A must read: “My Family’s Slave”

The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola.

This is a long read, and not an easy one. By that I mean, it’s impossible to draw any simple conclusions. I wanted to hate the author’s mother. I wanted to judge the author for not acting sooner. But those are simplistic reactions to a very complex set of relationships.

I think this article, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Tizon, should be required reading for all Americans. It’s beautifully written and draws you in even as it describes a lifetime of servitude and choices taken away — and love, given and received.

What made it resonate even more for me is that I recognize so many of the place names. The author and his family — including their slave Lola — lived in Salem, Oregon at the same time my family lived there. His mother worked at Fairview Hospital, where my mother had a temporary job during tax season. They took trips to Lincoln City, a coastal town I’ve stayed in and driven through more times than I can count.

Every article I’ve ever seen about modern slavery says it happens right next door. It feels different to read that in the abstract than to know it.

Maybe her life would have been better if she’d stayed in Mayantoc, gotten married, and had a family like her siblings. But maybe it would have been worse. Two younger sisters, Francisca and Zepriana, got sick and died. A brother, Claudio, was killed. What’s the point of wondering about it now? she asked. Bahala na was her guiding principle. Come what may. What came her way was another kind of family. In that family, she had eight children: Mom, my four siblings and me, and now my two daughters. The eight of us, she said, made her life worth living.

None of us was prepared for her to die so suddenly.

If you can read this and not get sniffles at the end, you are a stronger person than I.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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2 Responses to A must read: “My Family’s Slave”

  1. Hick Crone says:

    This was a powerful piece. In my post reading Googling, I was surprised to learn the author died just this March, before learning the piece was going to be The Atlantic’s cover story. Lots to think about from what he wrote…

    • Yes, indeed. There is a follow-up story: When Lola died in 2011, the author interviewed for 90 minutes with a Seattle Times reporter who then wrote a full article about her…in which she was feted as a near-saint for “choosing” to care for Tizon’s mother and being so “devoted” to three generations of family. It was an utter whitewashing of her slavery, which tells us that even at the end of Lola’s life, Alex Tizon had still not come to grips with the truth. He lied to an entire city through a reporter (and you can imagine that reporter’s reaction when she read the Atlantic article). In the end, he did give Lola the dignity of truth, but it took him a literal lifetime to do it.

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