Life and times in America

Sixty-seven years ago, the late writer Carlos Bulosan wrote his autobiographical novel “America is in the Heart.” He was no intellectual, he never really completed his elementary education, and even died.  But later it was found that he had a talent in writing, and came out with a deeply moving account of how Filipinos in America were treated like criminals while living a “strange and alien” society.

Bulosan never returned home after leaving his home province of Pangasinan in 1930. When he died he was not an American, and his friends found a typewriter and his suit was his only priced possession. Yet until now, Bulosan’s name has been etched as one of the respected writers of the 20th century in America where he experienced how it was to be a pea and apple picker, or as lowly as a cannery worker. It was also in America that he valued his patriotism, protecting the rights of fellow Filipino migrants. For that, he was branded as a communist and, for a while, dangerous in the eyes of the authorities.

“I know that deep down in my heart” he wrote, that “I’m an exile in America…I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.”

According to Dr Jose “Joe” Lalas, a noted educator at the University of the Redlands, it wasn’t surprising that Bulosan had become critical of his new home. During those years, the United States was reeling from racism and depression, despite being known as a land of opportunity for the early Filipino migrants.

When I visited California, I found that while many things have changed, we still have the likes of Dr. Lalas or my old college buddy Jun Valenzuela, who is now a Customs official in the Department of Home Defense, still trying to prove that they can survive in America, which had in the past looked at us as little brown– and inferior– brothers.

It was just fortunate that Joe Lalas and his wife Linda, a senior nurse at the Kaiser Hospital in Riverside, succeeded in life during their nearly 30 years of stay in the United States. But Joe says he would still want to return home and spend his remaining productive years, promoting social justice in education in his own country.

He said that inequitable conditions for learning don’t just happen in a Third World country like the Philippine.   In California, Lalas is a school board member in Corona County, which is an elective post. He has been an outspoken advocate on emphasizing academic excellence and equitable distribution of resources in the US educational system.

Jun Valenzuela, on the other hand, said that although he had served the US government, he and his wife Iou also plan to retire in the Philippines after five years.

“Hindi mo ko mapapatanda dito. Sa Pilipinas pa rin ako,” he says.

In the meantime, Mayet Arceo, a realtor, admits that with the current recession, even middle class Filipinos like them had to hold back on their expenses, conscious of the fragile state of the US economy.

Yet she never regretted having decided to join her husband Edsel, an accountant, when they opted to migrate, as both were both struggling young professionals in California during the late seventies. “Dito nakita namin kung gaano magsama-sama ang isang pamilya at naging maligaya kami sa piling ng aming mga anak,”she says.

Indeed, times are fast changing for the Filipinos in America. They may no longer be classified as second-class citizens, yet it would still be difficult to forget the experience of the pioneering migrant Carlos Bulosan.

For Bulosan, America is “not a land of one race or one class of men.”

“We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino peapickers” he wrote.

America, as he put it, was “the nameless foreigner, the homeless” and that explains why to thousands of Filipinos, migration there will always be an option whenever there is an opportunity. Hoy/Joel Paredes

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