In this lesson plan, students will learn about Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino American writer, activist, and community leader. He is one of the most widely-read Asian American writers of recent history.

Lesson Plan Materials:

Carlos Bulosan’s Biography
• Excerpt of America is in the Heart (pages 143-146 and pages 188-189)


Carlos Bulosan: The Man, the Myths, and the Movements

Step 1
Pass out Carlos Bulosan Biography written by Dawn Mabalon. This can also be assigned for homework the night before.

Step 2
Ask the students to describe Carlos Bulosan in their own words.

Step 3
Then ask the students to describe how they relate to his life.


America is in the Heart: Assign the students to read an excerpt from Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart. This activity aims to uncover why Bulosan entitle his self-proclaimed autobiography, "America is in the Heart?"

Step 1
Pass out excerpts from America is in the Heart or assign it for homework the night before. Have the students underline words or statements that answer the following question,

What does Carlos Bulosan mean by, “America is in the Heart?”

Step 2
First, you may want to address the concept of autobiography with your students. In the "Autobiographical Sketch" that was provided in San Juan's On Becoming Filipino —which was originally included in Stanley Kunitz's Twentieth Century Authors in 1955 —Bulosan wrote:

"my life is recorded in my autobiography, America Is in the Heart. Between 1931 and Pearl Harbor day, I lived violent years of unemployment, prolonged illness, and heart-rending labor union work on the farms of California. It was when I was dying of tuberculosis in the Los Angeles County Hospital that I had the opportunity to seriously read books which opened all my world of intellectual possibilities—and a grand dream of bettering society for the working man." (216)

Step 3
One of the major questions surrounding Bulosan’s work concerns the question of the autobiographical authenticity of Heart. Some have described his work as a novel or a collection of stories that include both composite characters and non-fictional representations of players in early Filipina/o American history, rather than an autobiography.

In his descriptions of the “manong generation” Bulosan provides the contemporary reader one perspective that has been used as the metanarrative in understanding early Filipino American history. This metanarrative focuses primarily on the experiences of early Filipino immigrants (mostly male, single, and working class) and their “bachelor society.” For example, historian Ronald Takaki relies almost exclusively on Bulosan’s “autobiography” in part of his section on Filipino immigrants in his history of Asian Americans, Strangers from a Different Shore. Although Heart is very useful, it alone cannot provide a comprehensive history of these early Filipino American immigrants. Our sole reliance on Bulosan’s text can create “a rather static, if not stereotypic image of early Filipino immigrants. The legacy of their experience is rich and deserves to be studied from more innovative sources of analysis” (San Buenaventura, 1).

Despite this critique, and other issues of historical accuracy and autobiographical authenticity, Bulosan’s stories can still be used to provide important themes to early Filipino American history. Discussions around the title provide an indication of Bulosan's feelings on this early part of Filipino American history. Students often identify the title “America Is In The Heart” as a manifestation or rewording of the "American Dream", but I often challenge students to rethink their initial thoughts on the title by asking, "Do we dream with our hearts or our minds?" I also ask, "In the book, does Bulosan achieve some kind of American Dream?"

It may be important to provide the students with a guiding statement about the title and then have them make references to other parts of the book. One way to look at the title is to ask if Bulosan believed that America is in the "heart of Filipinos" who spend their lives in the United States. The concept of America is not historically material, rather, “America” is a feeling or emotion. If America is living only in the heart, it may be that Bulosan believes that it is a fabrication of the individual's mind or soul and that its essence is alive only if propagated and transformed by its residents and citizens. The concept of “America”, therefore, goes beyond the concept of a dream, but rather, it is a “Dream Deferred,” as articulated by Bulosan’s contemporary, Langston Hughes.


An extension of this discussion would be to connect colonialism to how Filipinos construct their own meaning for the American Dream. As a result of colonialism in the Philippines, Filipinos have struggled with historical amnesia with the following L's:

Land – by establishing colonies or political rule
Labor – through slavery and/or exploitation
Liberty – by taking away freedom and/or violating human rights
Life – by attempting to destroy indigenous culture, ideology, identity, and
Language – to control communication and education
Legacy – through the destruction of histories, herstories, and ourstories

How does this affect our relationship with America? and the American Dream?

Step 4
Discussions centered on the meaning of the title can be further discussed in the four parts of the book. You may want to have the students take the title and show how it is represented in each element of the book, including the plot, narrator, point of view, setting(s), and characters. The title can also be related to themes in the four parts of the book, beginning with the Philippine memories, then the immigrant experience, along with the title's relationship to the social issues of discrimination, racism, class struggle, and even settlement. The discussions on the title and the questions provided below allow the class to get a chance to contextualize Heart in Filipino American history.


Problems/Questions of the Day:
The following questions can generate student discussion and research projects:

1. How does America Is in the Heart represent the early Filipina/o American experience?
2. What aspects of this early experience could have been left out? (for example, women's perspectives)
3. How did poverty in the Philippines affect Bulosan’s immigration to the United States?
4. What are the differences between pre-World War II and post-1965 immigration?
5. Does Bulosan present an accurate portrayal of the "manong/manang generation?"
6. How do the title and Bulosan's writing style affect the presentation of his perspective?
7. How do the class and labor struggles in the United States relate to racism and criminalization of the Filipino in America? How do the class struggle and Bulosan's interactions with communism relate to the title?

Connection: Do you feel like your own experiences relate to Carlos Bulosan’s?

Assessment: What did you learn from this lesson plan? What could have been improved?