detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, June 25, 2001


: . ‘Life and Death of a Filipino in America’:

Two powerful stories exploring the racial tensions faced by Filipinos in California from the early 1940’s to the mid-1950’s. I first read Carlos Bulosan’s I Would Remember in Charlie Chan Is Dead : An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction
edited by Jessica Hagedorn—a book that I bought then exchanged for a copy of Brown River, White Ocean: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Philippine Literature in English edited by Luis Francia. Brown River… cost more than Charlie Chan… but since Erna lost my signed copy of Danger and Beauty (the now out-of-print collection of poetry and prose by Jessica Hagedorn) while shopping at Macy’s—I have not forgotten this almost 6 years after the fact—I think I made a fair trade. On second thought, my signed copy of Danger and Beauty was given to me as a gift by an English teacher who changed my life and I did lose my wallet on the train ride to Erna’s dorm in Barnard so it may not be such a fair trade after all…Anyway, I Would Remember is also included in the book On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan where it carries the clunky, almost forbidding title ‘Life and Death of a Filipino in America.’
I first read William Saroyan’s The Filipino and the Drunkard in high school while I was cooped up in an office stocked with old literature textbooks. Saroyan’s short short-story (2 pages!) is one of the more complex renderings of the crime of minding one’s own business, of the impossibility of being an innocent bystander in a country where minor of resentments can sometimes flare into outright racial hostility.

from I Would Remember by Carlos Bulosan:

One evening I was eating with the others when several men came into our bunkhouse and grabbed Leroy from the table and dragged him outside…Before Leroy realized what was happening to him, a big man came toward him from the darkness with a rope in his left hand and a shining shotgun in the other. He tied the rope around Leroy's neck while the other men pointed their guns at us…There was some scuffling outside, then silence…and there was a whispering sound of running feet on the newly cut grass in the yard and then the smooth purring of cars speeding away toward the highway and then there was silence again.
We rushed outside all at once, stumbling against each other. And there hanging on a eucalyptus tree, naked and shining in the pale light of the April moon, Leroy was swinging like a toy balloon…His genitals were cut and there was a deep knife wound in his chest. His left eye was gone and his tongue was sliced into tiny shreds. There was a wide gash across his belly and his entrails plopped out and spread on the cool grass.

Read the full story here.

from The Filipino and the Drunkard by William Saroyan:

The drunkard said he was an American. Twenty-four months in France. Wounded twice. Once in the leg, and once in the thigh…He was afraid of no dirty little yellow-belly Filipino with a knife. Let the Filipino come out, he was an American.
I will kill you, said the boy. I do not want to kill any man. You are drunk. Go away…
He could hear the motor of the boat pounding. It was like his rage pounding. It was a feeling of having been humiliated, chased about and made to hide, and now it was a wish to be free, even if he had to kill. He threw the door open and tried to rush beyond the man, the knife tight in his fist, but the drunkard caught him by the sleeve and drew him back. …[T]he boy…thrust the knife into the side of the drunkard, feeling it scrape against rib-bone. The drunkard shouted and screamed at once, then caught the boy at the throat, and the boy began to thrust the knife into the side of the man many times, as a boxer jabs in the clinches.
When the drunkard could no longer hold him and had fallen to the floor, the boy rushed from the room, the knife still in his hand, blood dripping from the blade…
Everyone knew what he had done, yet no one moved…
There was no place to go, and…he stopped suddenly and began to shout at the people.
I did not want to hurt him, he said. Why didn't you stop him? Is it right to chase a man like a rat? You knew he was drunk. I did not want to hurt him, but he would not let me go…It is not my fault. I must go to Oakland to see my brother. He is sick. Do you think I am looking for trouble when my brother is sick? Why didn't you stop him?

Read the full story here.

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