Studies in the Literary Imagination



Higashida, Cheryl


In a 1950 article on the latest crop of minority writers, author Ward Moore contrasts the aesthetics of Hisaye Yamamoto’s and Carlos Bulosan’s work as follows:

Except that both are serious writers, the two have little in common. Miss Yamamoto, like most contributors to “little” magazines, is a classicist, occupied with form and texture, extremely conscious in her approach; Mr. Bulosan is a romantic who is so moved by the force of emotion that he carries his effects to his readers by sheer passion. His literary discipline is fundamental, evidently established in the very process of learning to put words together efficiently; Miss Yamamoto’s is obviously imposed and clearly requires constant enforcement. She experiments, even at the risk of stumbling and floundering. Mr. Bulosan’s footing is surer, for his path is narrower; she is an intellectual, he is an artist. (5)

Clearly impressed with Bulosan’s social realism at the expense of what is presented as Yamamoto’s contrived formal experimentation, Moore hits upon what appears to be a fundamental difference between the two writers: the passion in Yamamoto’s writing is often hidden-indeed, unrecognized by Moore-within the subtexts of her intricately constructed narratives, while Bulosan’s social realism forcefully purports to tell it like it is. The significance of these stylistic differences becomes even clearer as Moore presents Yamamoto’s and Bulosan’s views on the politics of writing. The section on Yamamoto concludes with her assertion, “1 have no message…. I don’t want to tell anybody anything. I just want to write-because writing is the easiest thing for me to do” (5). Yamamoto’s avoidance of didacticism contrasts distinctly with Bulosan’s response to the question, “Why do I write?”:

In the making of the writer there are many factors. There was always something in me yearning to know other people. And I needed to explain my people to others. Then too, I was one of those trying to organize the exploited agricultural workers, many of whom were Filipinos. Writing was merely an inevitable extension of this work. (5)

Unlike Yamamoto, Bulosan clearly has a message; consequently, writing for him is a political weapon, an “inevitable extension” of his labor organizing and his agitation for Filipinos’ civil rights. In comparison, Yamamoto-“a classicist, occupied with form and texture”-appears to divorce art and politics. The distinction between the two writers can also be framed in Roland Barthes’s terms: whereas Yamamoto’s non-didactic, experimental work is “writable” (playful, open, and plural), Bulosan’s social realism is “readable” (closed, structured, and authoritarian) (4-5).

Without eliding the important aesthetic and political differences between the two writers, both Yamamoto and Bulosan need to be studied within the multicultural politics of the Popular Front, especially as it pertains to Asian Americans.1 Strictly speaking, the Popular Front refers to the period of Left-wing coalition building with bourgeois organizations and individuals in response to the rise of fascism in Europe and, as many argued, in the U.S. At this time, new social movements came into being that drew together anti-imperialist, anti-lynching, pro-union and labor feminist activists, and cultural workers. Popular Front multiculturalism flourished as African and Native Americans, immigrants, and their descendants articulated a new vision of democracy by recovering and re-evaluating their heritage. The Popular Front is often dated from the mid- to late thirties, but as Michael Denning, Bill Mullen, and others have shown, it lasted through the forties and beyond-and the work of Yamamoto and Bulosan shaped and was shaped by this alliance in ways that call attention to the convergences as much as the divergences in their political aesthetics.

In particular, Yamamoto and Bulosan enable us to understand the interpenetration of patriarchy and capitalism. Both writers develop a poetics of what King-Kok Cheung calls “articulate silence,” rendering the alienation produced by the oppression and exploitation of gendered and racialized subjects. Formally and thematically Yamamoto and Bulosan explore the culturally conditioned and socially constructed silences around sexuality, and this silence structures several of their narratives as an absent presence. This poetics of silence is also seen in the centrality that marginal characters come to occupy, such that traces of their narratives-although nearly inaudible within the plot, or syuzhet-articulate the historical effects of patriarchal accumulation that give rise to the story, or fabula. In order to clarify these political and aesthetic concerns, I will now turn to one of Yamamoto’s best-known stories, “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” which offers a model for reading Bulosan’s representations of first- and third-world women in his “ethnobiography,” America is in the Heart (hereafter America), and in his short story, “Homecoming.”

Yamamoto has primarily been studied under the rubrics of Asian American literature and feminism. Critics have identified intergenerational conflict, especially between issei mothers (first-generation Japanese American) and nisei daughters (second-generation Japanese American), the subordination of Japanese American women within patriarchal structures, and the impact of racism-in its institutionalized and informal manifestations-as the major themes in her work.2 Scholarship has not often treated Yamamoto’s “awareness of classism,” as King-Kok Cheung puts it (“Seventeen Syllables” 13).3 But in many of Yamamoto’s short stories, especially “Earthquake,” it is not just class prejudice but the historical conditions of production that are integral to the “buried plot” (Yogi 144-45) of the text’s subtle protest against racialized patriarchy and its sympathetic portrait of a rural issei woman’s struggles as a mother, wife, and fieldworker. The “articulate silences” voiced by “Earthquake” are certainly those of the narrator’s mother, but they are also those of Marpo, the Filipino farmhand with whom the mother has a tragic affair; furthermore, their destinies are intimately linked by their relationships to the issei patriarch/employer.

As Cheung observes, Yamamoto often engages in “double-telling,” or “conveying two tales in the guise of one” (Articulate Silences 29) through the use of an unreliable narrator, in this case a young girl, Yoneko Hosoume. When her father hires Marpo, Yoneko is immediately taken with this multitalented newcomer with the mysterious but “lovely” last name that sounds “something like Humming Wing” (“Earthquake” 47). Yoneko’s misrecognition of Marpo’s surname exemplifies the way that the text, at its surface level, does not fully comprehend Marpo’s significance to the Hosoume household or the reasons for Marpo’s presence in their lives. Yet, just as the text latently bespeaks the psychosexual dynamics among Mrs. Hosoume, Mr. Hosoume, and Marpo, it renders traces of the historical forces of twentieth-century modernity that give rise to their love triangle.

The first “irrefutable fact” that Mr. Hosoume embeds in Yoneko’s mind regarding Marpo is that “Filipinos in general [are] an indolent lot. Mr. Hosoume ascribed Marpo’s industry to his having grown up in Hawaii, where there is known to be considerable Japanese influence” (48). Marpo is thus shown to be a product of early Filipino labor migration from one American possession to another, a phenomenon engendered by the displacement of peasant farmers in the Philippines and the crushing of its native industry under U.S. imperialism.4 Mr. Hosoume’s mention of “Japanese influence” alludes to Hawaii’s multinational labor force even as he elides its racially segregated structure, wherein Sakadas-Filipino indentured laborers in Hawaii-were at the bottom of the pecking order (Takaki 155-57). “Earthquake” articulates the permutations of this racial hierarchy of agricultural labor within a mainland context. Mr. Hosoume belongs to the strata of issei who, by dint of industry and kinship ties, moved from farm worker to farm owner, thereby incurring the wrath of agribusiness, which campaigned for the Alien Land Acts (1913, 1919) and the anti-Japanese Immigration Act of 1924. As a result of Japanese exclusion, farming industries began recruiting Mexicans and Filipinos (McWilliams, Factories 110-16). While for the most part Japanese farmers initially hired other Japanese, they eventually took advantage of the newer pools of cheap labor comprising these other ethnic groups; this is why Mr. Hosoume hires Marpo as well as the Mexicans who assist in the fieldwork “on certain overwhelming days” (51). According to Ronald Takaki, many Japanese growers chose to hire Filipinos “because they were single men and could be housed inexpensively” (321), a fact that Yamamoto conveys: “[Marpo] never sat down to the Hosoume table, because he lived in the bunkhouse out by the barn and cooked on his own kerosene stove” (“Earthquake” 47). Ironically, it is precisely Marpo’s bachelorhood that threatens Mr. Hosoume’s household dominance.

