Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Being “recovered” is not new to Carlos Bulosan and his oeuvre. Virtually ignored in his home country during his lifetime, the Binalonan, Pangasinan native gained renewed attention in the 1970s following the republication of his magnum opus “America Is in the Heart” in 1973 by the University of Washington Press. The historical currents in martial law-era Philippines also proved hospitable to the ideas of class struggle and collective action that permeate the book, now considered a “social classic.”
It is opportune then that an edition of “America Is in the Heart” is being issued by Penguin Classics in 2019, in an era when issues of race, migration, and labor remain more fraught than ever. First published in 1946 in New York, the novel (subtitled “A Personal History”) follows the immigrant Allos in his journey from impoverished peasant origins in Pangasinan to the precarious, hapless life of an itinerant migrant laborer in Depression-era United States. His whirlwind odyssey, by turns torturous and moving, takes him anywhere from Alaskan canneries down to the agricultural fields of America’s rural west.
Along the way, Allos experiences brutal poverty, opportunism, racism, sickness, police brutality, and sheer systemic violence, but also a gradual transformation in his consciousness both as a migrant and a writer. His increasing feelings of solidarity with other farmhands lead to his involvement with early labor unions, in which he begins to situate his life experiences within the broader intersections of history, labor, and race relations. Bulosan’s prose is also clear and unobtrusive, with a naturalist ease that has been compared to John Steinbeck’s, his contemporary.
For these and a variety of other reasons, the novel would go on to become a defining text on migrant working class experience in pre-World War II America. Beyond the affirmative ethos in the book’s title, Bulosan draws from a life’s worth of encounters to articulate a complex, shifting conception of America from the unique perspective of the Philippines.
More than 70 years after “America Is in the Heart” was first published, Allos’ search for “greener pastures” remains painfully familiar and Bulosan’s ideas on democracy and social movements continue to resonate. For this alone, the book and Bulosan deserve another recovery, to introduce his classic work to a new generation of readers navigating a world in which so much has changed and yet so much has also remained the same.
The new Penguin Classics edition, due out in May 2019, comes with a foreword by the novelist Elaine Castillo, whose debut “America Is Not the Heart” (2018) continues the line of questioning about the so-called American dream that Bulosan’s book started; an introduction by foremost Bulosan scholar E. San Juan; and an annotated collection of Bulosan’s letters selected by Bulosan expert Jeffrey Arellano Cabusao.
The book will be released in time for the Asian-American History Month, along with three other titles: “The Hanging on Union Square” by H.T. Tsiang, the first American-Japanese novel “No-No Boy” by John Okada, and “East Goes West” by Younghill Kang.
It is the fifth Filipino book to join the Penguin Classics roster after Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” Jose Garcia Villa’s “Doveglion,” and Nick Joaquin’s “The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic.”
Penguin Classics publishes the canonical books of world literature such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and James Baldwin. These books are available to readers around the world.