We are the men and women reading books, searching
in the pages of history for the lost word, the key
to the mystery of living peace, imperishable joy;
we are factory hands field hands mill hand everywhere,
molding creating building structures, forging ahead,

Reaching for the future, nourished in the heart;
we are doctors scientists chemists discovering,
eliminating disease and hunger and antagonisms;
we are soldiers navy-men citizens guarding
the imperishable will of man to live in grandeur,

We are the living dream of dead men everywhere,
the unquenchable truth that class-memories create
to stagger the infamous world with prophecies
of unlimited happiness_a deathless humanity;
we are the living and the dead men everywhere….

Carlos Bulosan
If You Want To Know What We Are

 

Carlos Bulosan’s poetry was a clarion call during this lockdown. With his words, I envisioned generations of Filipino men and women before me, feverishly searching the pages of history for answers to questions about what we are and who we truly should be. I imagined that it was an opportune time to delve into the same pages, that this will be a grand search that will give my constrained existence some semblance of consequence.

The days, weeks and months passed, dissolving into a year. Skepticism over the scheme of things has taken over. Will the study of history lead me to an elevated understanding of who we are now? Have I emancipated my thoughts, forged my own tongue? Will the language being wrought through my brain, and the lenses through which I view the world darkly, now be made clearer? Is it to our best interest that we summon hidden demons from a hundred years past even as we struggle with very clear and present evils today?  This global health crisis has made it clear, without a doubt, that it is difficult to be alive now, more so for us, Filipinos. At the close of each day, we survey our neighbors near and far, and we see their progress against ours. We are forced to come to terms with the full measure of where we are, the tragedy of what we did not become. We are the forsaken, we have been left behind.

I go back to what Bulosan wrote. What was his state of mind then? He was a migrant in the heart of America in the 1930s and 1940s. The vision that he held was most certainly grand, if not delirious. He was a dreamer, to others, perhaps a fool.  But here I am now, reading and searching for lost words and missing keys, I am trying to stay alive, long enough to dream the foolish dreams of dead Filipinos.