Mr. Hosoume is invested in Marpo only as “the best hired man” (48), but we come to know Marpo best through the eyes of Yoneko, who is initially put off by the fieldhand, having read “somewhere that Filipinos trapped wild dogs” (47) for food. However, Yoneko grows interested in “Marpo the athlete, Marpo the musician (both instrumental and vocal), Marpo the artist, and Marpo the radio technician” (48), facets that Yoneko “uncover[s] … fragment by fragment every day” (49). Yoneko’s list renders the selective fragmentation of the subject under capitalism: “the objectification of [workers’] labour-power into something opposed to their total personality (a process already accomplished with the sale of that labour-power as a commodity) is now made into the permanent ineluctable reality of their daily life” (Lukács 90). Within the “factories in the field,” to use Carey McWilliams’ apt phrase, “Marpo the best hired man” must exist separately from Marpo the athlete, Marpo the musician, etc. And in this context, “Marpo’s versatility” (49) carries the ironic resonance characteristic of Yamamoto’s work: for Mr. Hosoume, the farmhand’s versatility would reside in his ability to work crops “so diverse as to include blackberries, cabbages, rhubarb, potatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cantaloupes” (46). For Yoneko, on the other hand, Marpo’s versatility lies in what are to her the wondrous skills developed in his leisure time, and through socializing with him, she rejects the epithet “dog-eater.”

It is not only Marpo’s hobbies that humanize him to Yoneko and her brother, Seigo; Marpo also genuinely cares for the Hosoumes. During the eponymous earthquake, he runs to the family in the fields and “gather[s] them all in his arms, as much to protect them as to support himself” (50). After Mr. Hosoume is rendered sexually and economically impotent by his near-electrocution during the earthquake, Marpo and Mrs. Hosoume work more intensely and intimately, and Marpo again protects her and the children when Mr. Hosoume physically abuses his wife.5

Mr. Hosoume, however, perceives Marpo’s concern for the family as infringement on paternal territory, and the fieldhand must be dehumanized in order to prevent his usurping the roles of father, breadwinner, and, as it turns out, husband: Marpo and Mrs. Hosoume become sexually involved, resulting in Mrs. Hosoume’s pregnancy and subsequent abortion. These last events are revealed through the silences of the narrative when husband, wife, and children take a mysterious weekday trip into the city. On the way, Mr. Hosoume’s nervousness causes him to hit a “beautiful collie”; Yoneko looks for its body during the drive home, “but the dog was nowhere to be seen” (54). The only other clues to what has transpired are that Marpo, like the stricken dog, “was here one day and gone the next” (54), and that Mrs. Hosoume tells Yoneko, “Never kill a person … because if you do, God will take from you someone you love” (56). The dog run over by Mr. Hosoume symbolizes the life that he forces out of his wife’s body as well as the fieldhand whom he has summarily fired. Trespassing on Mr. Hosoume’s property-his home, children, and wife-Marpo has “for [gotten] his place” (54) and thus must be reminded that he is “a mere Filipino, an eater of wild dogs” (55), to be dispatched as if he himself were a dog.6

“Earthquake” critiques not only racist patriarchal domination but, more fully, the shape it takes within modern capitalism. In contrast to Marpo, who is a “bad” worker because he is human(e), “good” workers for Mr. Hosoume are shown to be inhuman: “In the afternoon [Yoneko and Seigo] had perspired and followed the potato-digging machine and the Mexican workers-both hired for the day-around the field, delighting in unearthing marble-sized, smooth-skinned potatoes that both the machine and the men had missed” (55). Here, Yamamoto insinuates the men’s reduction under Mr. Hosoume’s employ: “both [are] hired for the day”; “both the machine and the men had missed” the potatoes that the children dig up. This subordination of man to “a mechanical part incorporated into a mechanical system” (Lukács 89) is what we see again in Mr. Hosoume’s replacement for Marpo. The new hired hand is “an old Japanese man who wore his gray hair in a military cut and who, unlike Marpo, had no particular interests outside working, eating, sleeping, and playing an occasional game of goh with Mr. Hosoume” (54). The significance of the new hand is, naturally, that he poses no sexual threat whatsoever and is a companion for Mr. Hosoume rather than for his wife. But just as importantly for Mr. Hosoume, the old man is devoid of “the human qualities and idiosyncrasies of the worker” that “appear increasingly as mere sources of error when contrasted with these abstract special laws functioning according to rational predictions” (Lukács 89). For both these reasons, this latest worker on the Hosoume farm is truly the best hired hand.

Pace Yamamoto’s denial of sending any message, this “writable” text does not engage solely or primarily in a ludic formalism, and while it invites the reader’s participation in its interpretation or “writing,” its open-endedness does not preclude political critique. Rather, through its double narration, “Earthquake” is carefully structured to represent the effects of racialized patriarchy on the Japanese American female subject and to convey the dehumanizing symptoms of patriarchal accumulation.7


Yamamoto’s male Filipino farm worker is the central subject of Bulosan’s America, subtitled “A Personal History” but more accurately conceptualized as an “ethnobiography”; as E. San Juan, Jr., observes, its protagonist, Allos, is both autobiographical and representative of the more than 30,000 Filipinos living in California in the thirties (137). The majority of these Pinoys-as Filipinos in the U.S. called themselves-worked in the factories in the fields as “nomad harvesters,” in the words of proletarian poet Marie De L. Welch (qtd. in McWilliams, Factories n.p.). The oxymoronic idea of “nomad harvesters,” people who cannot settle on the very land that they cultivate, captures the contradictions within monopoly capitalism’s penetration of California farming; the migrant fieldhands responsible for the crops’ ripening are themselves doomed to rot, “homeless,” according to Welch, even as they “send the harvest home” (8). Likewise, America bears witness to the wretched conditions of this work, but where Welch’s poem renders its ceaselessness (“Move and pause and move on” [line 14]) and invokes an essentially passive body of laborers, Bulosan conveys the growing militancy of Pinoy workers in the thirties.

America exemplifies the “readable” text: Bulosan structures his narrative to persuade his readers to strike a blow against fascism in all of its forms-from the irrigated Californian desert to the beleaguered Spanish Republic-through international labor solidarity in dialectical relation to popular nationalism.8 Thus, Bulosan purports to depict the development of a political consciousness that will lead to a truly democratic American society, one whose members will be equally represented under the law and who will share fairly in the fruits of their labor.

