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.