CARLOS BULOSAN: BETWEEN A TIME OF TERROR AND THE TIME OF REVOLUTION
No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction.
–SALUD ALGABRE, leader of the 1935 Sakdal revolt
The bourgeois revolution has not been completed and left the feudal system almost untouched…We are doing everything to arouse the class consciousness and revolutionary spirit of the masses, especially the peasants.
–PEDRO ABAD SANTOS, founder of the Socialist Party of the Philippines
The spirit, strength and intelligence of the people are miraculous. But truth should be their beacon and guide at all times.
–AMADO V. HERNANDEZ, labor union leader
On and after September 11, 2001, Carlos Bulosan, like thousands of Filipinos, felt the impact of that disaster. Not because he was caught in the Twin Towers or in the mountains of Aghanistan and the cities of Iraq. Nor was he in Basilan or Zamboanga when thousands of U.S. Special Forces landed in 2002 allegedly in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf, welcomed by the sycophantic Arroyo regime. Bulosan died on Sepember 11, 1956, forty-eight years ago; he was beyond the reach of imperial terror (San Juan 1994). But even the dead are not safe from the enemy—witness how Jose Rizal, the national hero, was co-opted by the American colonizers to suppress the underground resistance after Aguinaldo’s surrender (Constantino 1978). Witness how the figure of Andres Bonifacio has been attacked by American scholars eager to debunk the prestige of the hero and prove how the leading Filipino historians have failed, like the comprador and bureaucratic elite, in measuring up to Western neoliberal standards (San Juan 2000).
In an analogous manner, Bulosan has also been coopted and taken for granted. Since the sixties, when Filipinos struggling for civil rights and against the Vietnam War discovered Bulosan, the author of America Is in the Heart (1946) has become institutionalized as a harmless ethnic icon (Guillermo 2002). Notwithstanding this, I have met Filipino college students today who have no idea who Bulosan is, and don’t care. Obviously times have changed; indeed, circumstances, not ideas, largely determine attitudes, choices, inclinations. The current war on what Washington/ Pentagon regard as foes of democracy and freedom, just like the fight against Japanese militarism in World War II that compelled Filipino migrant workers to join the U.S. military, is already repeating that call for unity with the neocolonial masters, for suspending antagonisms, rendering Bulosan’s cry for equality and justice superfluous. How do we avoid siding with, and serving, our oppressors?
Almost everyone who has read Bulosan—I am speaking chiefly of those who matured politically in the seventies and eighties, after which Bulosan suffered the fate of the “disappeared” of Argentina, Nicaragua, the Philippines—can not help but be disturbed and uneasy over the ending of America Is in the Heart (AIH). Clearly the American dream failed. Why then does the Bulosan persona or proxy glorify “America” as the utopian symbol of happiness and liberation when the reality of everyday life—for his compatriots and people of color in the narrative—demonstrates precisely the opposite? Is there some hiddranscript or subtext behind the wish-fulfilling rhetoric? Various commentators, including myself, have offered ways of reconciling the paradox, flattening out the incongruities, disentangling the ironies and discordances. The reconfigured solution may be to say that life itself is full of contradictions which, in spite of the dialectical fix underwritten by the historical process, will not completely vanish; that these contradictions, perhaps sublimated in other forms, will continue haunting us until we face the truth of the overdetermining primal scenario. Absent this confrontation, we easily succumb to the seductive malaise of the politics of identity, in which the consumerist postcolonial subaltern constructs identity as a pastiche, a hybrid concoction, a hyper-real performance in the interstitial “third space” of the global marketplace.
One Filipino interviewed by Yen Le Espiritu, in her Filipino American Lives, provides a key example of the border-crosser’s cunning. She evades the contradictions in this naive but opportunist bricolage that Espiritu celebrates as one that is neither pluralist nor assimilationist: “…I use both the Filipino value of family interdependence and the American value of independence to the best interests of myself and my family” (1995, 28). Note the object of his concern: “myself and my family.” Should we look for some sense of civic responsibility or neighborly concern? Not here, for now at least. The conjunction and easily absorbs any conflict, just as those balikbayan (returning expatriate) boxes can contain all kinds of goods, legal or contraband, genuine or spurious signs of duty or status-jockeying. We take these balikbayan cargo cult as signs of success or piety to the family and homeland by ex-President Corazon Aquino’s “modern heroes,” for others “modern slaves.”
The irony remains. Behind the triumphalist invocation of a mythical “America” linger the unforgettable images of violence, panicked escape, horrible mutilation, rape and death, in Bulosan’s works. In April 1941, Bulosan wrote to a friend: “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). It is only now, thanks to the resonance of September 11, 2001, that we are beginning to grasp what is meant by these prophetic words written sixty-six years ago. The truth of this will, I am sure, become manifest as the “endless” pre-emptive war on terrorism unfolds from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the heartland of the metropole. A similar climate of terror shrouded the Filipino community in the early years of World War II, a situation to which Bulosan’s subaltern mentality responded in a way that, without summarizing Bulosan’s entire body of work, I would like to gloss with concrete historical specifications in order to explain the profoundly antinomic irony and paradox of his utopian vision of “America.”
A Retrospective Interlude
The first and probably last time Allos—to call Carlos Bulosan by his artistic alias– was in Washington, DC was in November 18, 1943, based on his article as contributing editor to the magazine, Bataan (August 1944. pp.13-15) on the occasion of the death of Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon. He said he was writing the 28th chapter of his book “In Search of America” (now AIH) when President Quezon requested his visit to DC. He then met vice President Sergio Osmena, Col. Carlos Romulo, the president’s wife and daughter, and other assistants. He wrote that President Quezon was prompted to call for him after reading his essay “Freedom From Want” published in the Saturday Evening Post. In this elegiac tribute, Allos evinces zealous praise for Quezon, identifying the story of Quezon with the last 45 years of the country’s emergence into modernity. His oral homage to the president prompted Quezon to ask him if he could write his biography, to which he gave a shy hesitant gesture of assent. His admiration was, in some ways, self-serving, a kind of fantasy projection, as evidenced in the following passage:
…I began to ask myself why he [Quezon] felt so close and confidential to me. I began to contemplate what I was a year ago, a common laborer, a migratory farm worker, who had lived in the slums of both America and the Philippines—was it because this man, the avowed leader of his people, was also of humble origin and went through heart-rending deprivations in his youth? It was then that I felt kinship with him, a feeling so great that it sustained me in my perilous trip back to Los Angeles and immediately afterwards, became the dynamic force that moved me to interpret him to the misinformed Filipinos in California (1944, 14).
Allos had no real solid knowledge of Quezon’s “humble origin” or the “heart-rending deprivations” of Quezon’s youth. But when he read the attacks on Quezon in fascist-inspired Filipino newspapers in California, Allos came to the defense of the exiled Commonwealth government. It was still “united front” politics then. Allos proceeded from DC to New York (where he met his compatriot Jose Garcia Villa, the avantgarde self-exiled poet) to sign his contract with his publisher, Harcourt Brace, before returning to California.
