Coming to America, Retracing Bulosan, and
Gathering Narratives of Exclusion, PART 1
I came to America for the third time to write that book I have long kept in my heart. It would be a book about migrants defining space and place in a new land. It would be about exiles finding roots in a strange country, big roots, small roots, gnarled roots, earth-bound roots, airborne roots, protruding roots, damaged roots, alienated roots—roots of all shape, kind, color, form, some the reason for sustenance, some the cause for some form of dying within, some life-affirming, some providing anchor in the sea of life.
The book would be a labor of love, written from the heart, written with blood, written with sweat, sorrow, song, sadness—yet also written with the critical eye of a struggling ethnographer trying to decipher whether there is at all a difference between the narrative of a people –their big tales of struggle and survival interspersed with their raw, hard, sweet daily life –and that big novel that draws so much on fact and history, fiction and imagination, artistic license and freedom, longing and desire to dream of another time and place and space, another history perhaps beyond the deplorable memory of what is left the islands of their birthing, the islands of remembrance because precisely it is there where the placenta has remained, twin to the soul, twin to all that which makes up the man, all men born of sorrow and surrender, triumph and victory.
Or so we think—or so we believe.
But we must remember that there are so many things that could happen in other lands and other times and other tribes in situations that are strange and foreign.
In the areas beyond the familiar, there could be redemption, forgiveness, too. But all told, redemption comes after the fact; forgiveness comes after the grave and callous deed.
I vowed to myself: I would be the homo amatis of the philosopher of love that I tried to deconstruct sophomorically in my freshman class of philosophy of man in that royal and pontifical university in the heart of Manila somewhere between the believing people of Quiapo and the political fanatics and idiots of the Batasan complex where the laws are negotiated to protect the interest of the power holders.
Well, yes, indeed, it should be so if I were to speak the speech of the story-teller of alienation and exile, of departure and more departures from the homeland, of arrival and more arrivals in this new land of snow and rain and wildfire and exported war.
I would take the love component as the passionate perspective through which I would angle my seeing of the exilic experience.
I would take love as epistemology to guide me in my adventure of discovering what is it that is not said in the act of telling in order to see more the beautiful and the ugly in the construction of human realities—the ever-colorful realities, in fact, that pre-shape and pre-form our understanding of the Filipino that leaves hearth and home to eke a living in places so far away, so unknown, sometimes so unkind, unforgiving, unsympathetic.
I would dedicate this book to all those migrants who have come here in America before me in order to seek a greener pasture in this Promised Land. For the Promised Land is the eternal Utopia, the beautiful topos, the place where suffering would eventually come to a cessation, the place where finally justice would be served, the home where there would be food on the table and hunger would have been eliminated from the lexicon of life.
I have come to America for a number of times before and I have witnessed a life of abundance I have not had the chance to see anywhere.
It is this scene of abundance gaining a tropic value that has moved me to believe that indeed—and it must be so—that America has remained a land that promises so much to the one who is willing to put his life and limb to try it here, figure out what is in store for him, and hope that someday soon—someday soon—he would strike it rich, perhaps not so quickly but in time.
I have seen all these possibilities and have come to believe that America is one green pasture—greener than the islands yonder where the exile comes from not because the land is more verdant, the skies more blue, the seas more expansive but simply because those who lead here have the decency and self-respect to the people who toil, who contribute to the social wealth.
I use this “greener pasture” concept as a metaphor to account all those countless stories of leaving the homeland.
Having read Carlos Bulosan in college and in graduate school, and with Bienvenido Lumbera for a teacher, to boot, in a graduate course on Philippine literature, that belief now comes with certain conditions.
It must be so. For the migrant’s life is a metaphor of sorts, a metaphor of a country wishing it to be something else, a metaphor of a private soul going public, exposing the tall tales of milk and honey and golden treasure and narrating the pains of taking roots.
Check another part---
First published in the The Weekly Inquirer, 2005.