First and Third Worlds in U.S. Literature: Rethinking Carlos Bulosan

By Libretti, Tim | MELUS, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview
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First and Third Worlds in U.S. Literature: Rethinking Carlos Bulosan


Libretti, Tim, MELUS


1. Re-Imagining the Class Struggle

Much of the criticism on Carlos Bulosan investigates the dynamics of Third World writing in his work, primarily focussing on his poetry or, most predominantly, on his novelistic collective biography of Filipinos, America Is in the Heart.(1) Bulosan has been defined and evaluated overridingly on the basis of America Is in the Heart, widely considered "his key work" (Kim "Such Opposite Creatures" 45) and his "major and most controversial work" as well as "the definitive text of the first-generation Filipino immigrant experience" (Alquizola 211). Privileging America Is in the Heart in the study of Bulosan's work, however, by extension also privileges a particular imagination or master narrative of class struggle, a "definitive" politicized interpretation of "the first-generation Filipino immigrant experience," and, as Bulosan's aesthetic "conveys the revolutionary and revolutionizing concept of the imagination as praxis" (San Juan Carlos Bulosan 64), a particular strategy of proletarian and Third World cultural resistance.(2) Isolating America Is in the Heart as definitive of both Bulosan's political and literary imagination and the internal colonial experience of Filipinos in the U.S. leaves incomplete the unfolding tale of "the evolution of a Third World socialist consciousness" (San Juan Reading the West 134). In this essay, I will trace this evolution beyond America is in the Heart through a study of Bulosan's re-imagination of the class struggle in his final stunning novel, The Cry and the Dedication, which provides a fictional rethinking of the interrelations of "race," nation, culture, and class struggle.

What most significantly distinguishes The Cry and the Dedication from America Is in the Heart is Bulosan's recognition of the need for national liberation of the internally colonized Filipinos in the U.S. and his realization that, in Amilcar Cabral's terms, "national liberation is necessarily an act of culture" (Cabral Return 43). If America Is in the Heart is a narrative of coming to class consciousness, The Cry and the Dedication reworks that narrative and reconsiders the content of class consciousness. Regarding class consciousness as "the way in which [class] experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms" (Thompson 10), we can see how "American" cultural terms would be inadequate for comprehending the class experience of Filipino workers rooted in a history and international space distinct from that of a large percentage of U.S. workers. Bulosan's "return to the source" in The Cry and the Dedication constitutes a recognition that cultural domination reinforces and shapes class domination such that a genuine working-class movement can emerge only after cultural and racial equality are achieved; in short, that, following Frantz Fanon's thesis, "it is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows" (248). In articulating the "paradox of America" in America Is in the Heart, Bulosan wonders, "Why was America so kind and yet so cruel? Was there no common denominator on which we could all meet?" (147). The Cry and the Dedication, however, is not a search for a common denominator but rather a cultural nationalist affirmation which both articulates and enacts an anti-imperialist politics and program of national liberation for Filipinos in the U.S. through a cultural resistance that redirects and reimagines the narrative of class struggle by realigning the relations between history, culture, and class consciousness.

In exploring Bulosan's creation of a Third World proletarian consciousness in The Cry and the Dedication, I will discuss two major aspects of the novel: 1) The trope of homecoming and the recuperation of national identity for Filipinos in the U.S.; and 2) The sexual and literary politics of cultural nationalism.

2. Back to the Future: Bulosans's Literary Homecoming

While in writing America Is in the Heart Bulosan's attention was focussed on a U.

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