom he initially addressed and paid homage to a century ago (Cimatu 2002; Feria 1956).
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