The subjects of Bulosan’s collectives are predominantly male: (inter)national, cross-racial labor solidarity in America is cemented by homosocial bonds facilitated by first- and third-world women who often function as vessels for male-authored agendas rather than as subjects in their own right.9 Indeed, Bulosan’s inability to imagine, let alone represent, women’s subjectivities can be understood by examining two contradictory statements culled from letters to friends. In a 1938 letter to Ann Dionisio, Bulosan writes, “Throughout my life, from my fartherest [sic] childhood until now, I was really never close enough to a woman to know what kind of animal she is. And this is why when writing, when talking, my thoughts of women are too idealized” (Sound 5). Three years later, regarding a prostitute he had befriended, Bulosan would say, “I have some wonderful materials from her life. 1 will let you know what she is” (11). In America, knowledge of “Woman” is both disavowed and assumed, much as it is in these letters; female characters fall into a whore/virgin dichotomy, the terms of which rest along the same patriarchal spectrum and depend on each other for meaning and impact. This paradigm appears early in the book, when Bulosan contrasts his saintly mother with a girl who defiantly attempts to force Allos’s brother Macario into marriage. The whore/virgin dichotomy becomes even more pronounced once Allos immigrates to the U.S. White female writers (the Odell sisters), prostitutes with the proverbial heart of gold (Marian), and drifters (like Mary, who “become[s] a symbol of goodness” [301] to Allos and the other Pinoys with whom he lives) embody the nurturing, open-armed, and warm-bosomed America that Allos seeks once he enters the brutal world of Alaskan canneries, West Coast fields, and little Manilas. Other women, however, ranging from agents provocateurs (Helen) to political opportunists (Lucia Simpson, the Communist) to unnamed prostitutes and dance hall girls, use their sexuality to take advantage of Filipino men, even endangering their lives. Yet, regardless of whether they are virgins or whores, women in Bulosan’s narrative, according to Asian American literary critic Rachel Lee, “signal a lack of personal liberty” and thus “cannot participat[e] in a free community but can only act as the equivocal sign of its absence” (23).10

However, just as we need to probe the “articulate silences” on Pinoy life in “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” we should attend more carefully to America’s double-voicing of the lives of working women in the first and third worlds. Manifestly silent on the specificities of women’s oppression and liberation, America can be read against its masculinist mode of cultural production for its articulation of the ways in which U.S. imperialism, monopoly capitalism, and patriarchal modes of accumulation have conditioned the lives of Filipino peasant women and white female workers in the U.S. Unlike Yamamoto, Bulosan does not critique patriarchy but entirely subsumes sexual oppression under economic exploitation; in representing productive and reproductive forms of labor, he does not acknowledge the sexual hierarchies that structure them. Even so, overemphasis on the symbolic function of women in the book does not obscure the traces of female subjectivities that emerge despite Bulosan’s male-centered and paternalistic perspective.

I follow Rachel Lee’s critical examination of fraternal communities in America, commencing with one of its opening passages-in which Allos’s brother, Leon, returns to the family farm in Mangusmana after fighting in World War I. Shortly thereafter, he marries only to see his wife tied to a tree to be whipped by angry peasants according to a “cruel custom” (7) of punishing women who lose their virginity before marriage. For Lee, this moment is the first of many in which female sexuality is shown to disrupt brotherly unity, as the couple are forced to leave the village. While this reading is plausible, it does not harmonize with the narrators interpretation of the events: “But [the whipping] was a fast-dying custom, in line with other backward customs in the Philippines, yielding to the new ways of the younger generation that were shaping out sharply from the growing industrialism” (7). Ostensibly, the text exemplifies what Kenneth Mostern has argued to be Bulosan’s problematic Americanism whereby the Philippines is backward and “primitive” (as the narrator often describes his homeland), hence in need of the enlightenment that only America can provide. This is not to say that female sexuality is purely incidental or that the narrator indicts the patriarchal, as opposed to atavistic, premises of the custom; as Lee observes, the woman is “repeatedly denied agency over her body” (21). At the same time, the text does not fault the sexual “impurity” of Leon’s wife so much as the angry, “primitive” peasants. While the narrator reveals his own patriarchal attitude toward the woman, the form of primitivism that Bulosan chooses to criticize is one in which the traffic in women is brutally enforced.

Furthermore, it is not only Leon and Allos who are separated as a result of this punitive tradition-the subsequent chapter reveals that the family as a whole is affected. To make this distinction is not simply to split hairs but to shift from an emphasis on Filipino blood brotherhood to the family-and especially the significance of Allos’s mother-as they are portrayed in the first section of the book. This is an important move for two reasons. E. San Juan, Jr., asserts that “what most readers of America have ignored, by virtue of dogmatism or inertia, is the whole of part I, in particular the resourcefulness, perseverance, and courage of the peasantry, which could not be fitted into an implicit Asian American canonical paradigm” (146). While San Juan’s own work does much to remedy this problem, much remains to be said about the dialectical relationship between Allos’s childhood in the Philippines and its impact on his maturing political consciousness in the context of Pinoy labor organization.” second, attending to Part Ys significance to the rest of the ethnobiography, which takes place in the U.S., is crucial to a feminist reading of America given the sexual demographics of Filipino migrant labor, whereby Pinoys were heavily over-represented compared to Pinays in Hawaii and on the mainland.12 Here, I take my cue from Gary Okihiro’s thoughts on re-centering women within Asian American historiography:

Asian men in America were not solitary figures moving in splendid isolation but were intimately connected to women in Asia …. Recentering women extends the range of Asian American history, from bachelor societies in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland to the villages and households in Asia, in an intricate and dynamic pattern of relations. (68)

Lee has reservations about this approach to overcoming the gendered boundaries of Asian American history, contending that it does not guarantee “a practice friendly, or even attentive, to women, much less a feminist critique that would interrogate gender hierarchy and gender difference” (9). Nonetheless, she succinctly formulates the merits of Okihiro’s proposal:

Feminist criticism reconceived on this terrain would require more than the recovery of women’s histories in Asian locations: it would entail, at the minimum, an account of the enabling or disabling economic and social effects on women circumscribed by such international trade and labor routes and by the gendered terms of kinship reformulated under transnational conditions. (9)

This is precisely why I find it necessary to examine Bulosan’s portraits of Filipino women in America. And while a transnational paradigm for Asian American studies might not in and of itself lead to feminist critique, such an objection does not seem a compelling reason for ignoring its potential.13

To return to the passage in which Leon brings home his bride, we can see how their union is impacted by the displacement of small landholding farmers. Bulosan mentions that Leon’s wife “came from a poor family in the north, in the province of Ilocos Sur” (6); her origins are significant here because they speak to the fact that she hails from an area of the Philippines from which men had emigrated to Hawaii in droves to work on the sugar plantations.14 According to Elizabeth Uy Eviota, the percentage of households headed by women in those regions that had lost men to the Hawaiian plantations was much larger than the national average.15 The declining number of marriageable men might account in part for this Ilocana woman’s coming to wed a man from Pangasinan. Bulosan also notes that when the woman who becomes Leon’s wife arrives, she “hire[s] herself to one of the farmers who had more hectares of land than the others” (6). This passage alludes to the beginning of a trend consequent upon Filipino peasant land dispossession that exacerbated the unequal division of labor between the sexes; when it came to staple crops like corn, which Allos’s father grows, “considerably more women than men were labourers: men were usually the farmers, and women the farm workers” (Eviota 68). The sexual hierarchy is even more pronounced when we consider a later passage in which Allos’s father tries to find work on another farmer’s land after selling his own to provide one of his sons with money for school: as Allos says, “But my father was a farmer, not a hired laborer. It humiliated him to hire himself out to someone” (29). Whereas the villagers positively attribute the work of Leon’s wife as a hired hand to her origins within “a thrifty and industrious people” (6), it is humiliating for a man to hold the same socioeconomic position.