President Quezon telegrammed him afterward for a “memorandum on the Filipinos in the West Coast.” Allos failed to fulfill his promise; instead, he “hoped that my autobiography…would give him all the materials he would need…that in presenting the life story of a common Filipino immigrant, who had just attained an intellectual integrity that could not be bought, I would be presenting the whole story of the Filipinos in the United States” (15). Like Quezon, he was an emblem or ethnic index to the whole uprooted community. Allos bid farewell to Quezon who, conducting the “good fight,” “died at a time when it seems sure that our country will be free again, and will assume her independence in a world federation of free and equal nations” (15).
That future of “free and equal nations,”contrary to Allos’ sentiment, remains in the future. Allos, to be sure, not only felt almost filial kinship with Quezon and his family, but also a tributary, even quasi-feudal loyalty to Quezon as a symbol of the nation’s struggle for independence. This is patently a traditional peasant view of the elite. At this point, we need to interpose some historical perspective and assay the relative importance of Quezon as a representative of the entrenched propertied interests of the native oligarchy in the context of the recurrent grievances and revolts of Filipino peasants, workers and indigenous communities, throughout the Commonwealth period and the two and half decades before 1935. One can cite here the repression of the Tayug and Sakdal uprisings, among others, as well as Muslim dissidence, in which the oligarchy and later Quezon himself acted as partisans of the colonial status quo. During the Cold War period and the McCarthyist witch-hunt, the neocolonial State was for Allos and his brothers/sisters in the union a merciless persecutory force, fascism revived, to resist and overcome.
The extant account of Allos’ travels in the U.S. are sketchy, so it is difficult to determine what other links he had to the personnel of the exiled Commonwealth government, for example, to Romulo (who became president of the United Nations General Assembly and, later on, the foreign affairs minister of the Marcos dictatorship), J.C. Dionisio, Villa, Bienvenido Santos,and others. We do not have any information whether, at around this period, he met the members of the progressive organization, the Philippine Writers League (either Salvador P. Lopez, Federico Mangahas, or Arturo Rotor—major writers in English in the thirties), who attended the Third Congress of the League of American Writers on June 2-4, 1939 (Folsom 1994, 241). Allos was certainly acquainted with Lopez, the most significant critic of that period, as proved by his letter in The New Republic entitled “Letter to a Filipino Woman” (San Juan 1995, 210-14) whose death he prematurely announced. One question I would ask the future biographer is whether Allos met the poet and militant unionist Amado V. Hernandez when Hernandez visited the U.S. in the late forties. after General Douglas MacArthur’s “liberation” of the homeland. Allos protested Hernandez’s arrest by the government and included an article by Hernandez, “Wall Street Chains the Philippines,” in the August 1952 issue of the 1952 Yearbook, Local 37, of the International Longshoreman’s & Warehouseman’s Union in Seattle.
Diagnosis and Prognosis
Earlier I mentioned Allos’ attitude of being “beholden” to Quezon, an attitude carried over from the conformist ethos of a section of the landless peasantry, chiefly tenants or peons. This is the moment I would like to address the issue of “Americanism” in AIH by way of engaging the question of social class not as status but as a function of production-relations. Herminia U. Smith recently e-mailed Reme Grefalda, the editor of the online magazine Our Own Voice, about this topic, complaining about people generalizing that “the Manongs came from the Philippine peasantry; that they were uneducated, and that’s why they were ‘only’ laborers.”
At the outset, it would be instructive to quote Allos’ thoughts on education and labor expressed candidly in his letter to his nephew dated April 1, 1948:
…it is not really important to go to the university. A college degree does not mean that you are educated…Education comes after school, from your relations with your fellow man, from your understanding of yourself…Education is actually the application of this discovery: that you are a human being with a heart, and a mind, and a soul. Intelligence is another thing, of course… [Maxim Gorki] wrote books about the poor people in his country that showed that we poor people in all lands are the real rulers of the world because we work and make things. We make chairs, we plow the land, we create children; that is what Gorki means. But those who do not work at all, those rich bastards who kick the poor peasants around: they contribute nothing to life because they do not work. In other words, Fred, we can still have a nice country without money and politicians. We just need workers. Everything we see and use came from the hands of workers….(1988, 36-37).
My first comment is that the term “laborers,” though often derogatory or pejorative in intent, becomes so because we live in a system distinguished by iniquitous class hierarchy. Class always carries an invidious connotation. Due to the division of labor in class society, from the slave to the capitalist order of production-relations, manual work has been degraded by being associated with the unpropertied, unlettered groups; and thus people deprived of land, tools or animals, are confined to sell their labor-power and do manual“labor” while those free from laboring with their hands, supposedly educated, occupy a higher position or status. This is not a result of being unschooled or unlettered, but of being dispossessed, racialized and colonized. Obviously, we all oppose class differentiation and discrimination, and I hope we are all united in rejecting such an insulting class-ridden, exploitative system. Oppression is nothing to be proud of, or to celebrate, at any time or place.
I would use the term “peasant” as a descriptive category defining a group in relation to the means of production, in this case, land as the principal means of production. It does not refer to status or life-style as such. It does not imply lack of education or low status—except from the viewpoint of the privileged idle landlord and parasitic business elite. Historically, in Europe, the peasantry is a complex group classified simply into the rich peasants who owned the land they cultivated, did not employ landless persons as serfs (such as the feudal landlords) and had some power and prestige; the middle peasants who may own land or not but who have independent means, and the poor or landless peasants reduced to debt peonage and serfhood. You can refine this category further by including ideology, ancestry, customs, and other social-phenomenological criteria, and so on.
In the Philippines, however, there was a peculiar difference. The Spanish colonial system narrowed the classification into two main ones: the Spanish landlords who owned fiefdoms and operated through caciques and hired overseers, and the majority of dispossessed natives. Even Rizal’s family had to lease their farms from the Dominican friars. Objectively, Rizal came from the rich peasantry; but their access to education and lineage aligned them with the ilustrado (enlightened) fraction who, while not owning land, accumulated some wealth through farming, trade, and other activities that enabled their separation from the landless poor colonized subjects. Because Filipino peasants became gradually proletarianized when they moved to the towns and cities while maintaining the peasant ethos of the traditional village, their sensibilities and behavior reflected the vacillations typical of the youthful Allos and his social class. Thus we observe Allos’ strong spirit of solidarity and egalitarianism mixed with his desire to move beyond the traditional regime of submission to authority, to the power of the inheritors of prestige and privilege founded on property.
When the United States colonized the Philippines, the legal idea of land ownership with torrens title became part of the legal and political system. Ordinary peasants acquiring the means were able to buy land. Some feudal estates (esp. those owned by the friars) were broken up, but not all; in fact, as William Pomeroy documents in American Neocolonialism (1970), tenancy increased during forty years of direct U.S. colonial rule. The landlord system, though weakened, was in fact renewed and strengthened with the U.S. cooptation of the oligarchy in managing the State apparatus, bureaucracy, schools, etc. In Allos’ case, the family owned some land (Allos mentions this land as a gift from his father’s friend) which they had to mortgage or sell to pay for both his brother Aurelio’s and Allos’ passage. The farm was foreclosed. Allos writes in a sketch published in Poetry magazine:
My father was a small farmer, but when I was five or six years old his small plot of land was taken by usury; and usury was the greatest racket of the ilustrado, and it still is although it is now the foreigners who are fattening on it. My father had a big family to support, so he became a sharecropper, which is no different from the sharecroppers in the Southern States. Years after, because of this sharecropping existence, my father fell into debts with his landlord, who was always absent, who had never seen his tenants—and this was absentee landlordism, even more oppressive than feudalism. Then my father really became a slave—and they tell me there is no slavery in the Philippine Islands! [circa 1943]
So when historians trace the genealogy of the “Manongs” to the peasantry, it is not meant to debase them as “uneducated” or “only” laborers. Studies of the peasantry (in itself, a rigorous scientific discipline) b Eric Hobsbawm, Eric Wolf, James Scott, Theodor Shanin and others have demonstrated the sagacity, intelligence, shrewdness, and wisdom of the peasantry. Their adaptive skills have not been surpassed by the modern urban entrepreneur. Needless to say, formal education is not a measure of intelligence or wisdom. The best illustration of this is Allos’ The Laughter of My Father, as well as other stories collected in The Philippines Is in the Heart.
As for the degradation of workers and laborers, this is part of the convulsive history of the rise of capitalism. The U.S. Depression of the thirties was a crisis of this system, worsening the plight not only of the unemployed and starving millions of citizens but, more severely, of people of color like the “Manongs” (“Manong” or “older brother” is a term of endearment among Filipino migrant workers). They were not, strictly speaking, immigrants–not until the Commonwealth would there be an immigrant quota for Filipinos–but colonial subjects barred from access to citizenship. In addition, they were also a proletarianized and racialized minority. Productive labor, of course, is the source of social wealth, though from the viewpoint of a market-centered economics, labor is downgraded from the viewpoint of capital and ownership of land and other productive means. This is the effect of judging everything in terms of exchange value, not use-value, the result of translating all values into money, possessions, or commodity-fetishes.
“Little Brown Brother’s” Burden
This is the moment to confront the problem of white-supremacist “Americanism.” Practically all readers of AIH, with some exceptions, read it only as an immigrant story, or at best, a “Popular Front” collective biography, as Michael Denning and others have done. Obviously it is far from being an exemplary narrative of immigrant success. There is arguably more allegory, gothic melodrama, and utopian fabulation in AIH than in Laughter. As I have stressed in previous works (San Juan 1996; 2006), the inability to understand the substantive function of the first part of AIH, from chapter 1 to 12, is a symptom of the larger failure to understand the political and cultural actuality, significance, and consequence of the colonial subjugation of the Philippines from the time of the Filipino-American War of 1899 up to 1946, and its neocolonial dependency thereafter. It is a crippling failure that leads to all kinds of vacuous, ill-informed pronouncements (which I will illustrate in a moment).
This is the reason why I propose that we decenter the Bulosan canon and begin our critical hermeneutics and evaluation with non-canonical texts such as The Cry and the Dedication, Laughter, his essays, poetry, and his other writings in approaching the totality of his achievement. These marginalized works avoid the celebration of “America” as the totemic paradigm of freedom and democracy. We hope to correct the formalist framework of intelligibility that would exclude the historical context of the profound colonial subjugation which Allos and the Filipino people as a whole experienced from 1899 up to the present. That prophylactic exclusion resulted into, first, espousing 200% Americanism; second, confusion in making sense of the contradictory messages of the narrative; and third, a cynical acceptance of immigrant success leading to a dismissal of AIH and corollary texts as tedious, naïve, self-ingratiating factoids. (One example is Jessica Hagedorn’s visceral repudiation of Bulosan in The Gangster of Love.) I will not go into the countless reasons why AIH turned out to be such an ideological pastiche well before the vogue of postmodernism; one reason may be discerned in the case of Kenneth Mostern’s essay, “Why is America in the Heart?” which epitomize the dilemma of most pseudo-radical critics of Bulosan.
Mostern, a self-proclaimed Marxist of sorts, faults AIH for its “Americanism” and its unqualified endorsement of “American democratic institutions, even at their worst” as “the vanguard of world politics.” Was Allos really guilty of this? I think Mostern imputes to AIH a spurious teleology that springs from his assumption that the Philippines as a classic colony was really being shaped by U.S. “benevolent” policies to be a fully democratic, industrialized society, an organic part of the metropolis. Not only is Mostern not aware of the flagrant series of U.S. legislation and policies (from the Jones Act to the Bell Trade Act and their sequels) that fixed Philippine neocolonial dependency/subordination for the last half of the twentieth century and the next. His analysis also exhibits a remarkable insensitivity to the experience of racialized subjugation, a flaw rather astonishing for those boasting of being schooled not only in Marx and Lenin but also in W.E.B. DuBois, Fanon, Said, Freire, and a whole battery of thinkers who have exposed the limits of patronizing Eurocentric teleology which Mostern claims to reject. Consider, for example, Mostern’s concern that Filipinos should be grateful for U.S. imperial altruism even if not intended:
….I am not claiming that Bulosan’s desire to bring technological development to the Philippines—seeing its economy as needing…”development”—is what is wrong here. While the Philippines is poor and oppressed the attempt to bring some of what the U.S. has to it is obviously appropriate and deserves the support of all U.S. leftists, whether or not we are Filipino….Just as the wealth of the United States, earned in part through imperial presence in Asia, allowed Bulosan the space to become a writer, such a continuing disparity of wealth, where it occurs, and the colonial legacy, even where it doesn’t, may ensure the continuation of this pattern [of allowing the Philippines to develop into a full-blown industrial capitalist power] (1995, 49).
Mostern’s argument is now considered rather embarrassingly inept, to say the least. It is based on the crude mechanical view that social development goes through a straitjacket evolutionary stage from slavery and feudalism to capitalism, and the latest is of course superior to what came before it. When Marx heard that his followers were attributing this linear teleology to him, he famously remarked: “If that is marxism, then I am not a Marxist.” A clear sign of Mostern’s chosen stance of ignoring the impact of U.S. colonial domination, and what it signifies for Filipinos who sacrificed 1.4 million lives to defend the gains of the revolution against Spanish despotism, is this revealing remark:
Bulosan opens the book with a moment of disjunction, an explicit contrast between a young peasant boy, Carlos himself, working the land with his family and the intersection of this apparently primeval scene with the outside world, most specifically the world of a war in Europe, where Carlos’s brother Leon is fighting. No reason is given why a Filipino boy would be fighting on another continent; instead, the fact of the global situatedness of the peasant economy is the theoretical premise of the book, that which the intelligent reader must already know (1995, 46).
