New Immigrant Literatures in the United States: A Sourcebook to Our Multicultural Literary Heritage

By Alpana Sharma Knippling | Go to book overview

singular ironies is its reflection upon the exilic experiences of the manongs who worked as migrant laborers. Tagami is keenly aware of the relationship between Filipino laborers in the United States and their peasant counterparts in the Philippines. Memory is at issue here--the importance of remembering a history that can actually be traced on the land itself, on the riverbanks, the roads, the remnants of farmworkers' bunkhouses, and in the apple orchards gone to seed. Thus, the working manongs are haunted by the memory of their families at home in the islands, to whom they cannot return. Decades later, the offspring of those farmworkers are, in turn, haunted by the ghost of Fermin Tobera, a Filipino laborer who was murdered in his bed during the race riots of the 1930s. But Tobera's haunting is not only that of a wasted life and lost potential; it is also a haunting of rage that lies beneath the surface history of Filipino Americans.

Although many of Tagami's poems are elegiac and even bitter in tone, a few express an almost unexpected happiness: remembering a moment when, leaning against a car and drinking a beer, Tagami felt happy "just to have come from someplace" (33-34) or when, standing high up in a tree picking apples with his mother, he felt the impulse to sing. Family, as portrayed in Tagami's poems, is both a source of grief and happiness, a way of articulating the abuses that a history of oppressive working conditions (linked to the history of colonialism in the Philippines) has wrought upon family members and a way of voicing hope and love. In October Light, Tagami insistently invokes the passage of time, the revision of history, and the influence of place. Through the memories of the people who work the land and remember its stories, the poet questions the dehistoricization and displacement imposed by the monolithic narratives of settlement and incorporation in the United States.


CONCLUSION

Filipino American literature is a literary tradition imbued with "histories." By "histories," we refer to the literary-historical ties between Filipino American writing and Filipino literatures, as well as the insistence of revisionary histories of both "local" resistance in the United States and neocolonial resistance in the Philippines. Villa, Santos, and Gonzalez began their literary careers in the Philippines and emigrated to the United States as students. They continued to publish their writings in the Philippines while they lived in the United States, since very few publishers would accept writings by ethnic writers at the time. As such, the pioneering generation of Filipino American writers finds itself included in the canon of another "world literature": Filipino literature. Bulosan came to America to work as a "national." During his years as a political activist, he returned to his native land through memory and imagination. In his writings, Bulosan examines neocolonial history by constructing the homeland and legacies left by American colonization and linking them with the experiences of Filipino farm laborers.

Having come through an era in which historical and political contexts have

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