Slow and Quick Violence: Illnesses and Injuries in America Is in the Heart

Ling Liu

Abstract

This article aims to offer a new route into the study of Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart by going beyond the usual sociocultural focus and turning instead to the material, specifically the illnesses and injuries borne by Filipino bodies—tuberculosis, syphilis, hunger, injuries, even death—to learn about their colonial and migrant experiences. In the novel, tuberculosis affects working-class migrant Filipinos disproportionately in both the Philippines and the United States of America. Migrant Filipinos are also constantly haunted by hunger and are always injured, or even shot; and working-class women frequently die from syphilis. Applying ecocritical theories to study the entanglement between the novel’s material and social environment, this article argues that human bodies are socialized bodies: the Filipino characters’ bodily illnesses and injuries are testimony to the cruel social injustices they have suffered. This article further uses Rob Nixon’s concept of “slow violence” to argue that tuberculosis, syphilis, and hunger are manifestations of the slow violence that bring into light the hidden cost of colonialism, racism, sexism, and class oppression, while images of shot or beaten Filipino bodies are “quick violence” that force us to face the bloodiness of racial oppression directly. Lastly, this article examines where healing and hope for resistance lie.


Keywords

ecocriticism; body; slow violence; sexuality; racialization; COVID-19

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2021.03605