What Mostern forgot was precisely his self-professed duty to apply materialist dialectics to this “global situatedness,” one which is mediated by U.S. colonial rule and its worldwide basis in monopoly/finance capital. He deliberately ignored what almost everyone knows today: Filipinos, just like most colonized subjects, were then enlisted to fight U.S. corporate wars (thousands of Filipinos today serve in the U.S. Navy). And, in the process of creating the “reserve” army of unemployed, the serflike or slavish existence of landless peasants like Allos’ father and millions of his countrymen have been legitimized by the preservation of the power of the oligarchical landlord class as a political strategy of neocolonial rule. Mostern also failed to take into account the truth that the fight for independence against U.S. colonial oppression is what motivated the popular-front struggle here in the United States and in the Philippines against fascism (part of the Filipino oligarchy supported Franco in Spain) and Japanese militarism (part of that oligarchy believed it was a useful foil to U.S. imperialism).
Reading AIH as a glorification of “Americanism” or American Exceptionalism may in part be due to the editorial cleansing of the text itself. It is, as some have duly suspected, a very sanitized text in its silence over the destructive effects of U.S. colonial rule, especially the years from 1914 to 1948. Given the Filipino rejection of Spanish autocratic rule and religious authoritarianism, American proclamation of its “civilizing mission,” complete with Thomasite teachers, public education, etc. was attractive. There was no other choice under the disciplinary, panoptic regimen of “Manifest Destiny.” Except for the allusion to the January 1931 Tayug peasant insurrection, there is no mention in AIH of the millenarian Tangulan movement (1930-31) nor the Sakdal uprising of May 2-3,1935 and its aftermath in the Huk uprising of the forties and fifties.
Nonetheless, it is absurd to erase or wholly obscure—as most conventional exegeses have done–the scenes and chapters that expose the savage truth of “Americanism” in action, represented in white-supremacist violence on behalf of agribusiness and monopolies. Nor is it correct to assume that the presumed proletarian politics of the later part of the narrative has replaced “the peasant society” portrayed in the first section. In a self-incriminating gesture, Mostern calls the Filipino workers “expatriates” whose “backwardness,” however, he deplores repeatedly in favor of an enlightened “leftist” United States Studies which, given the neoconservative tide of reaction, turns out to be a vapid token of pettybourgeois wish-fulfillment.
Mostern’s self-righteous act of patronage is typical of neoliberalizing scholars guilty of the excesses of what Pierre Bourdieu (2000) calls “scholastic reason.” Presuming to be bearers of an omnipresent cosmopolitan mind, they pass judgment on the world without any awareness of their own accessory location, their ineluctable inscription in the social-historical text of which they claim to be free. This stance of presumptuous objectivity may be simply dismissed as innocent, a self-indulgent reproduction of trivialities, or dangerous in being complicit with forces producing misery and horror for millions of human beings receiving the blessings of democracy and freedom from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and U.S. “Special Forces.” Mostern wants to take out the “America” of the brainwashed subaltern in a sanitized “U.S. Studies. But is the phrase, “United States,” any less of a “rogue state” (Blum 2005) than the exceptionalist “America” of Anglo leftists in elite U.S. academies? Notwithstanding these caveats, thanks to Mostern’s nominalist syndrome, we are now alerted to the dangers of imposing formulaic solutions to neocolonial “backwardness” masquerading as latter-day “benevolent assimilation,” the Anglo’s “civilizing mission” in ultraleft drag. Are there any takers of “U.S. Studies Without America” in the Homeland Security State?
One symptom of peasant subaltern ambivalence I mentioned earlier may be found in its affinity for millennial or messianic movements which reflect the reality of their isolated, fragmented lives. As Hosbawm notes, the unit of organized action for subaltern groups is “either the parish pump or the universe. There is no in between” (1984, 20). This may explain the inflated rhetoric of an “America” inhabited by an indiscriminate “common people” or “toiling poor,” a utopian space beyond class and state, as well as its fragmentary segmented nature, a fact registered in the episodic, repetitious or segmentary flow of the narrative. These stylistic and formal qualities linked to the peasant world-view contrasts with the more cohesively class-conscious part of the narrative which reflects the basic social reality of proletarian existence—that is, of migrant contract workers who are colonized/racialized subjects—in being concentrated in groups of mutual if forced cooperation in farmwork and in organized union activities.
The exigencies of uneven historical development cannot be avoided. What illuminates the contradictions in AIH is thus not a contrived formulaic schema such as the one imposed by Mostern, based on his limited world of leftist sectarianism; rather, it is our grasp of the historical and social reality of the Filipino peasantry in the colonial “lost” homeland, and of the Manongs, bachelors in barracks, moving from place to place, ostracized from normal life by massive laws, by customary prohibitions of everyday life, etc.—a violently distorted, grotesque, and terror-filled landscape beyond the comprehension of sheltered academics, a milieu perhaps approximating what our ethnic communities may be experiencing after 9/11 in the “homeland security state.” Could history repeat itself without “bad faith”?
One other approach to understanding the charge of “Americanism” without reservations is to consider how the “America” utopianized rhetorically in AIH resembles Clarabelle in Allos’ “The Romance of Magno Rubio.” The story of course is not a realistic but a satiric portrayal of a contrived situation, with strong allegorical and didactic elements. Like the vignettes in Laughter, both story and play mobilize the tendentious potential of caricature, incongruities, and ribald exaggeration found in the genre. They ingeniously expose the fakery of the invented and fantasized object inhabiting Magno’s imagination, a fantasy-contagion that infects all the “little brown brothers” from the Asian colony. Here, of course, the “Americanism” or American Dream whose quasi-floating signifier is the figure of Clarabelle—the fixation on money, consumer goods, white-skin privilege, superpower affluence, and so on—which is humorously exploded as a mirage, a star-spangled hallucination. The recurring refrain, attributed to Claro, the astute letter-writer, already foregrounds the hyperbolic discrepancies to which the honest Magno Rubio seems wrongheadedly blind:
Magno Rubio. Filipino boy. Four-foot six inches tall. Dark as a coconut. Head small on a body like a turtle. Magno Rubio. Picking tomatoes on a California hillside for twenty-five cents an hour. Filipino boy. In love with a girl one hundred ninety-five pounds of flesh and bones on bare feet. A girl twice his size sideward and upward, Claro said… (1996, 118)
But are Claro and Nick, the knowing smart guys, always to be trusted? Magno’s “love” turns out to be a collective trauma, a group fixation, to which systematic education (or mis-education, as Renato Constantino would put it) and ideological manipulation in the colony, among other forces, had made these lonely bachelors highly susceptible. The “romance” in the title, caused partly by anti-miscenegation laws but mainly by their colonized/racialized position, refers to this collective psychic illness whose origin and cure seems to inhere in the unsettled, unfixed but also regimented condition of contracted/recruited workers from the colony. Unlike the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, Filipinos bear the singularity of being considered “savages” or “barbaric” for their fierce resistance to American “pacifying” troops circa 1899-1902 (as witness the “water cure,” retrenchment of entire villages, anti-sedition laws, and other ethnocidal measures replicated in today’s barbaric war on the Islamic separatists in southern Philippines, all infected with the contagion of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf) and their obsession with independence. Disillusionment for Magno begets a sense of pathos; but comic distance eventually supervenes, and life returns to routine work in the end.
