CARLOS BULOSAN: PHILIPPINES AMERICAN WRITER


Carlos Bulosan

 

The Gift of My Father
from the book, The Laughter of My Father
by Carlos Bulosan

My uncle Sergio had three sons, who had all left the Philippines for other parts of the world by the time Father had moved Mother and us children from his farm on the island of Luzon into the town where Uncle Sergio lived. I was six years old when the move took place. I did not know where my uncle Serigo's two older sons were living, but I did know that the youngest had gone to America and was in business there as a building contractor, in California. His name was Poltron and he was fair of complexion, and before he left home he used to strut about the town like a peacock.

One day Father and I were coming home from a wedding when we saw many people in the year of my uncle Sergio's house, which was a block away from our house. A big automobile was parked in the street and the house was bright with oil lamps and lanterns. It was one of those dark Philippine nights. We stood under a tree, watching.

I saw my uncle coming down the wooden ladder of his house with a flashlight in his hand. He stood in the yard, talking to the people. He was a gambler by profession, and most gamblers in our province had big houses and lived more luxuriously than those who worked hard for a living. Uncle Sergio's flashlight was new, and he kept flashing it at random against the house and among the coconut trees, as if he were enchanted by a marvelous new toy. Suddenly he focused the beam on us.

"Is that you, Simeon?" my uncle called in Ilocano, the language of northern Luzon.

"Yes," Father said.

"It's the night of all nights!" my uncle shouted.

"Did you bring home a wife?" Father asked.

"My son Porton came home from America and brought a beautiful girl," my uncle said.

Father and I jumped over the barbed-wire fence and pushed our way through a crowd of people in the yard. We climbed the polished ladder of Uncle Sergio's house and rushed into the living room.

My cousin Porton was standing smoking a cigar in the center of a ring of barefooted men and women. He was wearing a heavy fur overcoat, although it was a hot night, and was sweating profusely. An old man rubbed his face against the soft fur of the coat. A young man snatched the cigar out of Porton's mouth and took a bite of it, chewing the tobacco with great satisfaction. Then a girl grabbed the feather in Porton's hat and put it in her hair. There were naked children on the floor, smelling and licking Porton's shoes.

Father pushed the people away and stepped up to my cousin. "Welcome home!" he said.

"You are Uncle Simeon?" my cousin asked. "I've something special for you." He produced a beautifully wrapped bottle of Manila rum from the pocket of his coat.

Father grabbed it. "I came to see your wife," he said.

"Sweetheard!" my cousin called in English, turning toward the little private room where my uncle kept his most precious belongings.

"Yes, sweetheart," answered a girl's voice.

"Are you ready, sweetheart?" my cousin asked.

"Yes, sweetheart!"

The small door of the private room opened and a beautiful girl emerged from it. She stood at the door and her black eyes beamed. Wonder filled the house. The men opened their mouths to say something, but could not because joy filled their throats. The women and the young girls sighed. Then my cousine approached the wonderful creature and put his arm around her slender waist.

"Meet the people, sweetheart," he said.

"I'm glad to meet you all," she said in Spanish.

"This is my uncle Simeon, sweetheart," my cousin said.

"I'm glad to meet you, Uncle Simeon," she sid, reaching eagerly for Father's hand.

Father sparkled with gladness. "Sweetheart," he said, shaking the girl's hand.

"Where are my cousins, Uncle Simeon?" Porton asked.

"Your youngest cousin is here," Father said, pushing me forward.

"My youngest cousin is here, sweetheart," Porton said to his wife.

The girl knelt on the floor and put her arms around me.

"Hello," she said.

"Say 'Sweetheart,'" Father said to me.

"Hellow, sweetheart," I said.

The marvelous girl got up and laughed beautifully. "I like you very much," she said.

"Let's go outside now," my uncle said. "Let's give the young couple some rest."

The crowd started to go, but the young men all stopped before they went out the door and looked back at the girl.

"Good night," she said.

 

My uncle Sergio killed three pigs the next day and asked the neighbors to attend a feast in honor of his won and the wife he brought home from America. Father was enchanted by the girl. He went to our arm and came back to town with two sacks of fresh vegetables for the feast and a pair of old shoes he had used as a soldier during the revolution. He even collected the white juice of a calachuchi tree and smeared it on the dusty shoes to improve their appearance before he put them on.

Uncle Sergio's yard was full of people who had come from the villags to look at the fabulous girl from America. They brought many gifts and put them in the yard. There were three Igorots there, too, headhunters from the mountains of Luzon. They wore G-strings and carried bows and poisoned arrows. They sat under the house with their dogs and talked among themselves.

Father and several men gathered under the granary to talk.

"I tell you she is americana!" Father said, looking toward my cousin's wife.

"No!" my uncle protested, "She is espaņola!"

"Her hair is curly and light, isn't it?" Father asked.

"But her skin is olive," my uncle said.

"I tell you she is americana," Father said. "I saw one likeher in Manila when I was fourteen."

Just then my cousin Porton came over to the group, "What's all the argument about?" he asked.

"It's about your wife," his father said. "Your uncle says she is americana. I say she is espanola."

"You are both wrong," my cousin said. "She is mejicana."

 

(To be continued)

~the end~

The Laugher of My Father was published by Harcourt, Brace, and Company in 1944

 

Bio of Carlos Bulosan
Noted Filipino American author, Carlos Bulosan was born on November 24, 1914 in the town of Binalonan, Pangasinan, to a peasant family of five brother ands two sisters. After several years of secondary schooling, he left for the U.S. to join his older brother Aurelio. Bulosan arrived in Seattle on July 22, 1930. He became a migrant worker and union activist, and blossomed into a writer during his hospital confinement from tuberculosis. Bulosan wrote short stories, essays, editorials, letters, poems, plays, and his autobiographical novel, America is in the Heart. He died in Seattle on Septemer 11, 1956.


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