Like the woman who marries Leon, Allos’s mother, Meteria, is a shadowy presence at the beginning of the book. She quickly materializes, however, as we learn why she is away from Mangusmana, the setting for chapter one: Meteria resides in Binalonan, from which she forays into other villages to barter boggoong (salted fish) for food that she can then sell in the market. Women’s vending was delegitimized or rendered invisible by official discourses on work in the Philippines; the U.S. census, for example, consistently underestimated the number of female traders. However, Bulosan makes it clear that Meteria’s business is integral to the family’s sustenance and, in particular, to financing the education of Allos’s older brother Macario.16 In keeping with the desire for education prevalent in the Philippines at the time-a desire fostered by the U.S. regime to create a suitable work force and to squelch nationalist rebellion-Allos’s parents are “willing to sacrifice anything and everything to put [his] brother Macario through high school” (14). Allos wishes to emulate his brother, but the narrative frequently illustrates Macario’s elitism and his insensitivity to his family’s struggles to support him. For example, upon returning home his first words to Allos concern the younger brother’s appearance:

Shielded from the harsh living conditions of the rest of his family, Macario sees Allos’s long hair as a lack of civilization rather than as a necessity for doing the field work that finances Macario’s schooling. While Allos’s father accepts the reified consciousness that Macario has developed by “being educated in the American way” (20), his mother tries to challenge Macario when he threatens to leave school unless his parents furnish him with money they do not have: ‘”We have only one hectare left, son,’ said my mother, trying desperately to make my brother understand our poverty with futile movements of her hands” (22). Enmeshed within the daily details of (re)productive work, Meteria understands the immediate impact that losing their land would have on the rest of the family. The futility of her gestures is reinforced by Allos’s father, who obviates her protest by telling Macario that they will sell the remaining land. In response, Meteria’s “hands leaped frantically from her lap to her mouth and stayed there, stifling the protest. In one fleeting instant, [Allos] saw her handsbig-veined, hard, and bleeding in spots” (22). Like his mother, and unlike his father and brother, Allos perceives the human cost of Macario’s education, which Bulosan captures through his description of Meteria’s laboring hands, the first of a recurring synechdocal image that appears throughout the book whenever Bulosan conveys the dehumanization of being reduced to a “hand” by the profit motives of U.S. imperialism.’7

Although Macario successfully completes his high school education, he cannot keep the family land from being expropriated by an absentee landowner, and when Allos’s father is relegated to tilling inhospitable ground, he sends his son to town to live with his mother. It is in the subsequent passages depicting Meteria’s trading that we come to know her best-Allos states, “It was during this period that I came to understand my mother’s heart” (33)-and it is not coincidental that, of all the spheres of her life, her business is the one in which she possesses the most autonomy. As Eviota notes, “trading as productive women’s work does enable [Filipino women] to engage in a variety of social exchanges which are valuable in themselves for the opportunities they provide and which do not occur in many other sectors of work available to working-class women” (131). By accompanying his mother in her travels and interactions with other peasants, Allos discovers the foundations for his subsequent labor radicalism: “I had come upon another world that was to become a foretaste of my later struggles for a place in the sun. Selling boggoong and salt with my mother gave me an opportunity to meet many people and to become a part of their lives” (36). In the course of her enterprise, Meteria counters the American individualism that Macario attempts to inculcate in Allos through the example of Robinson Crusoe: “Someday you may be left alone somewhere in the world and you will have to depend on your own ingenuity” (32). In a subsequent passage, Allos learns a different lesson from Meteria as the two foray into a village “where the poorest peasants lived on a barren land” (34). There they encounter a woman who begs for some of the boggoong that Meteria sells. “[T]hinking of the next payment on [the family] land” (35), Meteria initially hesitates to grant the woman’s request to dip her hands into the salted fish but ultimately acquiesces. When Allos starts to laugh at the woman’s pathetic maneuver, Meteria reprimands him angrily: “‘Someday you will understand these things,’ she said, looking up at the house” (35) where the woman runs to find rice to eat with the remnants of her boggoong. Phrased similarly to Macario’s declaration, Meteria’s injunction contrasts directly with her older son’s perspective. Instead of being concerned primarily with making money for herself and her family, she tries to sustain others who are similarly or even more impoverished. Says Allos: “my mother gave even to those peasants who had nothing to barter in the hope that when we came around again they would be ready to pay. We were not always able to collect everything we had loaned, but my mother kept on giving our products to needy peasants” (33). It is not only Meteria’s trade but her attitude toward it-privileging the collective well-being over competing economic motives-that shape Allos’s incipient politicization.

The spirit of collectivism is furthered in a lyrical passage in which Meteria and Allos head for the village of Puzzorobio by means of a slippery highway:

We waded through this dangerous road, holding onto each other firmly to keep from falling; and sometimes in our intimate grasp we communicated a rare and lovely understanding. Maybe it would be only the sudden tightening of my mother’s thumb or forefinger on my arm, but the delicate message would be transmitted and it would linger in my memory. (37)

More so than his interactions with his brothers, this moment of tactile communication signals an “unmistakable cry for help between two suffering people” (37), foreshadowing the familial bonds that Allos will try to re-create in America once he, Amado, and Macario are separately driven there by Philippine underdevelopment. These familial ties lead Allos to generalize and to imagine a larger collective of workers “holding onto each other firmly to keep from falling.”

