America Is in the Heart: A Personal History

Carlos Bulosan

Book cover

We’ve had this book on the shelf ever since I’ve known Elise, and I’ve told her several times not to give it away because I was interested in reading it. Well, 6+ years later, I finally got around to it!

The book is the memoir of Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino who immigrated to the US in the first half of the twentieth century. It’s divided into roughly three parts: his childhood in a peasant family in the rural Philippines, his early years in America as a sort of wanderer, and his later years in America when he was involved with labor organizing and socialism.

It was interesting, although depressing, to learn about the bad treatment of Filipino immigrants in the West in the early twentieth century. I guess I had a general idea of this before reading the book, but Bulosan really portrays it quite starkly. It’s certainly not a feel-good read in any way. In general, I’d say that the book reads as three very different books. The first section was by far my favorite. Bulosan obviously has fond memories of his childhood, even though his family was very poor, and the whole section is rich with sepia-toned detail. The second part reads a bit like a proto-On The Road, with Bulosan and a rotating cast of characters trying to make it riding around the West on freight trains with no money and more often than not ending up in dicey situations. The third part was the least compelling to me, even though I think the history of labor organizing in the West is a pretty interesting topic. Bulosan sometimes goes into minute detail with the sort of factionalism that I guess is pretty associated with small-time left-wing movements, and loses the big picture that would be of interest to a modern reader.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars