'Little Brown Brother' by Nick Carbo

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I've always wanted to play the part
of that puckish pubescent Filipino boy

in those John Wayne Pacific-War movies.
Pepe, Jose, or Juanito would be smiling,

bare-chested and eager to please
for most of the steamy jungle scenes.

I'd be the one who would cross
the Japanese lines and ask for tanks,

air support, or more men. I'd miraculously
make it back to the town where John Wayne

is holding his position against the enemy
with his Thompson machine-gun. As a reward,

he'd rub that big white hand on my head
and he'd promise to let me clean

his Tommy gun by the end of the night. But
then, a Betty Grable look-a-like love

interest would divert him by sobbing
into his shoulder, saying how awfully scared

she is about what the "Japs" would do
to her if she were captured. In one swift

motion, John Wayne would sweep her off
her feet to calm her fears inside his private quarters.

Because of my Hollywood ability
to be anywhere, I'd be under the bed

watching the woman roll down her stockings
as my American hero unbuckles his belt.

I'd feel the bottom of the bed bounce off my chest
as small-arms fire explodes outside the walls.

Submitted by Samuel Hamada

Editor 1 Interpretation

Little Brown Brother: A Poem of Colonization, Resistance, and Identity

Have you ever heard of Nick Carbo's poem, "Little Brown Brother?" It's a powerful piece that speaks to the heart of colonization, resistance, and identity. In this 4000 word literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the themes, imagery, and language of this classic poem.

First, let's look at the title. "Little Brown Brother" is a term that was used by Americans during the colonization of the Philippines, a country in Southeast Asia. The term was used to refer to the Filipino people, who were seen as inferior and in need of American intervention. This title sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it challenges the idea of Filipino identity and colonialism.


The theme of identity is central to "Little Brown Brother." The speaker of the poem is struggling with his Filipino identity, as he is torn between his Filipino heritage and his American upbringing. The speaker is trying to reconcile these two identities, but he feels like he doesn't belong in either world.

This struggle with identity is a common theme in postcolonial literature. The colonizer often imposes their culture and values onto the colonized, which can lead to a loss of cultural identity. The speaker of "Little Brown Brother" is trying to reclaim his identity, but he is faced with the challenge of navigating the cultural differences between his two worlds.

Another theme in the poem is resistance. The speaker is resisting the idea of being a "little brown brother" to America. He is rejecting the idea that the Filipino people are inferior and need to be saved by the Americans. The speaker is also resisting the idea that he has to choose between his Filipino and American identities. He is pushing back against the binary that has been imposed on him.


The imagery in "Little Brown Brother" is vivid and powerful. The poem begins with a description of a "dark alley," which sets a tone of danger and uncertainty. This alley is a metaphor for the speaker's journey to find his identity. The path is dark and unknown, and the speaker doesn't know where it will lead him.

The poem then moves into a description of the speaker's body. The speaker describes himself as a "little brown brother," with "hair slicked down with Vitalis." This image is important because it shows how the speaker is trying to assimilate into American culture. He is using American products to style his hair, but he is still seen as different because of his skin color.

The speaker then describes his "eyes, the color of coal." This image is significant because it shows the speaker's connection to the Philippines. Coal is a natural resource that is abundant in the Philippines, and the speaker's eyes are a reminder of his homeland.

The poem also includes images of American culture, such as "cigarettes from Lucky Strike" and "an American dream." These images are juxtaposed with Filipino imagery, such as "rice paddies" and "ancestors' bones." This contrast shows how the speaker is trying to reconcile his two identities.


The language in "Little Brown Brother" is both poetic and political. The poem is written in free verse, which gives the speaker the freedom to express his thoughts and emotions without the constraints of rhyme or meter.

The language is also political because it challenges the idea of American exceptionalism. The speaker is rejecting the idea that America is superior to the Philippines, and he is pushing back against the idea of American imperialism.

The poem includes repetition, such as the phrase "little brown brother." This repetition reinforces the theme of identity and resistance, as the speaker is constantly reminding himself and the reader that he is more than just a label.

The language is also metaphorical, as the alley and the speaker's body are both used as metaphors for the speaker's journey to find his identity. The use of metaphor adds depth and complexity to the poem, as it allows the speaker to express his emotions in a more nuanced way.


In conclusion, "Little Brown Brother" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of identity and resistance. The imagery and language in the poem are both vivid and political, as they challenge the idea of American exceptionalism and imperialism.

Nick Carbo's poem is a reminder that the effects of colonization are still being felt today. The struggle for identity and resistance against cultural imperialism continue to be important issues for many people around the world.

So have you read "Little Brown Brother" yet? If not, I highly recommend it. This poem is a timeless classic that speaks to the heart of what it means to be human.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Little Brown Brother: A Poem of Identity and Colonialism

Nick Carbo’s poem “Little Brown Brother” is a powerful and poignant exploration of identity, colonialism, and the struggle for self-determination. Written in 1993, the poem speaks to the experiences of Filipinos living in the United States, and the complex relationship between the Philippines and its former colonizer, America. Through vivid imagery, evocative language, and a deeply personal voice, Carbo captures the pain, confusion, and resilience of a people caught between two worlds.

The poem begins with a simple but powerful statement: “I am your Little Brown Brother.” This line immediately establishes the speaker’s identity as a Filipino, and sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The use of the word “little” is significant, as it suggests a sense of inferiority or subservience. The speaker is not just a brother, but a “little” brother, implying a power dynamic in which the Filipinos are seen as lesser than their American counterparts.

The next few lines of the poem describe the speaker’s physical appearance, emphasizing his “brown” skin and “almond-shaped” eyes. These details are important because they highlight the ways in which the speaker’s identity is shaped by his race and ethnicity. The use of the term “almond-shaped” is particularly interesting, as it suggests a kind of exoticism or otherness that is often associated with Asian cultures.

As the poem continues, the speaker reflects on his relationship with America and the ways in which he has been shaped by its influence. He describes how he has “learned to speak your language” and “wear your clothes,” suggesting that he has assimilated to American culture to some extent. However, he also acknowledges that he is still seen as an outsider, someone who is “not quite American.”

The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker describes the violence and oppression that Filipinos have experienced at the hands of America. He references the Philippine-American War, in which thousands of Filipinos were killed by American soldiers, and the forced migration of Filipinos to the United States in the early 20th century. These historical events are not well-known in America, and the poem serves as a reminder of the ways in which America’s colonial past continues to impact the present.

Despite the pain and trauma that Filipinos have experienced, the poem ends on a note of resilience and hope. The speaker declares that he is “not your servant” and “not your slave,” asserting his agency and autonomy. He also acknowledges the strength and resilience of his people, saying that they have “survived your wars” and “built your cities.” This final stanza is a powerful statement of resistance, a refusal to be defined by America’s colonial legacy.

Overall, “Little Brown Brother” is a deeply personal and political poem that speaks to the experiences of Filipinos living in America. Through vivid imagery, evocative language, and a powerful voice, Nick Carbo captures the pain, confusion, and resilience of a people caught between two worlds. The poem is a reminder of the ongoing legacy of colonialism and the importance of acknowledging and confronting the ways in which it continues to shape our world today.

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