America Is in the Heart

Historical Context

Great Depression

As can be evidenced by Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, the life of a Filipino migrant worker during the Great Depression was anything but easy. In reality, the life of any Filipino in the United States during this time period was “lonely” and “damned,” as Bulosan described in a letter to a friend.[7] When he and his friend José arrived in California in 1930, “the lives of Filipinos were cheaper than those of dogs.” [7] As the Filipino population grew and the Great Depression worsened, the anti-Filipino movement flourished.[7] This attitude towards Bulosan and his people was led by the same forces that previously condemned the Chinese and the Japanese, and in 1928, the American Federation of Labor encouraged an “exclusion” of the race, which was warmly received in Congress.[7] Despite the fact that most of these immigrants were modernized and able to speak more than one European language, there was a persistent tendency to portray them not only as primitive savages but also sexual threats against white women.[7][8]

The anti-Filipino sentiment that plagued the American mindset during this time period can be observed in a few separate events. The most violent and well known incident occurred in California in 1930: four hundred white vigilantes attacked a Filipino night club, injuring dozens and killing one. In 1933, California and twelve other state legislatures restricted Filipino-white marriages. Lastly, in 1935 the Welch Bill volunteered a fixed sum of cash to pay for the fare of Filipinos who would voluntarily go back to the Philippines.[8] Events such as these prove the anti-Filipino sentiment that afflicted Carlos Bulosan and the rest of the Filipino population.

Without the tribulations of a migrant life during the Great Depression, Bulosan would not have been compelled to write down his thoughts, nor would he have aligned so heavily with the Communist party. The Great Depression in western America was the cause of strong bonds between culture groups and families and further fueled the racial tensions between the white farm owners and the migrant workers.[9] As documented in Bulosan’s novel, “fraternity is not limited to biological brothers; the network of young migrant men from the same region serves not only as a microcosm of the Filipino community, but as a gallery of alternative lives and fates…”[10] Because of this connection, when Carlos’ brothers and fellow Filipino workers began to join the Communist party, the only logical response was to follow suit.

Bulosan’s novel compares to other works written by authors who lived through the Great Depression in that the combination of a strong racial identity and the exposure to the harsh working environments caused the protagonist to desire something more from life. Bulosan “came to represent the ‘voice of Bataan’,” because of this strong desire, fueled by the obstacles caused by the Great Depression.[10] Bulosan's writings reached a wide audience, many of whom were feeling similar strife due to the state of the nation’s economy. The agriculture community in the West, especially in California, was characterized by a deficit in jobs and a life of transience.[11] Bulosan’s writing provides an accurate first-hand description of the uncertainty of a migrant’s life, and while there is speculation about the amount of truth in his writing, one cannot deny that he was exposed first-hand to the struggles of The Great Depression.

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