An Ode to Carlos Bulosan

by Giovanni Ortega

in National Conference

Post image for An Ode to Carlos Bulosan

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

Someone threw a glass of humility on my face
and it brought me to my knees.

Ya see I was seranading in the City…daw
Harana’s in the Heart
with Allos’ on my mind as he journeyed
up and down California from box-cars to violence
tar, feather and fire…
where blood pores perspire

and now we tell his story
where the Klu Klux Cant
cause it cant

I don’t get offended, I educate
the Klu Klux cant’ cause one was my protegee’
hey, He
who smelled the songs we both like
whose swastika paralled my tribal sun
and he who knows what color pain is
cuz I painted it in his tears.
much has changed

and yet so little when a few States away, browns
need to prove who they may be like Klamath Falls
Pasa Pasa
they can’t ask for my pasaporte azul
or my St. Domingo Rosaries
or my Bismillah Beads
its become a sin to be brown in Vieja California
once Ak-Chin, Yavapai, Apache, Navajo, Cocopah, Havasupai, Hopi
roamed la Tierra

Hoping people fall and revel
at the Tagalog Serenade that we recite
up and down the coast he writes
while up and down the coast I speak

how far have we gone little brown kin
my bruddah, kababayan and cuzin’
of howlie hospital love affairs, and nietzsche diadems
while ginsberg howled at me North Beach city lights streetcar and trollies,
and whitman left leaves under my sole and lavender inside my pockets.

at dimsum last night it seemed 55 years back
someone turned to two of me and said
“you Asians”
‘you Asians like Peking Duck’
Head tilt, cricket cricket

i dont get offended i educate
nearly half the population of the world
The Han and Hindi has more than a billion
i wanna be a billionaire too
here, stigmatized into an Empress Pavilion restaurant
smelling of sesame seed oil and ignorance

did you know the Middle East is in Asia
or parts of Russia, Korean Uzbecks, Afghans and Balinese warriors

Chinatowns and Chinatowns
there are Pinoys in Chinatowns
and now Viet-Congs, Hmongs
and Khmer Lipsticks with Mint Tea
and objectificados

how gone we have far
enough when
my palate is paid speaking in “k’s” and “ng’s”
Plosives and Nasals exploding
like teaching Rhetoric to East St. Louis, Perth and Chilangos

and shot down with slips of “i’s” and “eee’s”
I heet it sometimes slips out like
Home Depot has something to say
to blue eyed blonde haired Mexicanos

Allos’ Ive dreamt of the day when we’re faced to face sharing stories of prose and icons
Rizal and Sartre will nada speak
but Macario might rise up
and help

tell me how I can return back to Oregon
again and again
and watch my twin live with her porcelain

as an 18 yr. old cries on my shoulder
“how can I not be shy?”

you ask me this
young lad
me – a 12 yr old immigrant of unwanted parentage
fat dimples, and thick furrowing eyebros
able to speak English but unable to be understood

Yo- con mi madre sola on welfare with a 6 month old kin
begging to get paid $50
or eating spoiled rice w/ bulgoki

Ako – nakay saya when I Uncle Sam-uel put me to work
and fed me dollar signs and sweat
at trece….catorce…quince tarbajando.

how can I not be shy you ask me youngen’
when i tried so hard to dirty up my room
so people might like me
and shave my head to reach out and touch …fay

how can I not be shy
when my responsibility is to be the mirror to society
when G*d’s got my back whenever I speak from my soul
and breathe from my heart,

how can I not be shy when I resort to conversing,
or conversating to lined paper, or napkins or Dentyne wrappers
my best friend a ballpoint pen so that no one can hear me speak.
they don’t need to see us to hear what we have to say
digame le menitra de la verdad

Allos, tell this boy from Wilmington, Thousand Oaks, Bend, Oskalooza, Lindsberg, or Yuma
how we can tell stories by pointing our lips
north south east west sideways highways
or swaying our hips to cajon’s, cellos, octavinas and kulintang

tell him how we can switch tongues
from Iberia to Nihonggo, Y’luh to Okey Dokey
Panggalatok, Chabacano, Visaya, Ilocano
Kapampangan – mekeni …saaaaguli.

Di’le, Sabihin Mo, Tu sabes Allos
cuando lluegue in nuestro Pais
nuestro tierra
nuestro Amerika
Wala silang sinabi kung hindi

Welcome, welcome home, welcome back
We will
hug, kiss, slap, swear, beat, hold, educate, assimilate, hate, touch caress, and belt, spit, spank,
lullaby embrace you and haze you all at once.

Cuz I threw a glass of ice cold humility on my face today
and it brought me down to my knees.

Giovanni Ortega recently directed the musical adaptation of The Medieval Mystery Plays in March and will be directing Spring Awakening in the fall for Pomona College where he is currently a visiting professor. He has also directed for East West Players’ New Works Festival: I Heart LA, Head Aches, Max and the Revolution, Apple Falls from Tree, Guava Season,  No Strings Quintet and Laid Off, The Charlatan, Jack in Common. Recent Works are as follows: Flow (Kayamanan Ng Kahi, Getty Musem), Lost in the Margins, Lazy John, Kwentong Pinoy (Pacific Asia Museum), Freedom (Kularts SF), People Like Me (Occidental College), Vida y Muerto (Fowler Museum), People Power (Southern Utah University). As a producer, he has curated the multiple events at SIPA; Playwright’s Festival KWENTO, Kita Tayo sa SIPA series, Noche de Artistas – A Spoken Word Salon.  As an actor, he discovered SIPA during the production Dogeaters in 2004. He also played Nick in The Romance of Magno Rubio (LA Weekly Award Nomination), was Pres. Marcos in Imelda, the Musical, and has worked with Florante Aguilar in Lalawigan- A Tagalog Song Cycle and the operetta: Aswang.  His Film/TV credits include: Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Ray of Sunshine, Twixter, Coffee Date, CSI and NBC series Heroes. In addition, he has done numerous commercials and Voice-Over actor as well.

As a playwright, he wrote ALLOS, the story of Carlos Bulosan which was commissioned by East West Players Theater and toured all over Southern California in 2011. It was produced in Chicago the following year by the CIRCA Pintig Theater Company, who once again presented ALLOS as part of Migrant Stories in March, 2014.  During the same time, East West Players included an excerpt of his work in a touring show called Our American Voice. As a choreographer has worked on Blood Wedding, Girl Most Likely To, Smoke and Mirrors, Romeo and Juliet 3, Tea, with Music and  Cinnamon Girl.  Giovanni has performed all North America with various one-person shows and Playfair, a program that incorporates Motivational Speaking, Diversity Engagement and Improv.

In 2013, he took the literary artist category for FPAC Pahayag Project for the most sought after author with his first book, Leaves from the Silverlake Barrio, published by The Undeniables. He is currently working on his second book which is due out next Fall. For more information: