Born in 1913, Bulosan recounts his boyhood in the Philippines. The early chapters describe his life as a Filipino farmer "plowing with a carabao". Bulosan was the fourth oldest son of the family. As a young Filipino, he once lived in the farm tended by his father, while his mother was separately living in a barrio in Binalonan, Pangasinan, together with Bulosan’s brother and sister. Their hardship included pawning their land and had to sell items in order to finish the schooling of his brother Macario. He had another brother named Leon, a soldier who came back after fighting in Europe.
Bulosan's narration about his life in the Philippines was followed by his journey to the United States. He recounted how he immigrated to America in 1930. He retells the struggles, prejudice, and injustice he and other Filipinos had endured in the United States, first while in the Northwestern fisheries then later in California These included his experiences as a migrant and laborer in the rural West.