Carlos Bulosan—Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States

A Critical Appraisal

by E. San Juan, Jr. (Author)
©2017 Monographs XIV, 134 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 12


Carlos Bulosan—Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States: A Critical Appraisal is an in-depth, critical evaluation of Bulosan's major works in the context of the sociopolitical changes that configured his sensibility during the Depression, the united-front mobilization prior to World War II, and the Cold War witch-hunting of the fifties. Unprecedented for its thorough historical-materialist analysis of the symbolic dynamics of the texts, this book uses original research into the Sanora Babb papers that have never before been linked to Bulosan. Sophisticated dialectical analysis of the complex contradictions in Bulosan’s life is combined with a politico-ethical reading of U.S.-Philippines relations. San Juan takes the unorthodox view that Bulosan’s career was not an immigrant success story but instead a subversive project of an organic intellectual of a colonized nation-in-the-making. Today, Bulosan is hailed as a revolutionary Filipino writer, unparalleled in the racialized, conflicted history of the Philippines as a colony/dependency of the United States. This book follows San Juan’s pioneering 1972 study Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword (Peter McLaren)
  • Introduction
  • Misrecognizing Terra Incognita
  • Historicizing Contingencies
  • From Colonial Wards to Strike Instigators
  • Point Counterpoint: Retrospective Beginning
  • Wrestling with the Minotaur
  • Ordeal of Deferred Homecoming
  • Chapter 1. Passages from Exile: Inventory and Critique
  • Situating the Archive
  • Decoding a Genealogy
  • Deterritorializing Strategy
  • Plotting a Trajectory
  • Counter-intuitive Interventions
  • Prospectus for a Reconnaissance
  • Chapter 2. Parallel Lives: Ordeals of Initiation and Discovery
  • Who Made the Golden Gate Bridge?
  • Grapes of Wrath
  • After the Deluge
  • Remembrance of Future Returns
  • Advent of a Workers’ Tribune
  • From Plural to Singular
  • Parallel Lives Converging
  • Witnessing Swerve
  • Truth Addressing Power
  • Chapter 3. Dialectical Mediations: Between Crisis and Emergency
  • A Retrospective Interlude
  • Diagnosis and Prognosis
  • “Little Brown Brother’s” Burden
  • Scholastic Obscurantism
  • Anti-Miscegenation Blues
  • The Plagiarism Perplex
  • Permanent Emergency
  • The Egalitarian Imperative
  • Traveling Corpus Delicti
  • Toward Proletarian Protagonism
  • Chapter 4. Excavating the Ruins: Foreshadowing Rebirths
  • Anti-migrant Interpolation
  • Counter-Memory versus Prophecy
  • Subjugation Unspeakable
  • Unravelling the Contradictions
  • Framing the Ethico-Political Project
  • From Undocumented Aliens to Planetary Citizens?
  • Fellow-Travelling and Other Journeys
  • The Angel of History Beholds the Rubble
  • Chapter 5. Memory, Dreams, History: Divining the Homeland of Revolution
  • Author’s Internment
  • Pastoral Confabulation
  • Promise of Vindication
  • Triangulating Habitat
  • Vagrant Itinerary
  • Thought Experiments
  • Incarnation Poetics
  • Uncanny Demarcations
  • Fragmented Elegy
  • Stigmata Hermeneutic
  • Inquest of a Posthumous Utopia
  • References
  • Series index

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Any project linking individual lives, continents, and epochs necessarily involves a whole community of partisans for its actualization. How to connect theory and practice, is the crux of the problem. This fugal or polyphonic composition has been years in the making. It can be syncopated with my first attempt to interpret Bulosan’s writings in the now-out-of-print Carlos Bulosan and the Imagination of the Class Struggle (1972). Were it not for the intervention of Salvador P. Lopez, then president of the University of the Philippines, that book would have been aborted and destroyed by Ferdinand Marcos’ barbarism. By the “cunning” of history, it survived as a memorial to the countless victims of that bloody epoch. I offer homage here to President Lopez; to Professor Dolores Feria, friend and caretaker of the Bulosan archive, whose visit to Storrs, Connecticut, was memorable for Amnesty International activists; and to the workers and staff of the University of the Philippines Press for their courage, civic intelligence, and hospitable solidarity.

