by: Dr. René Alexander Orquiza Assistant Professor of History
Life is too short to read everything. It may even be too short to major in American Studies, History, or English. This column, brought to you by professors in American Studies, History, and English, highlights the books you simply cannot let pass, whatever your major. Start your list!
The news is full of difficult stories about immigration, but history provides humbling examples of just how difficult America’s relationship with immigrant rights has always been. Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart describes how racism affected Filipino immigrants in the 1930s. Born in the Philippines when the country was still an American colony, Bulosan immigrated when he was 17 with hopes of living the American dream. He hustled his way up and down the West Coast—picking asparagus and strawberries in Central California, gutting fish in Seattle, even serving on dangerous fishing expeditions in Alaska. The wages were smaller than expected, but his experiences with racism truly shattered his conception of the United States. A white mother told Bulosan that she did not trust him around her daughter. The Great Depression sharpened the cry to save work for whites, and Bulosan was soon jobless and living in poverty.
Yet he endured by retreating to books. He began reading everything he could about race in the United States, devouring Richard Wright’s Native Son, and struck up a correspondence with John Steinbeck. Bulosan decided that he should write about his experiences with race in the United States as well. Diagnosed with exhaustion and confined to a bed in Los Angeles General Hospital, he penned this account.
And we are richer for it. America Is in the Heart demonstrates how immigrants have long been ignored and written out of the nation’s story. More importantly, it shows how race has long handcuffed the nation from realizing the country’s founding ideals, particularly for the newly-arrived in search of a better life.