Honoring Carlos Bulosan


(Design by Nicole Ramirez)

I’ve been re-reading Bulosan’s America Is In The Heart lately. Perhaps its my recent move to the Pacific Northwest, the Fall colors in Oregon, the beginning of the rainy season, or perhaps it because I just need to see these region of the U.S. through different eyes, not mine.

My heart skips a beat when the words “Yakima Valley” or “Portland” jumps out of the page at me. But even more powerful than before, I am more excited about reading Bulosan’s thick description of the danger of being “Filipino in America” in the 20th century. I am in awe of the train rides, the roles of hotels, or free meals by a migrant stranger in Bulosan’s writing.

The awe comes from the persistence of these transient aspects of his writing in contemporary Filipino America. For Filipino domestic workers in New York, train rides are a moving geography, an exercise in intelligibility. A train ride could result in a serendipitous meeting with a fellow Filipino who might have a part time opportunity in mind. For Filipino caregivers in San Francisco, hotels are the familiar geographies of home for migrants living in the Tenderloin and the SoMa. There they are cooking adobo, pancit and spaghetti out of rice cookers, because after all food needs to be made, with or without a stove. Lastly, the free meals from a stranger, the pakikisama that has persisted throughout the years, I believe has something to do with the conditions under which migrant Filipinos are brought to the U.S. and then (mis)treated when they’re here.

I’m not saying its all the same. Its absolutely different. But clutching Bulosan under my arm these days, I feel closer to the migrant workers whom I’ve had the privilege to share meals with.

This Saturday in Seattle, Carlos’ final resting place, I’ll consider the questions below with some esteemed comrades:

  1. How has the political economy of Filipino labor export changed from Bulosan’s time to today?
  2. How can Bulosan’s writing expose the racialized labor order in the post-industrialized American economy of today?
  3. What does Bulosan’s history of Filipino migration and Filipino labor teach us about the the sexuality of Filipino migration?

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