A powerful story of coming to America, finding the promise and the paradox

“Why was America so kind and yet so cruel? Carlos Bulosan wrote in “America Is in the Heart,” his 1943 semi-autobiographical novel abou...

“Why was America so kind and yet so cruel? Carlos Bulosan wrote in “America Is in the Heart,” his 1943 semi-autobiographical novel about a young Filipino immigrant baffled by the paradox of his new home. Here he found racism, callousness and brutality; but he also found goodwill, tolerance and generosity. “Was there no way to simplify things on this continent so that suffering was minimized? Bulosan wrote. “Wasn’t there a common denominator that we could all meet on?

Similar questions arise in journalist Albert Samaha’s “Concepcion”, an immersive memoir of his own family’s journey from the Philippines to the United States, where he was born and raised by his mother, Lucy – a devout Catholic whose family abhorred dictatorship. by Ferdinand Marcos. In recent years, she has become a staunch supporter of Donald Trump and a staunch supporter of QAnon. Samaha and her mother continue to love and support each other, but in some ways, she exemplifies the paradoxes Bulosan baffled for nearly eight decades before.

His Twitter feed, Samaha says, was like a “surreal mash-up” of his very real but seemingly immeasurable interests. She has shown affection for both Trump and her only child by promoting QAnon conspiracy theories as well as Samaha’s articles for BuzzFeed on police misconduct. “Hope @POTUS & @DOJ read @AlbertSamaha’s criminal justice investigative stories,” she tweeted, adding “# TRUMP2020”. It was apparently too much to handle, even for Twitter’s algorithm, and her account was suspended because she was suspected of being a bot.

If “Concepcion” was only about Samaha’s mother, it would already be worth it. But she was one of eight children in the Concepcion family, whose Samaha ancestry traces in this sprawling and powerful book to the sultanates that preceded the arrival of the Spanish Empire in the Philippines. Her great-great-grandmother was a Muslim princess who converted to Catholicism. In another branch of the family, his ancestors joined the independence movement of the 19th century. Her mother’s parents would meet decades later in a classroom on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, when the country was part of the american empire. “As history would have liked,” writes Samaha, with a finely tuned sense of irony, “the descendants of revolutionaries and sultans fell in love inside a schoolhouse with an American flag fluttering in front of it.” .

Bringing together historical documents with family traditions, Samaha offers vivid recreations of the lives of his ancestors. When the country gained independence in 1946, the Concepcion family was in a good position to become well-off. Her grandfather was a civil prosecutor; his grandmother worked as an accountant. They moved to bustling Quezon, where they could afford a suite – drivers, maids and nannies to help them raise their children.

Credit…Brian De Los Santos

But the Philippines didn’t feel stable, especially when Marcos, who was elected president in 1965, decided he wanted to stay in power and declared martial law. 1965 was also the year the US immigration system eliminated its race-based quotas, paving the way for the Concepcions to join the few parents who had already made it to California.

The story of this book of immigrant efforts is haunted by a parallel story of American decline. The Concepcions that arrived in the 1970s and 1980s did not land on the placid shores of an American dream. “Life in America was unstable, cramped, rushed, an endless series of complications, adjustments and sacrifices,” Samaha writes. “Everyone seemed to be working hard all the time. His uncle Spanky, a rock star in the Philippines until his departure in 1988, became a porter at San Francisco International Airport. His uncle Bobby left a budding professional basketball career in the Philippines to work as a waiter in a retirement home restaurant in Sacramento. “Spanky and Bobby saw their futures turn into indecipherable contortions with slow combustion,” writes Samaha, “like a strip of bark on top of a bonfire.”

Samaha feels some guilt – “knowing that your comfort has come at the expense of your elders” – but his mother and siblings insist they have no regrets. Spanky says that whenever he had any doubts, his thoughts turned to his children, who he believed would find more happiness in the United States than in the Philippines. Being rich in the Philippines seemed fragile and unsustainable, with the rich carrying guns and crouching in walled enclosures while the poor struggled to survive in aluminum shacks. Growing up in California, Samaha and his cousins ​​didn’t have to live in a golden bubble of fear; they could play football, earn college degrees, and embark on promising careers.

It’s a decidedly intimate book, but Samaha always keeps an eye on the bigger picture, repeatedly raising the question of whether a country has functioning institutions – that crucial, though often unrecognized, scaffolding of stability that allows individuals to imagine a future for themselves (or, in its absence, prompts them to leave). Samaha’s generation saw with their own eyes how the civic infrastructure that tacitly underpinned the older generation’s fantasies of American exceptionalism was not as solid as it once was. In the 1970s and 1980s, cities were reeling from financial crises and austerity measures, corroding “the public and private institutions that were meant to embody what made America great.”

Yet his older parents don’t seem to think in terms of institutional guarantees, or at least they don’t speak that way. They were elated when Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines in 2016, and seemingly indifferent to his unhindered pursuit of extrajudicial executions. They dismissed Samaha’s moral outrage, telling him that he just didn’t understand what it was like in the old country. “You’re from America,” his uncle Bobby told him. “It’s different here.

And that is different here – Samaha knows that. But he also raises the possibility that what once seemed to be a difference in nature may be more of a difference in degree. As Samaha unsuccessfully tries to get his mother out of the den of right-wing conspiracy theory, it’s hard not to see how his faith in self-proclaimed strongmen like Duterte and Trump is so much a reaction to the collapse. institutional as an accelerator of this. She keeps a framed photo of Trump on her bookcase, just below a Pope Francis figurine. Samaha loves her too much and knows her too well to flatten her contradictions in caricature. Even when he and his mother disagree on the basic contours of reality, he still feels irrevocably connected to her.

“At least my mother was happy,” he writes, as the Trump years filled her with hope and him with despair. “I counted my blessings, just as she taught me.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: A powerful story of coming to America, finding the promise and the paradox
A powerful story of coming to America, finding the promise and the paradox
Newsrust - US Top News
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