Juxtaposed with the familial, peasant solidarity intimated by Meteria and Allos’s journey to Puzzorobio, their vending within the village leads to the boy’s first clash with the native bourgeoisie in the person of an elegantly attired girl who upsets Meteria’s beans in response to her admiring gaze. As Meteria retrieves the beans, Allos distances himself from her: “I was one peasant who did not crawl on my knees and say: ‘It is all right. It is all right…'” (38). For Lee, this passage illustrates the mother’s submission to and identification with the bourgeoisie, but it is not only Meteria who displays such attitudes: later, Allos becomes exasperated with Macario’s subservience as a servant in a white household, and he contends with his own longing for bourgeois trappings. Furthermore, in an earlier passage Bulosan establishes Meteria’s love of beauty in order to intimate the social dimensions of art. Meteria comes across a woman “who had nothing to give except a beautiful drinking jar that she had made out of the red clay in her backyard” (33). Immediately drawn to the pottery, Meteria “gave the woman more than the pot’s value” (33). In this light, Meteria appears to be attracted by the elegant girl in the market not because she desires to belong to the bourgeoisie but because she longs lor a beauty which Allos “had never known her to appreciate…, but perhaps it was because she had no time to express the finer qualities in her” (33-34). Similarly, it is not until time slows for Allos-when he is hospitalized in America for tuberculosis brought on by years of malnutrition, harsh work, and cramped accommodations-that he can develop his own aesthetic sensibilities. And, like his mother, Allos will come to value beauty over profit.14

Meteria never develops the class consciousness that Allos does; she is incapable, for example, of explaining to her son the meaning of a peasant revolt organized by the Colorum Party. However, Bulosan associates ignorance not with Filipino womanhood but with the political perspective of certain segments of the peasantry. Allos’s father is equally ignorant of the significance of the Tayug revolt, preferring the reformist tactic of fighting for his property in court. This leads the narrator to pose the question, “What could a poor and ignorant peasant like my father do in an organization such as the provincial government of Pangasinan?” (58). Bulosan then shows that the answer lies not in individual lobbying in the capital but in collective, armed struggle on the land where he and his mother happen to be engaged in seasonal agricultural labor. Yet they are “so deeply absorbed in [their] work that [they are] not aware of what [is] going on” (59). The narrative, however, does not simply imply that Meteria cannot understand the revolt because she is a woman; her ignorance is overdetermined by the fact that she, like her husband, has accepted the socio-political hierarchies of the neo-colonial regime (which is why she suggests to Allos that he use his education to become a lawyer). Nonetheless, she does prefigure and shape the young Allos’s radicalization through her work and, just as importantly, through her work ethic of prioritizing concern for the livelihood of other peasants. In this sense, Bulosan reveals some of the “intimate connections” between women in Asia and Asian men in America that Okihiro wants to recenter.19


Like Meteria, the women whom Allos encounters when he emigrates to America can be read as a threat to homosocial struggles for an equality dependent upon female subordination. According to Lee’s reading of America, prostitutes and dance-hall workers are sexually objectified under a male gaze while female intellectuals are extensions of the mother/martyr figure exemplified by Meteria-but both “types” of women embody that which must be excluded from male working-class collectives. However, Bulosan’s representations of working women in the U.S. are at once simpler and more complex than this inclusion/exclusion model would suggest. Through several of his female characters, Bulosan imparts the historical conditions that differentially engender women’s oppression as well as empowerment, eschewing both the arrogant assumptions of knowing the Other in “her” singularity and the equally debilitating refusal to think beyond one’s viewpoint. As I have argued with respect to part one of America, an overemphasis on the text’s symbolic structures of gender obscures these micro-level portraits of women’s histories-histories that interrogate rather than reinforce the macro-level rhetoric of homosociality. Attending more closely to Bulosan’s representations of prostitutes and white female intellectuals, we see that he (mis)recognizes rather than elides the female subjects of labor, such that sexual exploitation is subsumed under economic exploitation. Nonetheless, even as Bulosan perpetuates this patriarchal form of analysis, I would argue that his representations of radical women intellectuals do not reinforce but repudiate dominant conceptions of what are properly “men’s” versus “women’s” spheres of praxis.

Bulosan both recognizes and disavows the laboring subject of prostitution in the episode involving Allos’s encounter with Marian, who cares for him after he is nearly lynched by vigilantes for organizing Mexican lettuce workers. Along with the Odell sisters and Mary, Marian certainly is “the caring maternal figure” that is “the singular desire thematized as ‘America'” (San Juan 139). Rather than simply engaging in hypostatization, however, Bulosan double-voices this woman’s history. He portrays Marian as dependent and submissive (“I’ll help you. I’ll work for you…. What I would like is to have someone to care for” [212], she tells Allos) but also strong (after finding out a lover is married, she says, “I tried to make a new life. Without illusions, I went on my way” [211]). Before sacrificing herself for Allos (by selling her body to acquire money for him, an act that ends in her death by syphilis), she tells him that she had worked as a dishwasher while attending college and had also picked hops with Mexicans and “gypsies.” And it is as a working woman that Marian initially attracts Allos’s attention: “Her hands were rough; the fingers were stubby and flattened at the top. My heart ached, for this woman was like my little sisters in Binalonan. I turned away from her, remembering how I had walked familiar roads with my mother” (211). If Bulosan elides Marian’s work as a prostitute, which is only mentioned and not represented, he describes the economic hardships that lead her into prostitution. Nonetheless, Marian is external and even antithetical to Allos’s labor organizing, despite the fact that her prostitution is what supports them during their brief time together.

It is not so much that Bulosan subscribes to an ideology of organizing a working class that excludes women as that he categorizes prostitutes with the lumpenproletariat: “The gamblers, prostitutes and Chinese opium smokers did not excite me, but they aroused in me a feeling of flight” (104). The lumpenproletariat are fundamentally anti-revolutionary just as Allos’s brother Amado, a bootlegger and gambler, is incapable of fighting against fascism so long as he belongs to a class that “cheat [s] Filipino farm workers of their hard-earned money” (161). The dance-hall girls are also structurally positioned to take away Pinoy wages: “The girl was supposed to tear off one ticket every three minutes, but I noticed that she tore off a ticket for every minute” that a cannery worker danced with her, Allos says (105). Nonetheless, in an exchange with a Lompoc businessman, Bulosan clarifies both that Pinoys are not inherently dissolute and that the small gamblers and prostitutes are not the true exploiters:

I think it is inaccurate, then, to read Bulosan’s representations of prostitutes as part of a patriarchal schema that excludes all women from the (inter)national body of workers, insofar as he asserts that those women and men involved with the informal economies of gambling, prostitution, and drugs contribute to the oppression of Filipino farmhands.

Bulosan’s exclusion of female prostitutes from the body of the radicalized working class also speaks to his need to desexualize the Filipino working class in response to the hypersexualization of the Pinoys. The idea that “every Filipino is a pimp” (121) reinforces racial segregation and exploitation; as Bulosan documents, whites opposed the 1931 ruling in Roldan v. Los Angeles County that allowed Filipinos to marry white women, while anti-union vigilantism and fears of miscegenation ran together: the white men who attempt to lynch Allos and José for organizing the Mexican lettuce pickers make a point of mutilating their genitalia. To counter this sexualized construction of the Filipino body, Bulosan invests Allos with an asexual (or even anti-sexual) persona; an adolescent experience with a young dancing partner leaves him “trembling with cold and sudden fear” (78), and his single sexual encounter fills him with a “nameless shame” (160). Not surprisingly, his adult relations with women in the U.S. are platonic. Ultimately, though, this fear of sexuality buttresses Bulosan’s inability to perceive the material realities of prostitution and sexual abuse.