I am grateful to Delia D. Aguilar for giving moral and intellectual resources required to complete the essays through over four decades. World-renowned educator Peter McLaren has kindly provided the opportunity for its inclusion in his distinguished series of critical-pedagogical inquiries. Among toilers in the domain of cultural studies, the following colleagues have provided valuable assistance in various ways, to whom gratitude is owed: Kenneth Bauzon, ← vii | viii → Charlie Veric, Michael Viola, Jeffrey Cabusao. Jack Davis, Sharon Haire, Paulino Lim Jr., Efren Abueg, Maria Diosa Labiste, Roland Tolentino, Bobby Tuazon, Jose Lalas, Freedom Siyam, Judy Taguiwalo, Tomas Talledo, Karina Bolasco, Esther Pacheco, and Severina and Jim Drew. I want to thank also David Jonathan Bayot, director of De La Salle University Press; Ailil Alvarez and Jack Wigley of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House; Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes and Vince Serrano of KritikaKultura. Rowie Madula of Malay; Rommel Rodriguez of Daluyan; Hermie Beltran of Ani; Reynaldo Bautista of Sun Star Baguio; and President Emanuel C. De Guzman of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and Professor Dekki Morales of the Creative Writing Center, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, for their support.

To all the above and many more too numerous to cite, I owe whatever virtues may be found in the text. Mine, of course, are the inadequacies due to the circumstances of a Filipino intellectual who, like Bulosan, tried to make sense of the symbolic disjuncture/convergence of the neocolonized periphery and the imperial metropole at the turn of the millennium. This book is for Karin Aguilar-San Juan and Eric Aguilar-San Juan, my conscientious readers/critics. Mabuhay! Makibaka!

—December 2016–January 2017;
Cathedral Heights, Washington, DC, USA

| ix →


Peter McLaren

Filipinos living in the United States today, over four million, comprise the largest Asian group originating from one country, the Philippines. When the U.S. defeated Spain in 1898 and annexed the islands as its first imperial acquisition, it had to suppress the native army of the revolutionary Republic which had already defeated the Spanish rulers. The Filipino-American War lasted up to 1913, with 1.4 Filipinos sacrificed for McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” policy. The Philippines was the first and only Asian colony of the United States, and then after 1946 virtually a neocolony up to now. Thus, when Filipinos arrived in 1906 in Hawaii, they were colonial wards, or “nationals,” not immigrants, who distinguished themselves in militant worker organizing and union strikes, a tradition of solidarity with multiethnic communities that endured up to the founding of the United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s. Agribusiness warned the public of those dangerous “Flips” prone to go amok.

Carlos Bulosan, now a central figure in Asian American history, is studied for his classic quasi-autobiography, America Is in the Heart, published in 1946, the same year the Philippines was granted nominal independence after World War II. He grew up in a society dominated by feudal landlords and comprador bureaucrats that inculcated ideals of democracy and equality under American tutelage. Landing in Seattle in 1930, at the height of the Depression, he experienced the racist violence that his compatriots were suffering from the canneries ← ix | x → in Alaska and Seattle to the farms in Oregon and California. This shock of recognition produced a Du-Boisean “double-consciousness” in the naive romantic sensibility of the peasant-worker initiated into a world of alienated labor and class-racial antagonisms. His education pursued a dialectical process of painful ordeals and agonizing reflections, a metanarrative fusing realistic judgment and moral distancing. The young Bulosan shared the common experiences of multiethnic migrant workers and participated in vibrant leftwing circles of cultural activists (including Paul Robeson, John Fante, William Saroyan, Sanora Babb, among others) that sustained and encouraged him to memorialize their struggles in an impressive body of novels, poems, stories, essays, including the manifesto “If You Want to Know What We Are,” published in 1940 by the Philippine Writers League the last stanza of which reads:


XIV, 134
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 134 pp., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

E. San Juan, Jr. (Author)

An internationally renowned cultural critic, E. San Juan, Jr., is a professorial lecturer at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He was a fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, and a Fulbright professor at Leuven University and the University of the Philippines. He authored Racism and Cultural Studies, Beyond Postcolonial Theory and U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines. He is a recipient of awards from MELUS; the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Edinburgh University; the Asian American Studies Association; the Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan University; the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio, Italy); the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas; and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Issue 26 of the e-journal KritikaKultura devotes a section to commentaries on San Juan’s creative and scholarly achievement.


Title: Carlos Bulosan—Revolutionary Filipino Writer in the United States
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150 pages