Filipinx American History: A Celebration of Community, Activism, and Persistence

Carlos Bulosan: The Author of the Filipina/o/x Labor Struggle

“I came to know that in many ways it was a crime to be Filipino in California… I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I didn’t commit. And this crime is that I am a Filipino in America.” 

-Carlos Bulosan, America Is In the Heart, 1946

Carlos Sampayan Bulosan was born on November 24, 1913 in Binalonan, Pangasinan in the Philippines. A scholar, novelist, and labor organizer, Bulosan was most known for his work America is in the Heart, a semi-autobiographical piece that chronicled his journey as a Filipino migrant worker during the early 20th century. At 17 years old, Bulosan left the Philippines to find work in America and found himself working in multiple industries during the Great Depression that other Filipinos worked in such as in the canneries and field labor. Through his detailed account, Bulosan captured the difficulties and struggles of Filipina/o/x workers as they sought agency in a country that was anything but welcoming to them. Bulosan wrote detailed recollections of race and prejudice that he endured as a Filipino during the Great Depression including encountering signs that read, “no dogs or Filipinos allowed” and being nearly beaten to death by white rioters. 

In many of his writings, Bulosan catalogued his experience growing up in the Philippines, his dreams for America, and the harsh realities of racism after he arrived in Seattle in 1930. From Seattle, Bulosan embarked on journeys up and down the West Coast as he sought opportunities for himself. Traveling with the seasonal migrant laborers he was able to see camps and communities along the Pacific West Coast. He wrote on the injustices that he and Filipinas/os/x encountered and in the process, these experiences stirred Bulosan to labor organize. 

In America is in the Heart, Bulosan detailed his encounter with the United Cannery​​, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), a decentralized multi-ethnic labor union that was established in 1937. Bulosan was recruited by the UCAPAWA and he chronicled his experience as a labor organizer while with them. Bulosan, like Vera Cruz and Itliong, made an intentional effort to organize Filipina/o/x laborers in the United States. His most impactful work, America is in the Heart, created a lasting contribution to the Filipina/o/x Labor Movement as it accurately depicted the experiences and struggles of many Filipina/o/x workers living in the United States. 

Much of his work then, he did not keep on hand, making works like America Is In the Heart a valuable resource. Bulosan’s written work was mainly sent to publishers and friends as he moved from city to city working the migrant and seasonal labor routes available to Filipinx at the time.  As a migrant laborer and organizer, Bulosan like many other Filipinx laborers at the time, could not afford to settle in one space for too long as a permanent home was a luxury for most migrant Filipinx. Bulosan instead sent his writings through letters or to publishers with hopes they would be published and distributed. 

Throughout his life Bulosan struggled with tuberculosis with trips in and out of hospitals or sanitariums but he never stopped writing. He died of pneumonia at the age of 43 in Seattle in 1956. The poetry, news articles, and books that he wrote in his lifetime would later regain popularity with the rise of the Asian American movement during the 1970 and 1980s which sought to emphasize the importance of recovering, reading, and teaching Asian American literature. His written impact has been monumental for historians documenting the Filipina/o/x American experience. 


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