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“My Family’s Slave”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

When Alex Tizon was a small child in the 60s, he moved with his family from the Phillipines to the US along with the family’s domestic servant, Lola. It was not until Tizon was nearly a teenager that he realized that Lola was not employed as a servant by his parents…she was a slave.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine — my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.

An incredible and incredibly disturbing story. Heartbreaking, all the more because this sort of thing is probably more common than anyone realizes.

Update: Pulido’s 2011 obituary is worth reading (via andy).

As a teenager in the Philippines, Miss Pulido was asked to care for a young girl whose mother had died. When a relative asked Miss Pulido to always look after the girl, she gave her word.

Miss Pulido not only raised that girl, but the girl’s children and their children - cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations that came to know her as “Lola,” grandmother in her native Tagalog tongue. She asked for nothing in return, said her grandson, Alex Tizon, a former Seattle Times reporter, with whom she lived in Edmonds for nearly 12 years.

There are a few reaction threads on Twitter that are worth reading as well. Josh Shahryar:

How dare the author make excuses for his mother? She enslaved a woman for decades and used her free labor to prosper. She was a monster.

I don’t want to read about the “complexity” of the slave-owner. I don’t want to hear about her sob-story or how much she loved her children.

I am filled with nothing but anger and hatred at the vileness of the attempt by Alex Tizon to whitewash a slaveholder. No. FUCK! NO!

Jay Owens:

As I read it, I was confused by the timeline. It’s made evident teen-Alex hates the situation. But it conceals this: “My Family’s Slave is beautifully written but it doesn’t change that Alex Tizon was 40 before he did anything to improve Lola’s situation.” — @irishchickensoup

The writer is able to talk about his mother’s complicity — but not really grapple with his own. 20 years when he didn’t act.

He is in America, and talking about slavery, and he doesn’t talk about race.

He doesn’t reflect on how race and gender are used to naturalise servitude, and uses writerly sleights of hand to minimise it

Adrian Chen:

“My Family’s Slave” is now trending in the Philippines, where it’s lunch time. I’m going to share a few interesting threads from Filipinos

Sarah Jeong:

When I first read the article, I came away convinced of this: that Tizon died not understanding Lola was his real mother.

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