Book Review – America is in the heart by Carlos Bulosan

I was googling my way through contemporary Philippine literature and what the “must reads” are and amongst others I found Elaine Castillos America is not the heart. Then I saw that she had written the foreword for Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the heart. The connection between them and the fact that the titles are so similar made me begin with Bulosan’s book which obviously came first.

America is in the heart is a semi-biographical novel about Bulosan’s experience as a Filipino immigrant in America in the 30’s up until the Second World War when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor which led to Filipinos given the right to join the armed forces of the United States. The narrative of the Filipino immigrant before this time is something I haven’t even though of. I am ashamed to say I knew very little about Filipino history until now. It is not something I was taught in school or even looked into and I was surprised to find that Filipinos were considered Mongolians, treated as animals or worse.

The book taught me a lot and I will give it this credit. It is very lyrical and beautiful and I guess I would expect no less from a poet like Bulosan. I found the language easy and well, but grew tired of the litany of travel going from here to there to here to there chasing something he could never put into words. It does give the whole book a sense of drifting without a purpose to anchor you down. Because even though Bulosan wanted to educate himself and be a writer, he didn’t really pursue it fully. It seems he left much to chance and then cursed his luck when not being as accomplished as others.

Towards the end he immerses himself in literature and then searches for someone like himself that has had success just to prove to himself that it is possible. Like he wasn’t willing to try or put in the work if he couldn’t see that anyone before him had made it. Like it wouldn’t be worth the effort. It almost sounds like he is chasing the wrong thing and his intentions are lazy. Is that why he was never able to put his purpose into words? Is that the American dream? The easy way out?

All in all, I enjoyed it all the way to the end. And I would recommend it, especially to Filipinos and other Asians who could stand to be reminded of their heritage. There is a real statement this books makes for the Asian community standing up for Black Lives Matter. We were once in that same category. Don’t you forget that.

America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated are illiterate – We are America!

Carlos Bulosan, America is in the heart