THE long in-depth article "My Family’s Slave" plagued the social media like a real virus last week. The article was the cover story of a US magazine called "The Atlantic" and was written by Pultizer-prize winning journalist Alex Tizon.
It took me a while to read the article. Not only was it long but it emotionally weighed a ton. However, its language was elegant and the truth it carried was raw that I’ve likened it to eating sour, green mangoes dipped in toyo with sugar or sautéed bagoong---achingly delicious. The details of the slavery were crunchy despite the fact that Tizon and Lola are both dead and that the narrative happened in a span of 56 years.
Alex Tizon is one of the many Filipinos who moved to America while they were young, was granted citizenship and called themselves Fil-Ams. He shared a Pultizer prize with another staff in 1997 and also wrote a book that examined “the complexities, humiliations, and small victories of Asian men trying to adjust to life in America.” He also taught journalism in the University of Oregon.
Lola or Tizon’s "family’s slave" was Eudocia Pulido. Tizon wrote that they called her Lola and that "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."
Tizon’s piece reminded me of my "yayas" in childhood and even the stay-out and on-call household help that we keep till now. Decades ago they were called "maids." Before that they were called "muchacha" which literally meant "young woman" in Spanish but also meant "servant girl" and considered demeaning. Today, one seldom uses the word "maid" to mean "household help." In the local dialect it is proper to use "katabang" and "kasambahay."
But why the need for household helpers? In our case, both our parents were working and usually our father would be assigned in faraway places. My mother needed extra hands in running the household and taking care of the children (us). It didn’t help that most of us were asthmatic. Our helpers usually came from rural areas and even as far as the rural areas in the Visayas. While our parents were at work, the helpers assisted us in our schoolwork, taught us domestic skills and in my case, introduced me to popular music, movies, komiks, and radio drama.
Of course, we had helpers who left because of an argument with my mother, or with another helper, or who got pregnant with a tricycle driver or a "bantay" from another neighborhood. There were also those who went back to their province for a vacation and never came back. Till this day I still hope that one of them, one whom we called Tita Maring, would come back. She filled my childhood with stories of Pulupandan, Negros and encouraged me to endlessly read books so that I can eventually write my own stories. And she was right.
Tizon’s article is beautiful in its ability to invite readers to draw perspectives and retrospect on how Filipino families have been shaped.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on May 23, 2017.
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