This theme of sharing a perceived good or value, whether it is an object, person, information, or a dream, finds a memorable embodiment in the story “The End of the War.” I should point out that the publication of this story in the New Yorker in September 1944 occasioned a charge of plagiarism against Allos, which the magazine settled out of court. For this, Allos was vilified in the Philippines by journalists like I.P. Soliongco and others who disliked his radical politics. The charge is not serious, I think, because Allos’ story is not an exact copy of “The Dream of Angelo Zara” by Guido D’Agostino, the plaintiff. There is an obvious similarity of plot, in the same way that Shakespeare’s plays borrowed plots from Italian, Greek, Roman folklore and other sources. While for D’Agostino’s Italian characters, the dream of seeing Mussolini dead is shared and passed on from one character to another, none privatizing the original, in Allos’ story, one person’s dream of the occupying Japanese soldiers surrendering to the Filipino infantry testifies to Allos’ desire for the empowerment of the entire community, not just for individual self-gratification. This is a key difference that makes “The End of the War” quite exceptional in refracting the anomie-ridden, violently disintegrated life of the “Manongs.” This collectivist intuition makes a world of difference.
On the whole, the characterization, setting, imagery, and style of Bulosan’s story all exhibit Allos’ singular trademark, with an uncanny resemblance to the collective sharing of an illusion in “The Romance of Magno Rubio.” There is the same exchange of a value without the mediation of money or some reifying fetish. In Laughter, Allos reworked many traditional fables and anecdotes whose provenance in Arabic and Indian folklore is well-known and whose plots, motifs, and character-types continue to be reproduced by authors in many disparate languages and cultures. It is the folk, the people, who function ultimately as the original authors; in this context, Allos’ task was to mediate between this world of subaltern folk and the world of industrialized capitalist modernity.
We are not sure that all of Allos’ characters in “The Romance” derive from the peasantry or the displaced rural populace. All display in varying degrees the naivete, cunning, intelligence, resiliency and solidarity of peasants whose labor, while intrinsically alienating, also preserves a certain humanity in them. Magno and his worker-friends were definitely not “guests of the State,” nor immigrants; they were, as many have noticed, colonial wards subject to all the disciplinary rigor of anti-miscegenation laws, prohibitions and exclusions of all kinds. But the whole lesson of AIH, we might recall here, is none other than the transformation of the Filipino subaltern consciousness, fragmented but at the same time cosmic and global, into a critical and cohesively class-conscious intelligence through the process of affiliating with the organized political movement of a multiracial working class rooted in the deracinated peasantry. This act of self-liberation through class liberation, however, is incomplete unless it is dialectically mediated through the emancipation of the colonized homeland, through national liberation of the producers (workers and peasants). I think this is the final cardinal lesson that cannot be gained without reading The Cry and the Dedication, the 1952 Yearbook, and the complicated folds of class conflicts and colonial tensions informing them.
There is a fashion nowadays of claiming to be cosmopolitan or transnational as a safeguard against neoconservative fundamentalism, a latter-day version of multicultural Americanism, or pragmatic American Exceptionalism (see Ponce 2005; San Juan 2004). Transnationalism, however, apologizes for the hegemonic pluralism that legitimates imperial conquests and justifies the predatory market consumerism that passes for globalization. There is no escape from distinguishing between imperial nationalism and national-liberation struggles of oppressed peoples. What Hobsbawm once said remains true despite the vogue of neoliberal globalization: “The scale of modern class consciousness is wider than in the past, but it is essentially’national’ and not global…The decisive aspects of economic reality may be global, but the palpable, the experienced economic reality, the things which directly and obviously affect the lives and livelihoods of people, are those of Britain, the United States, France, etc.”( 1984, 22). In this regard, Allos’ sensibility, with its peasant/populist ethos, mutated via a process of self-education and disillusionment into the more focused class-consciousness of the writer committed to the concrete program of union reforms and specific political principles of which the rejection of imperialism, segregation and racial apartheid, and support for the emancipation of colonies, are obligatory demands.
One of Allos’ last public act of commitment to his vocation is the campaign to defend Chris Mensalvas and Ernesto Mangaong, militant leaders and officers of Local 37, ILWU, who were facing deportation. They were accused of being communists if not card-carrying members of the Communist Party USA. The leaflet accompanying this campaign against Cold War McCarthyism condemns “the drive to deport foreign labor leaders” as “part of the hysteria that is terrifying the nation today. It is the vicious method of Big Business Race Haters to cripple organized labor and its gains, destroy civil rights and liberties, and abrogate the American Constitution.” Allos wrote a poem, “I Want the Wide American Earth” (echoing the earlier poem, “If You Want to Know What We Are”), to benefit the Defense Fund of the ILWU officers. In it he affirms that we, the multitude of productive men and women “have the truth/ On our side, we have the future with us,” and “we are the creators of a flowering race.” (1979, 15). It is a bold Whitmanesque ode charged with universalist and utopian impulses, invoking a cosmic protagonist, an heroic egalitarian multitude. That millenarian or chiliastic tendency persists, though in a muted subterranean form, in The Cry, whose bold counterpoint is the recovery, simultaneously hypothetical and imperative, of a free and prosperous homeland—not the Homeland born of the global war on Islamic terrorism.
