PERSPECTIVE: What does it mean when we say “America”?

Carlos Bulosan, whose birthday falls on this day, wrote “America is in the Heart,” a memoir of his American experience that also described other Filipino migrants’ struggle in the 1930s. In his book, which was published in 1943, Bulosan’s hopeful expectation of America clashed with the realities of racial bigotry and economic hardship.

At this time, when our news feeds blast us with the demagoguery of leading presidential candidates, with videos of the deaths of young black men shot by racist white policemen, and with xenophobic hysteria about Syrian refugees and jihadist terrorism, Bulosan’s words from the last century resonate and struggle to fight off despair with aching idealism.

“We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino pea pickers. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world. … America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling from a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to him. We are that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate — We are America!”

– Excerpt from “America is In the Heart: A Personal History” by Carlos Bulosan, University of Washington Press.

 


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