Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Anger of Carlos Bulosan

“I am an angry man,” Carlos Bulosan wrote somewhere in his essay, “I am not a Laughing Man,” in a book “Bulosan: An Introduction with Selections” by literary critic, poet and fictionist E. San Juan Jr., a 2004 edition copy of which I found at the National Bookstore in Davao several years ago.
“I am an angry man,” Bulosan wrote, “That is why I started writing. I guess you will have to be angry at something if you want to be a writer."
Bulosan, whom I never heard fondly spoken of by literary writers who regard themselves artists for Art’s sake, was driven away from his homeland almost a century ago, his family scattered away from their farm in Northern Luzon, victims of the oppressive peasant conditions in the Philippines that can be traced back to the
Spanish times. Because of poverty, Carlos Bulosan was forced to leave the country to work in various fish canneries and asparagus farms in America for a pittance, an experience that had driven him to the brink of starvation and ---as a Filipino feeling alienation in America---turned him into a very angry man. He was real sore that he wrote furiously. He said one had to be sore at something to be a writer.
I, too, am a very angry woman. I am not only sore at something. I am sore at everything. The deprivation that Carlos Bulosan had once suffered in a far, far away land is no stranger to me right in my homeland, where millions are leaving each year to work as domestic helpers, entertainers, caregivers, welders, nurses and truck drivers abroad, fueling the worldwide Filipino diaspora that started back in Carlos Bulosan’s time. Nowadays, they fake papers, cross borders, bribe officers, even marry old bald foreigners just to get out of the country to find odd jobs abroad, odd jobs nobody else want to take just to stave off starvation at home.
I am not sore at Carlos Bulosan. In fact, I find the part of myself I never used to know-- in his writings. But I am sore because as a woman oftentimes stuck with all the unpaid chores at home, I suffer twice, thrice, four times and even five times the odds of Carlos Bulosan. I am sore because as a woman journalist paid only for every published story I write, I often end up not earning anything when I get stuck at home for a reason. I am sore because I’m getting too familiar with women’s works both at home and outside, which are often characterized by their numbing repetitiveness that trap instead of liberate the mind. I am sore because people---inside and outside the home---often expect these tasks from me and it takes my focus and concentration simply to refuse and to avoid them. I am sore because it never crossed my mind to leave the country until recently, while slicing tomatoes and nursing a sick child at home, I heard the radio announcer rattle the salaries of domestic help in Kuwait and caregivers in Canada and entertainers in Japan. I am very sore when I think a prostitute is actually getting much more than what I am earning as woman journalist, facing almost the same job hazard. I am mad because while I write stories about the right of workers to reasonable wages, I’m actually getting much, much, much less than what they’re being paid. I am sore because I had to put away my boys 500 kilometers away in my sister’s home just to be able to work full time but when I sit down to work full time before the computer, I am only staring at the blank wall, thinking of my boys. I am sore because I am actually living at the edge of starvation. I was shocked and sore last March when the preschool head teacher blamed me for failing to pay my little boy’s tuition fee.
I was not so shocked that they did not allow my child to take his final exams. But I was shocked because I asked them if my child could enter Grade One if I can pay his tuition in the opening of classes in June and they said, yes because he was actually doing well in school. I was very, very sore. I was sore to learn that the teachers had no idea about education as a right, instead of a privilege. I was already too shocked and too sore to say anything. I was shocked and sore because I remembered my other child in public school last year, where they had to hold classes in a very noisy gym every afternoon because another set of children had to use their classroom for the other half of the day. I was shocked and sore to realize that more children are actually dropping out of school. I was already very, very sore that I did not say anything as I walked out of the campus, looking for an ATM machine, but when I found out I only had the last P15 there, I was no longer shocked and sore. I was already in panic. I walked away briskly and anxiously to buy “turon” for lunch with the last change in my pocket before heading for office for some editing job. But then, again, I was sore at the woman on the jeepney who shooed a beggar in rags, just because he was smelly, dirty and had no money to pay. I was so sore because the woman tried to meet my eyes, thinking I shared her disgust towards the beggar, when all I felt was sheer disgust for life.
I was angry because a long, long time ago I quit an eight to five office job, where all I needed to do was punch my card on the Bundy Clock to get a salary and the rest of my work did not matter. I was so angry that I turned down all offers to work in eight to five jobs after that and started taking odd writing jobs, documenting workshops, just like how a laundry woman next door has been taking laundry from all kinds of people just to earn her keeps. I was very, very sore because I heard Julie Alipala telling us in August last year that some journalists in Zamboanga had to vend fish in the public market to live. I was angry because every other journalist I met during the 5th national congress of the NUJP in Tagaytay had death threats and libel cases. I was shocked to realize that a woman, if she manages to escape from the killer chores at home, can still end up getting killed outside if she is not very careful as a journalist. I was very, very angry that I could not say anything! I was very, very angry that I could not write!
For despite my love for Carlos Bulosan whose anger was so intense it turned him into a writer, my anger is not the anger of Carlos Bulosan. My anger is of a totally different kind. My anger is the anger of Ceres, the harvest Goddess, who at one time or so, was so angry with Pluto for raping her child, that she refused the Earth her blessings so that the sun refused to shine and the corn refused to grow. For just like corn seeds that the harvest Goddess tends, writing also needs some nourishment to thrive. I am angry because I am being punished for being a mother. It is this anger that confronts me now as I sit before the computer, hands on the keyboard, unable to write, because deep inside me everything is wilting. The harvest Goddess has turned away from me, plunging my world into darkness and despair. Since my fury is not the fury of Carlos Bulosan (whose spirit refused to die) but a fury of Ceres, who bestowed Death and Despair in response to injustice, I will continue staring at the empty computer screen—until I can find food and nourishment again.

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