We have all heard of the recent deportation of the Cuevas family of Fremont, California, last July. At the same time, 89 Filipinos were deported, a move alleged to be the Bush administration’s retaliation to Philippine President Arroyo’s withdrawal of 51 Filipino troops in exchange for the release of hostage Angelo de la Cruz. We might recall earlier incidents (Mendoza 2003). In August 2002, 63 Filipinos were herded into an airplane in a direct flight to the Philippines, all deportees chained and manacled during the flight, monitored by FBI agents. In December 2002, a second batch of 84 Filipinos were deported under the same humiliating condition, legitimized by the Absconder Apprehension Initiative Program of the U.S. Department of Justice and Immigration and Naturalization Services (launched Jan. 13, 2001). This program has so far targetted 314,000 “undocumented” persons, including 12,000 Filipinos. In the seven-month period from October 2001 to April 2002, 334 Filipinos were deported under authoritarian measures enforced through legislative actions, direct executive order, including of course the USA Patriot Act, under the current administration. As far as the historical record shows, Filipinos have never been deported in this manner in the past; now, with the discovery of “terrorists” in their homeland (not only the Abu Sayyaf but also the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army), the perception and judgment of Filipinos may approximate Bulosan’s suspicion of himself as a kind of paranoid Kafkaesque hero noted earlier.
Of all groups in the U.S., immigrants have always been and continue to be targeted for severe repression (Jacobson 1998). Even from the earliest period marked by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 up to the Cold War McCarran Walter Act of 1952, they have been subject to “ideological exclusion”—deported or banned on account of specific beliefs and ideas—even though this violates provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the 1950s, for example, the Immigration and Nationality Act provided for the exclusion or deportation of any immigrant who advocated anarchism or communism. Of late, immigrants associated with anti-zionist and anti-imperialist Palestinian organizations branded as “terrorists” have been prohibited entry. As everyone knows, on August 9, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell labelled—in a kind of pre-emptive unilateral attack–the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as foreign terrorist organizations, a move seconded by the Arroyo regime (San Juan 2002-2003). After 9/11, the USA Patriot Act not only reaffirmed such sanctions but expanded and widened the scope of the powers of the State apparatuses to suppress any criticism or dissent, even offering incentives to immigrants to spy on their compatriots.
On August 5, 2004, Representative Crispin Beltran introduced a resolution in the Philippine Congress denouncing the U.S. government’s threat to expel 300,000 Filipinos in the following months. Beltran noted that during the first wave of the Iraq war, Filipinos were already targeted for deportation; and that “since 9/11, the U.S. government has indiscriminately criminalized and demonized all immigrants,” particularly those racially profiled as “terrorists” or associated with countries harboring terrorists, such as Pakistan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and of course the Philippines (Mahajan 2002). The Philippines has already been designated as the second front (after Afghanistan) in this endless war against Al Qaeda and the enemies of the U.S. “way of life.”
It is a matter of record that Filipinos in such numbers and in such horrendous conditions have never been officially deported from the United States ever since the islands came under U.S. rule. True, individual “trouble-makers” like union activists in Hawaii were deported in the twenties and thirties. But the entire community as such has never been singled out in this manner, in the way that the Chinese were stigmatized as a group before and after the 1882 Exclusion Act, and the Japanese at the outbreak of World War II. So this is a “first” in the annals of Filipino history, thanks to the Abu Sayyaf and the Bush-Cheney gospel of preemptive war on behalf of globalized finance capital.
This undisguised terror over the Filipino community today is not new, but it is more deceptive and invasive. To be sure, the Philippines has never posed a threat to the security of the U.S. It has in fact been victimized as a dependency of the Empire (instanced recently by the grievance of 13,000 Filipino veterans who fought in World War II but are deemed ineligible to receive full veteran benefits). Except for the American Indians, I would argue that Filipinos were the only other group that experienced the relentless ferocity of white-supremacist violence during the Filipino-American War of 1899-1903 which sacrificed 1.4 million Filipino lives (Schirmer and Shalom). General Jack Smith earned infamy by his order to convert the countryside into a “howling wilderness”: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn the better it will please me” (qtd. in Agoncillo and Alfonso 272). This ruthless conquest of the Philippines continued up to 1906 when 600 Moro men, women and children were killed in the battle of Mount Dajo; and up to 1913 when, in the battle of Mount Bagsak in Jolo, close to 5,000 Moro men, woman and children perished at the hands of Capt. John Pershing’s troops (Zwick). This genocidal carnage inaugurating the birth of the U.S. global empire has up to now never been fully investigated to the same extent that similar atrocities in Bosnia, Ruwanda, and elsewhere are now being thoroughly researched and publicized.
It is only now that the U.S. “first Vietnam” in the Philippines has come to the foreground of the world’s conscience, along with the St. Louis Exposition of 1904. But the problem is that they are either exoticized or rendered harmless for scholastic speculation. Bulosan distills the intensity of such bloody subjugation of the Filipino revolutionary forces in key episodes in America Is in the Heart, and in stories that describe lynching and white vigilante attacks. As the bulk of Bulosan’s essays and letters emphasize, the struggles of Filipino migrant workers in the U.S. cannot be understood without its context in the fierce class war between peasants and landlords in the Philippines, between ordinary Filipinos and the Americanized oligarchy whom he satirized in The Laughter of My Father. All the personal anecdotes and incidents in Bulosan’s works need to be read as historicized allegories of the national situation in order to appreciate their full significance. Thus “Bulosan” may be read as a rubric, an emblem of that whole constellation of themes and ideas surrounding the fraught, unequal relation between the colonized formation and the imperial overlord, particularly the oppression and resistance of Filipinos in the metropole.
The Egalitarian Imperative
When Filipinos began to be active in the union organizing in Hawaii in the twenties and thirties, they encountered savage repression reminiscent of the anti-sedition campaigns against Macario Sakay and other recalcitrant “bandits.” The cold-blooded killing of 16 Filipino strikers in the Hanapepe plantation on Kauai in 1924 is the most telling index of fascist barbarism. Filipino militants like Pablo Manlapit, Pedro Calosa and others were imprisoned and deported, with Calosa re-surfacing in Tayug, Pangasinan, as a leader of the Colorum peasant uprising (Sturtevant). The linkage here is not the ad hoc conjunction and of the late-modern Filipino subject trying to equalize two poles of the hierarchy, the dominant and the oppressed. Imperial violence demonstrated its power in two fronts: fascist suppression of workers in the annexed land of Hawaii, neocolonial repression of worker-peasant resistance in the territorial possession of the Philippines.
There may be two time-zones and places in the lives of Filipinos, but the cartography of struggle articulates them in one narrative that, I think, is found more unambiguously dramatized in The Cry and the Dedication. In it Bulosan resolved the dilemma that Filipino militants faced in the sixties during the anti-martial law movement here from 1972 to 1986, and after. It is wrong-headed to dichotomize mechanically (as the Union of Democratic Filipinos did) the struggle for civil rights and racial equality here in the U.S. and the antiimperialist struggle in the Philippines—both target the same enemy, the U.S. corporate elite, from varying angles (Rosca). This elite is represented by the ruling oligarchy of compradors, bureaucrats, and landlords in the Philippines. Since 1898, Filipinos here and at home have borne the brunt of class, racial, and national oppression simultaneously, in variable modalities. It seems to me the Archimedean point underlying this complex is the continuing domination of the Philippines as a nation and people which, if not changed, can not transform the subordinate identity or position of the Filipino community in the U.S. As I have asserted on various occasions, the liberation of the homeland is the decisive and pivotal item in the agenda (San Juan, “The Filipino Diaspora”). The struggle for national democracy follows Marx’s view that white labor cannot emancipate itself when it is oppressing those of color; and that no nation can be free if it oppresses another. Of course, the concrete conditions for carrying out the democratic struggle varies as well as the agencies and protagonists engaged. It is nonsense to valorize armed struggle in the Philippines as a “great morale booster” compared to street demonstrations and other non-violent actions here, or to belabor the generational conflicts such as those between Filipinos born here and those “fresh off the boat.” Given the priority objective mentioned above, it is then a strategic question of where the concrete struggle is waged, the collectives involved, the limits and possibilities of logistics, etc.