Perhaps the closest that Bulosan comes to grappling with the problems posed by the sexual exploitation of women is in a different text altogether, his short story “Homecomlng.” As this work recounts the bitter return of a young Pinoy, Mariano, to his family in the Philippines, it links the trafficking of “third world” women to the international labor market. In the story, Mariano makes his way toward what he thinks of as “his father’s house” (90) to find only his mother and two sisters, Francisca and Marcela, as he is unaware that his father had died a year after Mariano left for the U.S. Although excited at the prospect of being with his family, he is hobbled by inarticulacy every step of the way: “He wanted to shout to [his mother] all the sorrows of his life, but a choking lump came to his throat” (91); “he wanted to say something, but did not know where to begin” (93); he tells his mother and sisters, “I wanted to write, but there was nothing I could say” (94). Likewise, Mariano cannot bring himself to tell them that he is ill with tuberculosis and has only two years left to live. His sisters and mother, too, are resoundingly silent; when Mariano asks if they have been able to manage, Francisca begins weeping and retreats to another room. Marcela, who is “tougher,” regards her sister “with hard, unsentimental eyes” (94). Mariano is “frightened, knowing what Marcela could do in a harsh world,” and she confirms his fears, telling him that “Sister isn’t pretty any more” (94). As he regards Marcela, he realizes that she, too, “was not pretty any more” (94), and it is then that Mariano understands the silence of his mother and sisters: “it dawned on him that [they] had suffered the same terrors of poverty, the same humiliations of defeat, that he had suffered in America…. This was the life he had found in America; it was so everywhere in the world” (95). In his despair, he realizes that “he could not do anything at all” and takes one last look at his sleeping family before departing forever.

As with Yamamoto’s stories, Bulosan’s “Homecoming” is replete with articulate silences, although they are conditioned by different social circumstances than those surrounding Yamamoto’s issei and nisei characters.20 What initially renders Mariano unable to express himself in words is his failure to strike it big in America, thereby letting his family down: “He wanted to tell [his sister] the truth, but could not. How could he let them realize that he had come home because there was no other place for him in the world?” (93). For Francisca and Marcela, their nameless shame is the need to work as prostitutes in order to support themselves and their incapacitated mother. Unable to admit their respective histories to one another, the family cannot share the realization of what Mariano achieves on his own: that what they perceive as their individual failures are pieces of a larger picture of systemic poverty, defeat, and exploitation.

What is striking about “Homecoming” is that while it fundamentally centers on the problem of prostitution, it cannot fully grapple with it. On one hand, Bulosan renders the wretchedness of prostitution precisely by leaving it all but unnamed, resorting to a euphemism that captures the sisters’ desperation all the more forcefully. He furthermore makes it clear through Mariano’s reaction that Francisca and Marcela are not to be morally or personally indicted: “he felt like smashing the whole world; he was burning with anger. He was angry against all the forces that had made his sisters ugly” (94). The same forces that drive Mariano to the U.S. are what lead him to return home empty-handed and leave his family destitute, which renders prostitution the only viable path for his sisters to supplement the paltry income they earn as laundresses and nursemaids. At the same time, Mariano’s systemic analysis of their situation does not account for the fact that they labor within a socio-economic structure that is not only capitalistic but patriarchal. Symptomatic of the narrative’s phallocentrism is the fact that only the male protagonist comes to possess a larger understanding of the family’s oppression. Having comprehended his sisters’ situation, Mariano flees from rather than struggles with it, while coming to terms with the political nature of prostitution is never raised for the sisters. Nonetheless, the story conveys the message that both migrant fieldhands and prostitutes are exploited workers. The story’s failed conclusion functions as a negative rather than positive call to resist collectively the degradation of Filipino women and men, whose fates are inextricably linked under global capitalism: it is because Mariano is alone that he cannot act on his newfound knowledge.

Bulosan’s (mis)recognition of the laboring subject of prostitution-his registering the female’s economic but not sexual subordination-extends to his treatment of white female intellectuals, who (along with Marian and the vagabond, Mary) embody the good America that Allos hopes to enter. Most notably, Eileen Odell, with “her almost maternal solicitude” and lack of “disturbing sensuousness” (234), is “the America [Allos] had wanted to find” (235). Lee argues that these maternal women serve as vessels “speaking male privilege, advocating political agendas set by men, and inadvertently securing brotherly bonds even as they remain marginal to their bonding,” thereby “rendering antisexist work irrelevant” (33). Indeed, the rhetoric of brotherhood prominent in the book seems to support Lee’s criticisms; for example, Allos describes the significance of the novels that Eileen gives him in terms of the “universal brotherhood” that they “so gloriously had … succeeded in inspiring” (238). Furthermore, despite the fact that her sister is a proletarian writer, Eileen gives Allos only books by male authors, who become part of his international brotherhood; Dora Travers’s stated reasons for leaving for the Soviet Union have entirely to do with U.S. racism; Laura Clarendon, Bulosan’s fictionalized version of proletarian writer Clara Weatherwax, is notable not for her representations of female radicalism but for featuring a Filipino hero in her novel. Such women apparently prioritize racial and economic oppression to the exclusion of sexual oppression.

Yet despite Bulosan’s inability to perceive the intersectionality of gendered and racialized social formations, his portraits of the women he encounters in the hospital render some of the ways that, for female intellectuals, “the Depression decade opened up a range of possibilities that enabled their entry into what Leslie Rabine has called ‘feminine historicity'” (Rabinowitz 39). While they were not exempt from the raging impoverishment of the general population, “[t]hirties women speak of History-with a capital ‘H’-intervening into their lives and remaking them” (39). The political exigencies and heightened awareness of systemic crises provided some women with opportunities to insert themselves into, and to re-articulate the terms of, struggles of global significance. Dora Travers, a Soviet émigré, tells Allos that she is returning home to have her child of part-Filipino parentage “born in a land without racial oppression” (227). Although Allos indicts her for abandoning America (just as he faults expatriate writers such as Hemingway and Wright), he shows how Dora politicizes motherhood to protest America’s illegitimization of interracial children. In Alice Odell, Allos finds inspiration for his own desire to become an organic intellectual. Initially intimidated by what he perceives to be her “social position” (228) as a noted proletarian writer, he realizes that “her life and mine were the same, terrified by the same forces” (230). Like him, she hails from a dispossessed farming family but manages to become “a writer of promise,” one who “was writing a novel about her starved childhood” (228). This, of course, is what the autobiographical Allos aspires to do. And she is another woman who travels to the Soviet Union in the hope that her stance on racial and economic equality will be strengthened. When Alice departs, she asks Eileen to look after Allos in the hospital. Eileen proves to be her sister’s intellectual peer: she furnishes the bulk of the books that comprise Allos’s education and discusses the Spanish Civil War with him. Allos is almost as impressed by Laura Clarendon, “a young woman who had just written a proletarian novel about the Northwest. This book, the first of its genre to appear in the early thirties, had won a national contest” (238) and, most notably for Allos, features a Filipino protagonist who counters the typical “stockpile characters in entertaining stories” (239).21 Allos asserts that, although she does not continue to write, Laura “had helped to shape” (239) the proletarian fiction movement.

