America Is in the Heart serves as a piece of activist literature. It sheds light on the racial and class issues that affected Filipino immigrants throughout the beginning of the twentieth century. The autobiography attempts to show Filipino Americans the structure of American society and the oppression inflicted upon Filipino’s living in America. E. San Juan, Jr., in “Carlos Bulosan, Filipino Writer-Activist”, states, “American administrators, social scientist, intellectuals, and others made sense of Filipinos: we were (like American Indians) savages, half childish primitives, or innocuous animals that can be either civilized with rigorous tutelage or else slaughtered outright”. In America Is in the Heart, Bulosan properly shows the reader the animalistic treatment that was inflicted upon the Filipino’s on the west coast. Bulosan states, “At that time, there was ruthless persecution of the Filipinos throughout the Pacific Coast”. He wants Filipinos and even white Americans to realize the harmful treatment of Filipinos and the problems of society.
Bulosan continues his activism through irony in his novel. “Behind the triumphant invocation of a mythical 'America' linger the unforgettable images of violence, panicked escape, horrible mutilation, and death in Bulosan’s works”. Throughout his novel, Bulosan mentions the death and violence that is inflicted upon Filipino immigrants. After being informed of a labor camp being burned down, he states, “I understood it to be a racial issue, because everywhere I went I saw white men attacking Filipinos”. He later stated, “Why was America so kind and yet so cruel?” Though America was supposed to be a place of freedom and kindness for Filipino Americans to escape to, Filipinos were treated like savages and were oppressed by white Americans. Bulosan makes this clear in his novel in order to present these problems to society.
Influence on Later Filipino-American Writers
Throughout his career, Carlos Bulosan has provided examples of the Filipino American identity that affected future Filipino American and the issues they approached. In 1942, Chorus For America: Six Filipino Poets became the first Filipino poetry anthology published in America. It was based on the works of Bulosan and five other poets. At a time when Asians were being persecuted in America, Bulosan was attempting to distinguish Filipino-Americans from the umbrella term “Asian-American”. America Is in the Heart speaks to this struggle to retain one’s identity in a new world. The graphic and gritty description of the Filipino town Bibalonan shocked the readers into realizing its distinction. It is a “damned town” where women are stoned to death and babies are left unwanted by the wayside. America Is in the Heart described the indelible mark a person’s background has on his or her life, highlighting the failures of generalizing racial identities.
Ironically, it is Bulosan’s success and America Is in the Heart’s dominance in the study of Filipino-American literature that may have a greater impact of then his actual words. There is great debate whether the agenda for Filipino American writers should be, “to exile themselves from the home country or to accept the status of a hyphenated American or to find a bridge between the two.” King-Kok Cheung believes that Bulosan is so celebrated due to a lack of attention to Filipino American writers “whose exilic writings did not fit with the immigrant ethos” of America. One of Bulosan’s most important themes as a writer was the importance to find one’s identity in America. Bulosan reveals his faith and love for America in the end of America Is in the Heart. This sentiment is repeated in an essay entitled Be American, where Bulosan described American citizenship as a “most cherished dream”. Even if his writing did seem more conducive to the accepted image of immigrants, Bulosan opened the door for later writers to push the envelope of acceptance. Filipino-American writers of more recent years, such as Ninotchka Rosca and Linda Ty-Casper, have continued to highlight the complexity of a totally unified Filipino-American identity.