During the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy witch-hunt in the fifties, oppositional Filipinos bore the brunt of official anticommunist terror. Filipino trade unionists (such as Ernie Mangaong, Chris Mensalvas, and others active in the International Longshoreman and Warehouse’s Union in Seattle) were brought to trial, harassed, and threatened with deportation. After his transient fame in the late forties, Bulosan suffered ostracism and censorship up to his death in 1956. Evangelista and other scholars charge Bulosan of yielding to “alcoholism, illness, obscurity, neurosis, and despair” in a time of fascist terror and emergency. These are cynical judgments based on trivializing speculation.
It is uncanny to find Bulosan writing in the 1952 Yearbook of the ILWU Local how “Terrorism Rides the Philippines.” That is the title of his article on the persecution of Amado V. Hernandez and other progressive nationalists by the Roxas puppet government. It suggests Bulosan’s unbroken service in the antiimperialist front despite his physical distance from Manila. His novel The Cry and the Dedication, inspired by Luis Taruc’s autobiographical account, Born of the People, is an eloquent testimony to Bulosan’s wrestling with the forces of racism as well as class and national oppression without idealizing the supposed political maturity of Filipino revolutionaries over against flabby American reformists. This latter claim echoes the opinion that Filipinos who speak “Filipino” are more genuinely Filipino than those Filipinos, born here, whose parents have prevented them from learning their language. Being Filipino is not a transhistorical essence but a political project of realizing collective emancipation. It is a question of becoming Filipino on what grounds, for what reasons and principles—what is ultimately at stake?
Bulosan himself bewailed the reproduction of colonial self-hatred and impotence in his compatriots here. It is not suprising that relatively successful Filipinos, especially professionals who came after the liberalization of immigration in 1965, dismiss Bulosan as obsolete or irrelevant. Bulosan is alleged to be useful only in finding out about the experience of the first generation of Manongs during the Depression. Now that Filipinos have, or are beginning to make it—witness Loida Nicolas Lewis, General Taguba, and other model-minority figures touted by Filipinas magazine or Philippine News, we don’t need Bulosan. We don’t need the lessons gained from past experience, the struggles of the Manongs like Manlapat, Calosa, Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, and others (without whom, it may be said here, the United Farm Workers of America would not have emerged in a radical fashion)—except to measure how far we have advanced in the social ladder, in the pecking order of the class/racial hierarchy. Bulosan, of course, also wrote a substantial number of essays and stories about Filipinos back home some of which I collected in the anthology, The Philippines Is in the Heart (published in 1978 by New Day Publishers, Quezon City). Besides, leftist radicalism is out of fashion in the age of cyber globalization and transnational cyborgs morphing from one ethnoscape to another—even though the pasyon and its postmodern variants are still used as the monolithic standard of interpretation and evaluation for social movements today.
One may add here that, strictly speaking, there was no diaspora of Filipinos before the Marcos dictatorship institutionalized the “warm body export” at a time when the circumstances warranted the exchange. The circulation of commodified labor, mainly domestics, now reaching nine million, is the principal mode in which globalization impinges on Filipino consciousness. It is not the success of Lea Salonga, General Taguba, and other celebrities. Films, songs, stories of Flor Contemplacion, Sarah Balabagan, and nameless other victims of the global “care chain,” have now arrived at the cultural arena. In time, no doubt, we will have many male and female Bulosans to chronicle the travails and struggles of this “migrante” population exploring real and imagined worlds.
What is the reality today? Possibly the largest of what is denominated the Asian group in the US, Filipinos number close to 3-4 million of which 106,000 to 700,000 are undocumented due to overstayed visas. Of this total, 70-75% are immigrants, while 25-30% are Filipino-Americans born in the U.S., ethnically defined Filipino. Although lumped together with Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Indians in the category of “Asian Americans” (now 11 million, due to triple to 33 million by 2050), Filipinos so far have failed to reach the status of the “model minority” in terms of income, prestige positions, and other indicators, for reasons that inhere in the colonial and neocolonial subjugation of the Philippines and in the class-divided structure and social metabolic process of racialized reproduction of the U.S. polity (Chan).
It is not historically correct to insert Filipinos into the homogenizing immigrant narrative of success (as the historian Ronald Takaki and others are wont to do), for the workers recruited by the Hawaii sugar planters were not, properly speaking, immigrants. Nor was Bulosan an immigrant when he landed in Seattle in 1930. Like thousands of Filipinos in the Alaskan canneries and the farms of Hawaii and the West Coast, Bulosan was a “colonial ward.” In various ways, we are still neocolonial dependents of the U.S. Empire. Neither China nor Japan, Korea nor India, were completely colonized and annexed by the U.S. Those formations, needless to say, possess unquestioned cultural integrity and millennia of elaborate cultural development not found in the Philippines. The Philippines has perhaps the unenviable distinction of being the US only direct colony in southeast Asia from 1898 to 1946, and a strictly regulated neocolony thereafter (Pomeroy). Owing to the fierce, implacable resistance of Filipino revolutionaries to U.S. colonial aggression, the U.S. invading military (mostly veterans of the brutal campaign against the American Indians) inflicted the most barbaric forms of torture, punishment, hamletting, and other disciplinary measures. The U.S. produced the “first Vietnam” in this systematic genocidal campaign of pacification made ideologically genteel by President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation.” It was a “civilizing mission” intended to “christianize” the natives, an unprecedented “killing field” where, for Henry Adams, “we must slaughter a million or two of foolish Malays [called “niggers,” “gugus,” and “black devils” by the soldiers] in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric trailways.”
