October 20, 2012

Readings in Philippine Literature - My Father’s Tragedy by Carlos Bulosan

Carlos Bulosan (Image Source)
My Father’s Tragedy by Carlos Bulosan (1914-1956), a Filipino writer fighting for the American dream of the Filipinos on American soil while wrestling with tuberculosis, reminds me of relationships gone sour because of cockfighting. Oh, I have seen them...observed them...and, at this point, I’m still not sure if I like the activity at all. Do you?

You see, a neighbor got three fighting cocks and his son, though grown and a father himself, is fast learning the trade. Both of them spend their Sundays grooming the animals than grooming their kids. A relative whose six-year old son is growing up in not-so-ideal (I’m being polite at best) surroundings is called a master of the cockpit because, at his young age, he knows how to pick up a cock without a hint of reluctance, memorizes the cockfighting terms like the back of his hand, and spends more time at the cockpit than at home playing with other children or learning his letters. A taxi driver whose vehicle I have ridden several nights ago kept grumbling over the loss of nine of his fighting cocks (and I was like, how in the world could he afford them? Cockfighting must be a terribly good business!) after these were allegedly stolen by his new neighbors who came from the slums.

Such are some anecdotes of my life that caused me to raise an eyebrow each time I see a fighting cock (believe it or not, there are a lot of them all over the neighborhood!) or pass by a cockpit. What’s yours? Unsurprisingly, Bulosan’s My Father’s Tragedy garnered a similar automated response from me when I learned that the father in the story is into cock fighting; the title never hinted it at all!

The story, written in first person, starts with a famine that drives farm-dependent families to poverty and hunger, including that of the narrator, a son. His mother and sister find ways and means to put food on the table. His father looks like a hopeless case, constantly exercising his fighting cock and dreaming his time away. Once, he even teaches the son how to make the animal stronger and ready for a fight. Then the father draws up a strategy that will put the family out of poverty. The build-up is so smartly done that after reading it, I did not quite know what hit me. The title of this short story hinted a tragedy, and there is, but you will have to found that out for yourself.

You can read the story HERE.

Cockfighting (Image Source
My Father’s Tragedy is a humorous satire about bad luck, bad pets, and bad attitude. Because of these three elements put so flawlessly together, I realized that beneath the humor is an awful reality presented quite simply--the reality of individuals resorting to gambling (and getting their children into the vice) as a ticket out of a hard life. While I found myself chuckling over the characters, I felt like Bulosan had the last laugh. Amazing, really, that for someone who has been sickly all his life, suffering of tuberculosis, and living poorly across different states in the US, Bulosan showed how Filipino he was be extracting humorous moments and transforming them into valuable and useful satires.

I think My Father’s Tragedy is a good soft start to learning more about Carlos Bulosan, a satirist, unionist, poet, fictionist, essayist-journalist, born in Pangasinan, Philippines in Nov. 24, 1914. He is the fifth of eight children of a poor hardworking peasant couple.

Three Saturdays ago, I had an accident of reading first two of his serious short fiction, “Life and Death of a Filipino in America” and “Be American”, which gave me a maddening roller-coaster of emotions--disgust, sad, pity, enlightening, shocking, frustrating, but mostly sad. So I shut the book, returned it to the shelf, and walked out of the library, quite aghast by Bulosan’s pictures in words. I will write more about Bulosan’s works in another post (that is, when I have the guts to face another roller-coaster ride).

For now, let us enjoy a little chuckle and reflect on a small dose of reality. My Father’s Tragedy is a recommended story.

- Nancy -

Readings in Philippine Literature is a joint venture between Mel U of The Reading Life and Simple Clockwork. Be sure to head over to Mel’s blog, which contains his amazing thoughts on a lot of short stories. We invite you to join us in this initiative.