- Carlos Bulosan, Filipino Writer-ActivistBetween 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 revolt1
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 Philippines2
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 leader3 [End Page 103]
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 Afghanistan 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 September 11, 1956, 48 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 leading Filipino historians have failed, like the comprador and bureaucratic elite, to measure up to Western neo-liberal standards (San Juan 2000a).
In an analogous manner, Bulosan has also been co-opted and taken for granted. Since the 1960s, 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, and inclinations. The current war on what Washington and the Pentagon regard as the 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 neo-colonial masters to suspend antagonism, 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 1970s and 1980s, after which Bulosan suffered the fate of the “disappeared” of Argentina, Nicaragua, the Philippines—cannot 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 [End Page 104] when the reality of everyday life—for his compatriots and people of color in the narrative—demonstrates precisely the opposite? Does some transcript or subtext hide 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 that, 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.
What is the reality today? Possibly the largest of what is denominated the Asian group in the United States, Filipinos number 3 to 4 million of which 106,000 to 700,000 are undocumented owing...