Bulosan undoubtedly idealizes these women such that they figure as surrogate mothers for Allos, but they are still unmistakably represented as political subjects who participate in the struggle over the meaning of the war between Labor and Capital.22 To characterize them as mouthpieces “speaking male privilege, advocating political agendas set by men” (Lee 33) is to imply that fascism, racism, and labor organizing are primarily male rather than female concerns. Even as Bulosan excludes women’s issues from the fight for democracy, reiterates the phallocentric rhetoric of brotherhood, and naturalizes women as caregivers, he testifies to the ways that white female radical intellectuals refuted the very logic of brotherhood that he adopts-one that segregates women from the most salient political issues of the time.

Bulosan’s conflicted representations of female subjectivity result in double-voiced narratives of women’s lives that are frequently at odds with each other. On one hand, we have one-dimensional figures who conform to the whore/virgin dichotomy. This reiteration of patriarchal stereotypes is symptomatic of the text’s anxieties around female sexuality, anxieties due in large part to the sexualization of anti-Filipino discourses (in which Pinoys prey upon white women). We can read Bulosan as addressing such racist conceptions by employing a poetics of silence to represent the “problem” of sexuality. For example, the material realities of prostitution are absent from the text as a result of the fear and disgust Allos exhibits toward women’s sexuality. Thus, even as Allos’s repudiation of sex challenges racist stereotypes, it leaves the patriarchal component of these stereotypes intact: women are no longer virginal prey but whorish predators; either way, they are not political subjects as men are.

Nonetheless, it is also through this poetics of silence that Bulosan breaks out of the whore/virgin binary by recentering Asian women within Asian America and representing the empowerment of the first-world female intellectual. The story “Homecoming” thematizes silence in order to name prostitution as a form of women’s exploitation. At the same time, Bulosan’s recognition of the prostitute as laboring subject is also misrecognition, since sexual subordination is simply equated with economic exploitation. Within America itself, strong female characters emerge from and repudiate the caricatures of womanhood that populate the narrative. Meteria and Alice Odell, for example, are not simply saintly mothers but also historical agents for whom experiences of oppression have dialectically engendered modes of resistance-Meteria’s trading business, Alice’s writing. Consequently, they lay the foundations for Allos’s politicization not as hyper-feminized caregivers/nurturers/teachers but as women who contest the ideologies of imperialism and patriarchy in their daily lives.


Although Yamamoto and Bulosan would seem to be more different than similar in their aesthetics and political visions, both writers interrogate the opposition between readerly and writerly texts. Yamamoto’s open-ended, polyvocal work enacts a critique of patriarchy and capitalism, while Bulosan’s social realism is ridden with historically conditioned contradictions around sexual equality that disrupt the closed and authoritarian narrative of brotherhood. In both Yamamoto’s and Bulosan’s fiction we find the poetics of articulate silence that represents the gendered and racialized subjects of imperialism. The silences of “marginal” characters such as Yamamoto’s Pinoy fieldhand and Bulosan’s third-world women are central to these textual engagements with mutually constitutive systems of racial, sexual, and economic oppression. Furthermore, in linking the cultural and political interests of Asian and working-class America and in demanding that the U.S. institute at home the democracy for which it waged war abroad, Yamamoto and Bulosan helped to extend the relevance of Popular Front multiculturalism beyond the thirties. Because these authors advocate inter-ethnic and interracial forms of solidarity in their fiction, demanding more than formal equality to include the redistribution of resources, their works presage what has been called “radical multiculturalism” today.

Finally, while Bulosan’s Popular Front political stance has been criticized for its “universalizing vision that oftentimes occludes the specificities and differences among various political movements” (Lee 35), I would argue that one of the key contradictions within America is its lack of a sufficiently universalizing vision, one that conceives of gender and sexuality as central to implementing social equality. Allos’s internationalism does not substantially recognize the pressing need to contest the subordination of women, which leads Lee to argue that “[w]hile national directives on sexuality may underlie Bulosan’s textual subordination of women as laboring subjects, it may also be the case that this cross-racial, egalitarian brotherhood (of labor) is secured by the objectification of women” (37). I have shown, however, that Bulosan’s cross-racial, egalitarian alliances are not only, or even primarily, ones with brothers under the skin but also with anti-fascist women who emerge as subjects situated uneasily within discourses yoking national identity and motherhood. More broadly, I want to delink historical materialism from phallocentrism, and class-based solidarity from patriarchal relations. While historical materialism does not guarantee feminist analysis, neither does it necessarily engender male chauvinism, as alleged by some post-Marxist strands of feminism. Rejecting totalizing analyses in favor of partial paradigms ultimately leaves us unprepared to combat global capitalism. Allos’s evolving perceptions of the connections between fascism in California and Spain, Mariano’s realization that prostitutes and migrant fieldworkers suffer “the same terrors of poverty,” and the linkage implied between Mrs. Hosoume’s disempowerment and Marpo’s exploitation are critical revelations that propel the reader toward a systemic understanding of oppression and resistance as well as toward a fuller sense of Bulosan’s and Yamamoto’s craft.

University of Colorado, Boulder


1 I therefore focus on Bulosan much more so than on Yamamoto. This is not because I agree with Moore’s privileging of Bulosan but because his work, especially America is in the Heart, is more overtly engaged with the Popular Front than Yamamoto’s, and one of my concerns is to re-examine the significance of the Popular Front to Asian American Studies and vice versa. That said, I recognize that Yamamoto’s place within the Popular Front needs to be more fully examined.

2 See, for example, Cheung, Articulate Silences’, Elaine H. Kim, “Hisaye Yamamoto: A Woman’s View”; Robert T. Rolf, “The Short Stories of Flisaye Yamamoto, Japanese American Writer”; and Slan Yogi, “Legacies Revealed: Uncovering Buried Plots in the Stories of Hisaye Yamamoto.”

3 One prominent example of criticism that focuses on Yamamoto’s conceptualization of class is Donald C. Goellnicht’s “Transplanted Discourse in Yamamoto’s ‘Seventeen Syllables.'” Grace Kyungwon Hong examines the relationship between race and property rights in Yamamoto’s memoir, “A Fire in Fontana.”

4 Interestingly, Marpo’s age is given as twenty-seven; as the setting for the story is the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, his year of birth would have been 1906-the year the first Filipinos recruited to work the sugar plantations arrived in Hawaii (Cordova 26). Another possible context for “Yoneko’s Earthquake” is the Filipino boycott of Japanese stores in Stockton in the winter of 1929-30. The boycott was in response to a Japanese American man’s attempt to annul the marriage between his daughter and a Pinoy (Lasker 17).

5 Many critics have observed that Yamamoto is not unsympathetic to the plight of issei men, and this is the case in “Earthquake.” The narrator notes that this instance is “the first time [Mr. Hosoume] had ever laid hands on [Mrs. Hosoume]” (53), and we are led to understand that Mr. Hosoume’s violence, though inexcusable, is his way of compensating for the fact that he is only nominally the household head after the earthquake: he “stay[s] at home most of the time” and occasionally has “supper on the stove when Mrs. Hosoume [comes] in from the fields” (51). Mr. Hosoume is as much trapped within the patriarchal structure of the family as he is a perpetrator of it.

