Remembering Carlos Bulosan
by Frank Cimatu
On September 11, the world mourned last year's terror bombings in the United States that enraged the world. But in Barangay Sto. Niño in Binalonan, Pangasinan, Escolastica Domaoal lighted a candle for her brother, writer Carlos Bulosan, who died 46 years ago in the US.
"Fewer and fewer people remember him anymore," Domaoal said in Ilocano.
Even Domaoal hardly recalls her elder brother. Bulosan never returned to the Philippines although his books -- "America" by journalist Stephen Vincent Benet, "Remembrance of Things Past" by Marcel Proust, "Darkness at Noon" by Arthur Koestler, and "The Long Valley" by John Steinbeck -- are still displayed in the Domaoals' living room.
One cannot miss the spot where Bulosan was born. An eight-foot marker, like a stretched pyramid, was erected in Sto. Niño.
Bulosan's markings have not faded in the pages of his books. Domaoal guards her brother's works because, she said, these are all the things she has of her brother.
The books are also a symbol of the ocean that separated Domaoal and her brothers.
Their eldest brother, a high school graduate and already a teacher, was the first to leave the village of Mangusmanain Binalonan for the US. Another brother, Dionisio, followed.
Carlos, who was a promising high school student in Lingayen, arrived in Seattle, Washington, on July 1, 1930.
In the typical Ilocano role-playing, Domaoal was left to take care of their parents and their farm that shrank with every child's voyage to the US. She never learned the English language and so could not read her brother's book collection, much more the books he wrote.
When Bulosan arrived in the US, the Depression had just hit bottom and Americans were fighting for the menial jobs the Filipinos had been seeking. Many Filipino workers were expelled and some were even beaten in race riots that had erupted in California.
Bulosan first worked as a dishwasher, and in his spare moments, devoured the public libraries. In 1932, he began to write for magazines and in 1934, he became a publisher of a radical magazine known as "The New Tide."
In 1944, he came out with "Laughter of My Father." Reviews said the book was written in the comic spirit of Mark Twain and other humorists, but Bulosan said he was full of anger then.
In 1946, his autobiography, "America is in the Heart," was published. It was about his life as a migrant worker in the US, enduring and patiently reacting to the fury and tribulations like a good Ilocano.
And like many Filipinos, he was full of hope. At the end of "America is in the Heart," the tuberculosis-stricken hero found hope that his hardships would end with the dawning of World War II.
After the war, Bulosan was caught in the ensuing anti-communist hysteria that blackmailed many writers. After Bulosan brought America in his heart, he found that America had ripped off his will to write.
Although still active in labor organizing, Bulosan drank heavily and on September 11, 1956, he died of malnutrition and tuberculosis.
His friend, Chris Mensalvas, wrote a curt eulogy for Bulosan: "Carlos Bulosan, 38 years old, died 11 September 1956, Seattle. Birthplace: Philippines; Address: Unknown; Occupation: Writer; Hobby: Famous for his jungle salad served during foreign-born committee dinners. Estate: One typewriter, a 20-year-old suit, unfinished manuscripts, worn out socks; Finances: Zero; Beneficiary: His people."
Source: Source: Cimatu, Frank. Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sept. 25, 2002) pA17