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Who Was This Man Who Gave Us A Face
When Faceless We Were in the Land?

Carlos Bulosan
Carlos Bulosan

The man was a writer. He wrote about a Dream. Dipped this dream in blood and scars. Made it reachable. Gave it structure, the stuff of searing soul. What he wrote about captured the spirit of Asian peoples migrating from their homeland. For the migrant is Everyman. He unleashed a vision so that his voice rang clear beyond his own time, and will peal like bells or toll a dirge throughout centuries.

Carlos Bulosan minced no words about America . Despite his failing health, being crushed and marginalized, witness to the crass injustice of a system, Bulosan, a Filipino, arrived in the early 30s from a small town in the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines, sang the song of America in the clearest possible voice—that America was universal and belonged to all who aspired to a sense of freedom: from injustice, from cruelty, from hunger.

In the years he was confined to a hospital bed, he read voraciously and discovered he could write; thus began the flow of expression. He has left a prolific legacy of poetry and essays on migrant living during the Depression, and insights into the darkest core of America.

Carlos Bulosan
Bulosan's library card for the L.A. Public Library courtesy of
E. San Juan, Jr.

His face is the face of every migrant laborer who built America during the turn of the century. Not a single photograph of Bulosan betrays the scarred tissues, the coughing nights, the loneliness, the homesickness and pain of exile. His bout with liquor invites sneering comments, but his smile is contagious. A dapper dresser like most bachelors of his time, his lithe and delicate figure called out to be nurtured. His wit and words appealed to the sensibilities of those who lavished him with friendship and caring. He died in Seattle in the mid-50s with no more than what he brought when he arrived.

Once revered by students for the succinctness of his vision, for articulating the plight of migrants, today Carlos Bulosan is found wanting and irrelevant as these same youth join the corporate ranks of complacent adulthood. How is it that Carlos Bulosan remains unclaimed by his own people? Forgotten by his ilk?

We behave as though we never rose from the ashes of men who paved the way for our coming. We live as though we can fritter our days away, mindless of those arriving at our shores seduced by the images we spin, the materialism of our days.

We are heirs to Bulosan's prophecy of America . Have we succumbed to disposable values instead of lasting dreams? Are we teaching generations the poetry of living? Or instilling in them the tenacity for acquiring the accoutrements of power? Can we recover the dream in our hearts and stop America from self-destructing? 

Remé-Antonia Grefalda
7 March 2006

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copyright 2006

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