6 Yoneko thinks of Marpo as a “dog-eater” after his departure because she is hurt by what she perceives to be his abrupt desertion of her. Her willingness to re-adopt the racism that she had overcome earlier speaks to its prevalence and, in particular, her internalization of her father’s views (he again denigrates Filipinos when Yoneko paints her nails, saying that she “look[s] like a Filipino” [52]). The insidiousness of this racism is further shown by the fact that Yoneko in turn teaches her brother to think of Marpo as “an eater of wild dogs.”

7 I would not go so far as to say, as Donald Goellnicht does, that Mrs. Hosoume and Marpo’s affair is a form of interracial, cross-class solidarity (189-90), because the narrative does not provide us with either of the characters’ perspectives on their relationship, let alone its political implications, nor does the narrator comment on them even indirectly.

8 As many critics have noted, America was initially received as an immigrant Horatio Alger story celebrating the virtues of American democracy. Marilyn Alquizola resolves the seemingly competing narratives of subversion and assimilation by plausibly arguing that the latter strategically masks the former; Kenneth Mostern, on the other hand, contends that America is ultimately unsubversive-an interpretation that dismisses, 1 think, the critical edge of Bulosan’s Americanism. Sau-ling Wong views the narrator’s political development as fundamentally at odds with the book’s representations of unmappable, “necessitous motion” (136), which forecloses any ideological closure. Similarly, Lisa Lowe contests the book’s classification as a Bildungsroman, arguing that “the narrative captures the complex, unsynthetic constitution of the immigrant subject between an already twice-colonized Philippine culture, on the one hand, and the pressure to conform to Anglo-American society, on the other” (45). Wong’s and Lowe’s deconstructive readings usefully probe the book’s ideological oscillations and contradictions, but they shortshrift its representations of radical political development.

9 See especially Rachel Lee’s discussion of America. More thoroughly than critics have done heretofore, Lee’s feminist intervention within scholarship on America elucidates the ways that the text naturalizes female subordination in the process of imagining revolutionary communities.

10 Michael Denning makes a similar argument but does not explore its implications for the configuration of female subjectivity in America: “The alliance of brothers provokes a profound ambivalence: if it marks the narrative’s moments of Utopian solidarity, it is haunted by sexual aggression and anxiety” (275).

11 In addition to San Juan’s numerous writings on Bulosan, see Slotkin, “Igorots and Indians: Racial Hierarchies and Conceptions of the Savage in Carlos Bulosan’s Fiction of the Philippines” and Campomanes, “Two Letters from America: Carlos Bulosan and the Act of Writing.” As Campomanes shows, a fuller reading of the first section of America entails looking beyond the book itself and attending to the wide range of Bulosan’s work, which gets overlooked as a result of America’s canonical status within Asian American letters. Timothy Libretti’s dissertation chapter on The Power of the People, Bulosan’s novel on the Huk rebellion, is another important example of scholarship that examines the centrality of Filipino history and culture to Bulosan’s revolutionary imagination.

12 Between 1906 and 1934 the already disproportionate number of Filipino men to Filipino women in Hawaii grew increasingly lopsided; the Third Wave of Filipino immigration (1930-34) comprised 13,488 men and 610 women (Cordova 29). According to Carey McWilliams, “from 1920 to 1930, some 1395 Filipino males entered California for every 100 Filipino females, giving an excess male population of 39,328” (Brothers 236).

“Pinoy” and “Pinay” are colloquial Tagalog terms for Filipino men and women, respectively.

11 That said, I understand Lee’s caution against conflating a transnational framework with feminist analysis. For example, drawing on Julia Kristeva’s notion of “woman’s time,” San Juan has commented upon what he sees as America’s most original feature: its juxtaposition of realism with “[c]omedy and the flows/flights of the unconscious” (145), a feature that redefines “the earth, the soil, and the maternal psyche/habitus as the ground of meaning and identity” (144). While I would agree with San Juan’s theorization of the narrator’s motivation and its influence on the formal properties of the text, he ignores the traces of the material conditions of women’s work that the narrative renders. For a critique of Bulosan’s simultaneously maternalized and sexualized envisioning of the earth, see Wong 120 and 132.

14 Cordova periodizes the First Wave of Filipino emigrants to Hawaii as lasting from 1906-19 (29). Allos tells us that he “must have been live years old” when Leon comes home, and it we assume that this is somewhat autobiographical, Leon’s return would date around 1918, which makes sense given that he is returning from World War I. Elizabeth Uy Eviota asserts that “[b]y 1932, there were 125,000 Filipinos employed in Hawaii, most of them Ilocanos and most of them men” (72).

15 “In these areas [which had sent labor abroad, such as Ilocos, or which had sent labor to other provinces], the proportion of households headed by women ranged from 13 to 19 per cent of the total. In the country as a whole about 11 per cent of households were headed by a woman. Women heads of households put in more hours of work as they bore the double burden of both household and paid work to an even greater extent” (Eviota 72).

16 See Eviota 65-70 for a discussion of the definitions of women’s productive work as they appear in the U.S. censuses between 1903 and 1960.

17 For example, when Allos first meets the white prostitute Marian, he is drawn to her in part because of her rough hands, which indicate that “she had done manual work” (211); seeing that Macario’s hands “were hard and calloused, like … mother’s” (241) leads to Allos’s comprehension of “the meaning” of his parents’ toil and sacrifices; re-encountering his brother Arnado after the latter’s stint as a racketeer, Allos notices the “long scar” (295) on his “mud-caked” hand (297), which shows how he has been “roughly handled” (295).

18 Nonetheless, Bulosan later attributes Allos’s “appreciation of beauty” to his experiences of snaring birds with his brother Luciano, who keeps them for their “esthetic pleasure” rather than for their usefulness (53).

19 The chapter on the Tayug revolt also documents the double burden that Allos’s mother carries, engaging in wage labor and childcare simultaneously. While harvesting the rice she “stopped now and then to feed Marcela, undoing her rough cotton blouse to her waist and putting her dark, pointed nipple into the baby’s hungry mouth. Then she would put her in a makeshift hammock and go back to work” (59).

20 San Juan replicates rather than explores the story’s silence on prostitution in his brief reading of it, folding it into what for him is the more pressing absence: that of the father (159-60).

21 The novel that Allos describes is Clara Weatherwax’s Marching! Marching! (1935), which centers around the Aberdeen, Washington, strike of lumber and shipping workers, including a Pinoy named Mario. Weatherwax’s book won the 1935 New Masses prize for the best new proletarian novel.

22 My readings of the white female intellectuals in America coincide with Lina B. Diaz de Rivera’s interpretation of Helen O’Reilly, the “Woman Reader/Teacher” in Bulosan’s short story “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow.” Diaz de Rivera argues that, despite Bulosan’s initial association of Helen with the Virgin Mother/Mother Nature, she becomes the propagator rather than the object of knowledge who links “woman reading and men laboring” (14).


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____. “Homecoming.” On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Ed. E. San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995. 90-6.

____. Sound of Falling Light: Letters in Exile. Ed. Dolores S. Feria. Quezon City, Philippines: U of Philippines P, 1960.

Campomanes, Oscar V,. and Todd S. Gernes. “Two Letters from America: Carlos Bulosan and the Act of Writing.” MELUS 15 (1988): 15-46.

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