I SAW the article “My Family Slave” shared by friends on Facebook and Twitter. My initial interest in it was about the author, Alex Tizon, a Filipino-American Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. I thought the topic, which was about kasambahay Eudocia Tomas Pulido, has already been tackled by other writers a number of times. So I didn’t read the article’s social media posts until it went viral.
The Atlantic is a literary and cultural commentary magazine old copies of which I got hold of via Booksale shops and sometimes on magazine racks of waiting rooms in doctors clinics. I think I also read a few articles from the magazine at the USIS Library in the old building near the Development Bank of the Philippines along Osmeña Blvd. That was when I was looking for models to improve my writing.
Because I only read old The Atlantic copies, I didn’t know of Tizon’s other works and didn’t even stumble on his name. An inquirer.net backgrounder on Tizon said he worked as an investigative journalist for The Seattle Times, joining the paper in 1986. I must admit I haven’t read anything from The Seattle Times, again making me clueless about Tizon. He died in March in his sleep. He was 57.
The editor’s note accompanying Tizon’s article in The Atlantic noted that Tizon “built an exemplary career by listening to certain types of people—forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories.” It turned out the one story that he found difficult to write was about a woman whose existence was an after-thought in the household where he was raised.
I initially thought that when Tizon referred to Pulido, whom they called “Lola,” as a “slave,” he meant it to be because she was a domestic helper like many other Filipino kasambahays. It was only after I found one detail—Tizon’s parents didn’t pay Pulido for the most part of the 56 years that she was kept as a domestic helper--that I realized that hers was indeed a pitiful story. It was tragic, even.
Readers reactions were mixed. Some people saw Tizon in a favorable light: a man who sought his own catharsis by confessing about a woman whose enslavement he was complicit in. Others condemned Tizon, his mother and everybody else who were responsible for Pulido’s enslavement. The reactions are in keeping with the complicated situation the protagonists in Tizon’s story was sucked into.
Tizon began his article at the end: when he was bringing the ashes of “Lola,” who died of heart attack at the age of 86--from the United States back to Tarlac in the Philippines. From there he wove a tale that was often poignant but was at times disturbing. His was actually a story with what can be considered a happy ending because of Tizon’s efforts to make amends for what his parents did to his “Lola.” Whether the act was enough contributed to making this tale compelling.
I won’t dare judge an entire lifetime using details culled from a mere article, no matter how long. I hope you won’t do so also. For me, it’s enough that “My Family Slave” opened our eyes to the reality that in this day and age, some age-old condemnable practices still persist.