Get your FBI file this year--because you may have one, just like Filipino American author Carlos Bulosan

January 11, 2013 7:47 PM

With the Obama administration mirroring the Bush administration when it comes to the extension of wiretapping and surveillance laws, it seems that any die-hard believer in democracy must add to his or her list of New Year's resolutions.


In 2013, make this the year you FOIA yourself.


To FOIA is to exercise your right under the Freedom of Information Act to see what the FBI has on you. Generally, it's nosy reporters who use FOIA to go after damning government documents. Usually, they end up with documents so redacted they look like they've been gone over with Kim Kardashian's mascara.


Follow my advice and at least you'll know if you're being watched. Then your New Year's Resolution goes from losing weight to losing the FBI.


The FBI? Looking at little ol' timid Asian Americans? Yup.


AALDEF had a Go FOIL Yourself campaign last year after the NYPD was eavesdropping on Muslims. But the FBI is the big time, and who knows? What they have on you could get you a ticket to Guantanamo (another Bush legacy in Obama clothing).


I was reminded to FOIA myself when I recently got an email from my academic friend, UCLA professor Lane Hirabayashi. Lane and his wife, independent scholar Marilyn Alquizola, have finally published their work on the noted Filipino American writer Carlos Bulosan and the eavesdropping by the U.S. government he was forced to endure. It's in the latest Amerasia Journal published last month.


What Hirabayashi and Alquizola uncovered was evidence of government spying and hounding of Bulosan in the last 10-12 years of his life between 1945 and 1955. It was at the height of McCarthyism and the witch-hunt to root out communist sympathizers. And Bulosan's research seems to have attracted attention.The surveillance activities coincided with Bulosan's financial troubles and heavy drinking. All together, they contributed to the notion that Bulosan was not only unemployable but finished as an artist. But the scholars maintain the years produced some of Bulosan's most powerful writing as witnessed in his last novel published posthumously as both Power of the People and The Cry and the Dedication.

The scholars' inquiry began in 1996, when Alquizola filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the FBI files of Bulosan. Of course, the writer had one, a thick file that showed how seriously the government viewed Bulosan as a threat to national security.

The files tell the story of how Bulosan was betrayed by a colleague in the labor movement who tipped off the feds about a possible connection between Bulosan and the Huk uprising in the Philippines. There was also talk of Bulosan being the "No. 1" man among Filipinos in the Communist Party of America, with influence over uprisings in other Asian countries.

None of it was true, and in 1955, a year before his death, an FBI memo essentially exonerated Bulosan. 

Hirabayashi admits the findings aren't all that scary. Given the accepted loss of freedom and privacy in the modern world, what the government did to Bulosan can easily be dismissed.

But that's exactly how you know how much freedom you've lost.

"The point is, at the end of the day, we don't know whether Bulosan was, or was ever, a member of the CPUSA. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice investigated the issue for five years, though, and they could not find any concrete data to back up this allegation," Hirabayashi said. "That was a finding that we thought was worth reporting--that and the fact that the Bureau's clandestine investigation most likely damaged the great author's finances and career."

And apparently, there were few takers for Hirabayashi's findings until Amerasia Journal published them last month.

"America was in the heart, but the FBI was in his life," I wrote about Bulosan in my Amok column back in 2002, when they first told me about their research. So why did it take 10 years for the academic world to accept the scholars' findings on Bulosan?

Hirabayashi told me he sensed that some who might have published it felt "threatened by this work and probably didn't want it to see the light of day."

But isn't that what happens when you expose the government's suppression of freedom? Isn't that what apparently happened to Bulosan, when he couldn't get hired or published while under surveillance?

People who blindly follow the government's wishes get scared and do the government's work for it through self-censorship and censorship of others.

You don't have to be a lowly Filipino American writer in the 1950s to attract attention.


You can merely be an average citizen who every now and then voices an opinion, especially now in 2013. The Bush wiretapping and eavesdropping laws have morphed into the Obama wiretapping and eavesdropping laws.


So make a note to yourself. The FBI probably is.


Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, @emilamok.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


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