Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

14 Jan 2011

(Novel) America is in the Heart by: Carlos Bulosan

(Reaction) A Dream by: Rafael Conejos

Carlos Bulosan's autobiographical novel "America is in the Heart," looks at the consequences brought about by the Filipino mimicry of implanted American ideals that were set forth to "normalize" individuals, consequently trapping them into a state of a discombobulated "other." One can notice attempts to normalize or feed a set of social norms, in order to subdue the colonized. The "fixation" or the need to look up to American ideals for the approval of what should and should not be accepted creates a state of confusion in the protagonist Allos, who is met with the conflicting nature of what America is supposed to be, a land of wealth, freedom, justice and acceptance.

Instead of finding the utopia on earth, Allos and other Filipinos are met with great amounts of hostility of racism and harsh, low paying jobs. Growing up, Allos believed that America would be his sanctuary of fortune, yet he instead is exposed to the oppressive nature of the white man and the distorted Filipino values found in the suffering caused by white men. Violence is wide spread, freedom is an illusion, justice is granted to he who has a weapon and the binary opposites of good and evil collapse into an omelet of chaos.

On his journey to America, Allos becomes Carlos and wonders, "Would it be possible for an immigrant like me to become a part of the American Dream?" While in the Philippines, Carlos was fueled by many sources that made him perceive America as a very far away land full of riches, dreams and wisdom. Some sources include his educated brother Macario, telling him stories, like Robinson Crusoe when he was young, his other brother Leon who believed in fighting the war of America, the police man's story of his relatives who are now rich in America, the hospitable American librarian and the servant boy, who was learning English in order to one day move to America. All of them helped in constructing the myth of America as a utopia.

Carlos however was not always a devout American follower from beginning to end. The bulk of the middle part of the novel describes his state of anger and confusion towards the American "paradox" of being " kind and yet so cruel." He find himself and his comrades always being watched by eyes of torture and death, yet he also encounters Americans who rekindle his faith, such as the woman who accepts him into her house and goes dancing with him. Or the poet Alice Odell, who praises his poetry and encourages him to continue writing and her sister Eileen, who frequently found herself by his bedside with a host of new books for him to read every time she visited him at the hospital. He crowned her to "undeniably [be] the America I [Carlos] had wanted to find in those frantic days of fear and flight...".

This is the problem of the "Other," for having normalized himself within a society that ironically oppresses him as well. An individual, alienated to believe that his or her country is nothing without the wisdom and inspiration of its ruler. A person stuck in between two worlds; Carlos went to America as a fellow dreamer and yet he left with Filipino virtues. It was the shock of seeing how Filipinos in America lose these virtues that made him begin to question his identity as someone who does not want to be Filipino, but is not accepted to be an American either.

It is clear that at the end of the novel, Carlos truly believed "that no man could destroy my [Carlos's] faith in America that had sprung from all our hopes and aspirations, ever." (327) In fact, he goes on and says that it is America, which inspires us to dream. It is clear that Carlos loves the American dream, even if it is distorted in reality. His fixation towards the ideals of America is what sets him on his journey to rebuild it, because even the Americans themselves have either forgotten or never fully grasped what they stood for.

This is ironic, since it is actually the outsider, the mimicker, and the "other," who is seeking to fight for the American ideals of democracy, liberty, equality, knowledge, and wealth. This is seen when Carlos joins several newspapers to further their cause in protecting immigrant rights, by using the wealth of knowledge he learned from the many books he read, while he was at the hospital. It is here that he uses the language and the knowledge of the oppressors in order to fight for the rights they deprived them of. He is not racist towards the white man; he simply uses free speech in order to prove that, "...America is not a land of one race or one class of men." and 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."

It is with these expressions from Carlos and his colleagues that they begin to perceive America as not so much as the land they once crossed the vast sea to get to, but as the allegorical myth like utopia they were bred to believe, dream and live for. Although Carlos reflects in great length the "mimicking man" of Homi Bhabha, he is also the man of his choice that chose to deviate from the prescribed ideology of structure or Bhabha's "metonymy of presence" by not accepting the American constructs of racism, which is no doubt a very dominant trait.

America is in the Heart portrays a poor protagonist, who originates from the bulk of the Philippine population and is granted the opportunity to follow his dream to go to a land far away, where no one is unrewarded for the good acts they achieve. A place that "kept [him] steering toward[s] the stars." It is a dream land of dreams; a haven from the disturbing hardships brought by the scorching flames of reality. And in that nation far away, dwell people who uphold with the highest priority the value of individual liberty and of its just hand; democracy. Instead, he arrives and realizes that even his dream land could never dissever itself from flawed human nature. Then again "we must not demand from America, because she is still our unfinished dream."

Even though Carlos whole heartedly accepts and strives for the American dream, he does not fall behind the wall of ignorance that keeps him from perceiving the amount of injustice and brutality America holds alongside the virtues they say to live by. And yet, he goes on dreaming amidst that reality, because it is with the faith and power of that dream, whether he lies alongside the flames of hell or the seraphs of heaven, that man can achieve the historical, the epic and the marvelous.

In the end, it is not about being the powerful American or about the deprived Filipino that makes it important to dream. We dream because it inspires.


Still mulling it over.

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