As Colleen Lye and others have argued, the Filipino experience as colonized/neocolonized subjects is singular and cannot be dissolved into the archetypal immigrant syndrome. It cannot be altered so as to lump Filipinos with the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian communities with their own historical specificities. Although the pan-ethnic category of “Asian American” was invented in the Sixties to articulate points of unity in the social, political, and economic struggles for recognition of the diverse groups, it is important to note that the American colonial bureaucrats and military perceived and handled Filipinos as if they were American Indians or African slaves in the South (Ignacio et al). We can see unadorned vestiges of this among American experts claiming epistemological authority over their native informants. Again, we need to stress the ideological paradigm, the frame of intelligibility, in which American administrators, social scientists, intellectuals, etc. (including the notorious Stanley Karnow, author of the best-selling In Our Image) made sense of Filipinos: either we were (like the American Indians) savages, half-childish primitives, or innocuous animals that can be civilized with rigorous tutelage, or else slaughtered. They found that some could be trained like the African slaves or Mexican stoop laborers. No one mistook the Filipinos for the persevering if wily Chinese, the inscrutable Japanese, or the mystical Indian. We were mistaken for unruly Africans, Mexicans, or American Indians who needed to be tamed and domesticated (Volpp). This, plus the reputation of Filipinos as militant union organizers and/or highly sexed dandies, explain the putative nasty “invisibility,” irksome if indeterminate “Otherness,” our fabled interstitial difference, which, however, does not protect us from the surveillance of the Department of Homeland Security or the racist violence that murdered postal worker Joseph Ileto and many others.
Toward the Proletarian Subject
Bulosan was one of the first organic intellectuals of the Filipino community to have understood this singularity precisely in his depiction of the Filipinos as subjects occupying a unique position: participating in the class struggles of citizens in the U.S. for justice and equality, not just for competition for a “place in the sun,” while at the same time demanding freedom and genuine sovereignty for the Philippines as a necessary condition for their being recognized fully as human beings. This is a far cry from the stereotype lauded by Manila newspaper columnists. One of them mused recently what “A Day Without Filipinos” would be, following the lead of the film “A Day Without Mexicans.” Are we really indispensable, not expendable? Filipino caregivers are much in demand in the global “care chain” because “they have that special touch, that extra patience and willingness to stay an hour more when needed” (Tan). Whether we like it or not, this is the ubiquitous image of the Filipino projected onto the mass/public consciousness by Internet, rumor, printed media, television, and so on (Aizenman). It is displacing the memory of Imelda Marcos and her fabulous shoe collection, despite the recent film apologizing for her charming kookiness.
Indeed, there is a struggle of and for representation, superimposed on the fundamental narrative of class war. Writing before his death, Bulosan affirmed a desire for critical representation that is today frowned upon by postmodernist deconstructors. It is said that no one can represent anyone faithfully, accurately; language always fails. But everyday practice proves the opposite; the corporate media are more powerful in representing us for profitable exploitation. Bulosan expressed his creed: “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” (On Becoming 216). Whether he succeeded or failed, that is for us and future readers to decide under varying circumstances. Unfortunately, for various reasons, most Filipinos do not read. We may have to translate Bulosan and other writers into computer/Internet language, the discourse of films, television, rap music, dance, and other non-print media.
Always mindful (unlike his critics) of the need for anyone passing judgment on the world to factor in his/her position in self-reflexive critique, Bulosan gives advice to his nephew at the end of World War II that witnessed decisive and irreversible transformations in his life, and the beginning of the Cold War, a new era of social cataclysms. A touchstone of Bulosan’s commitment to the national-liberation struggle may be found in this passage from his letter to his nephew dated April 1, 1948:
And when you are old enough to go away, Arthur, do not hesitate to go out and face life. And whatever the future has in store for you, I request you to challenge it first before giving up. But never forget your family, your town, your people, your country, wherever you go. Your greatness lies in them…If someday you will discover that you are a genius, do not misuse your gift; apply it 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 the good of the whole community. We Filipinos must be proud that we had the greatest genius in Jose Rizal, who sacrificed his life and happiness for the people (1988, 36).
Finally, I want to point out that Bulosan—so often this is forgotten even among the ranks of progressives—was a resilient historical-materialist in his friendship with people across class, race, gender and ethnicity. He learned mainly from experience to distinguish between the privileged ruling class and the mass of American citizens not all of whom are on the side of the class enemy. In fact, this enemy can only maintain its hegemony (that is, governing by consent with the help of jails, police, army), by overt or subtle ideological manipulation. And after September 11, by fear, by stigmatizing people of color as sinister aliens, criminals, terrorists (Mann). We need to make this necessary distinction so that we do not isolate ourselves and then indulge in sectarian self-righteousness, compensating for our elitism by boasting about the superior revolutionary discipline or intelligence of Filipino insurgents. If Bulosan did that, he would never have survived in the crisis of the Depression and McCarthyism. More crucially, he would never have gotten the uncompromising support of many white American women who became his intimate companions and helped him write and publish. (I frankly believe that most of his works are products of combined efforts by him and his numerous women helpers. A novel purported to be by Bulosan, All the Conspirators, is, judging from its style and content, the work of a woman-friend who was also a writer.) Nor would he have deigned to read the works of Richard Wright, Melville, Whitman, Theodore Dreiser, William Saroyan, and of course his close friend Sanora Babb. Bulosan’s lesson is this: We need to unite with as many people here and across the planet on the basis of principled struggle for the broadest democratic rights and social justice, against fascism and imperialist terror, in solidarity with the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela, Korea, Palestine, Nepal, and others. Certainly, another world is possible provided we struggle as partisans for universal ideals of human rights, freedom, equality, and compassion for all life in the endangered ecosystem. We need to build on the accomplishments of past generations of workers, artists, especially in a period.of crisis, which is both a moment of danger and opportunity, chiefly the opportunity of educating, raising consciousness, by mobilizing those classic qualities of patience, fortitude, humor, cunning, intelligence and generosity in Filipinos that Bulosan immortalized in his life and work.
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Bulosan, Carlos. All The Conspirators. Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil, 1998. (The attribution of this novel to Bulosan is still problematic.)
—–. America Is in the Heart. 1946. Seattle, WA: U of Washington P, 1973.
—–. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1995.
—–. The Cry and the Dedication. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1995.
—–. The Laughter of My Father. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1944.
—–. The Philippines Is in the Heart. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Quezon City: New Day Press, 1978.
—-. “Terrorism Rides the Philippines.” 1952 Yearbook, International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union Local 3. Seattle: ILWU, 1952. 27.
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—-. “Carlos Bulosan.” The American Radical. Ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Harvey Kaye. New York: Routledge, 1994. 253-60.
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E. SAN JUAN, Jr. will be a visiting professor of comparative literature at the University of the Philippines this Spring 2008. He was recently a fellow of the Rockefeller Study Center at Bellagio, Italy, and Fulbright professor of American Studies at the University of Leuven, Belgium. His most recent books are In the Wake of Terror: Class, Race, Nation, Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington Books) and US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave Macmillan). This year three books of his will be launched: Salud Algabre at iba pang tula (University of San Agustin Press, Iloilo City), Balikbayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader (Ateneo de Manila University Press), and From Globalization to National Liberation (University of the Philipines Press).