My family's slave
May 16, 2017 5:25 AM   Subscribe

My family's slave: "She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was."

"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."
posted by sour cream (233 comments total) 129 users marked this as a favorite
 
Damn. In the end that was a fitting tribute to Lola, but it was painful to read getting there.
posted by COD at 5:57 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, that was fucked up and hard to read.
posted by entropone at 5:59 AM on May 16 [9 favorites]


This is heart breaking and extremely familiar to me.

People who qualify for immigrant visas (other than humanitarian categories like refugee, trafficking, etc.) tend to come from upper middle classes. If they come from developing countries, chances are they are used to an anachronistically (and disgustingly) luxurious lifestyle.

Even in cases where it isn't 100% slavery (sometimes they might pay you a little and give you a day off every month, sometimes they won't and there will be no law enforcement to protect you), things can get disgusting really quickly. I mean I am 33 years old, and I understand now that it sounds like tales from a different century to most people, but growing up we had two twin sisters as live-in nannies, a cleaning lady, and a driver. My parents are considered liberal for South American standards, and they paid for staff schooling, and my mother particularly worked very hard at helping them start their own businesses with loans (sometimes gifts) or technical schooling, but still nobody can deny that they were all at my parents mercy. And I am talking about the 80s and 90s. Staff was always indigenous of course.

At least in Peru, my parents were the exception. Even though they benefited from immorally low wages as much as anyone else (and still do), at least they tried to help a little. But for example, my aunt had a 13 year old girl cleaning her house, and don't get me started on the amount of stories I've heard of men who get their live -in staff pregnant (and then fired). I know a cousin whose maid told me she "forgets" to leave food for her at home. Like one time she literally had a tomato for lunch. This was last year when I was visiting for the holidays.

Anyway, in my experience, a lot of wealthy people from Peru who end up migrating to the US "import" their maids (ugh). This involves getting them a work visa if you care enough although you are still misrepresenting things and they are still going to be making Peruvian wages ($300 a month maybe?). You can also just get them a tourist visa, not explain the terms to them and then get them to overstay their visa (essentially trafficking them).

One time coming back from Disney vacation, at the airport, my mom saw this Peruvian woman who did not speak English. Her employers had literally abandoned her at the airport with a plane ticket in her hand (I guess they didn't like her services?). She had no money to pay taxes, so she could not go back home. She had no idea what was going on. Mom paid for her taxes and took her to the gate, but if she hadn't been that lucky she could have easily ended up in a detention center or in sex traffic for example.

I also know of a lady who came to the US as a maid to a pretty shitty Peruvian family and ended up getting poached by Robert DeNiro and was making a ton of money and having the time of her life working for his family. This last story was just to make you less depressed.
posted by Tarumba at 6:08 AM on May 16 [185 favorites]


This piece was so hard to read. I am reluctant to conflate marriage with slavery, but Lola's experience reminds me powerfully of my ex-mother-in-law. She speaks almost no English after 40+ years in a family, and region, in which no one speaks her native language. Has never held a paying job, can't drive, works tirelessly for a husband who berates her with emotional and probably physical abuse. Has never been permitted to return home to the family she left behind, or even so much as call them on the phone. She's completely isolated, without friends or neighbors who have any understanding of her situation. The thought of leaving terrifies her, and I gave up on trying to find ways for her to escape years ago. It is a horribly lonely existence and I wish I knew what more to say about it. Or do about it.
posted by libraritarian at 6:11 AM on May 16 [35 favorites]


Gosh, such conflicting emotions. I remember reading about upperclassmen Englishmen, while able to attend their parents' funerals with stoicism, would weep like babies on the deaths of their nannies, who actually raised them. The author clearly loved this woman who raised him, and yet...

What happened to this woman was a crime; it was a theft of her life.

Does this still go on today in the Philippines , I wonder?
posted by leotrotsky at 6:18 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


in Peru, my parents were the exception.

Boy do I feel this.

I remember my grandmother once telling me that our family was thought of as eccentric because the servants were actually paid beyond room and board. At the time she told me, I never thought about what this actually meant of everyone else of that social strata in Nicaragua.
posted by corb at 6:21 AM on May 16 [15 favorites]


What a brutal and beautiful essay. Thanks for posting this.
posted by saladin at 6:27 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


The Editor's note about this piece - the final piece of reporter Alex Tizon, who died in March - is worth a read.
posted by entropone at 6:35 AM on May 16 [26 favorites]


Just to add another odd layer to the story, "Lola" is Tagalog for Grandmother. Source: my ex-wife is Filipino.
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 6:45 AM on May 16 [22 favorites]


Wow. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by vespabelle at 6:45 AM on May 16


I got so angry reading that. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:45 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


What a difficult read. I keep having to take breaks.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by one of these days at 6:48 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I heard about this on NPR this morning. Very powerful on a number of levels, not least that it is the reporter's last story before he died.
posted by TedW at 7:07 AM on May 16


His mother's self-serving and willful blindness to what was, in fact, slavery combined with her professional life as a physician working with the underprivileged is, well, a model for a whole bunch of beliefs and behaviors, some of which, no doubt, applies to some of us. I think that libraritarian's comment was very appropriate because a significant number of women in the world live in what is de facto slavery to their fathers or husbands and even now this doesn't exist in the global awareness the way that, say, a similar relationship between a privileged class ethnicity and a slave class ethnicity does/would. But, also, we're pretty blind to the numerous de facto examples around the world of that, including here in the US.

We read this and we rage at his mother for her moral failure, but I think that we should take this opportunity to ask ourselves if and how much we are like her rather than as an opportunity to feel certain that we are not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:13 AM on May 16 [49 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: I think that we should take this opportunity to ask ourselves if and how much we are like her rather than as an opportunity to feel certain that we are not.

Most of us use near-slaves - picking our strawberries, sewing our clothes - but the modern economy hides them from us, so that we only see the price and never have to face the emotional cost. Someone else is abusing them on our behalf.
posted by clawsoon at 7:28 AM on May 16 [167 favorites]


This is an incredibly difficult read, particularly for someone who knows her friends and family have employed Filipino workers in exploitative conditions. I've seen the exploitation, and I've seen the immaculate two-story penthouses and the tiny closets off the kitchen where the maid sleeps and eaten the meals cooked by domestics like Lola.

Also: I had an aunt and uncle who were widely considered by the community to be very nice people. They were both school teachers; my aunt defied her prestige-worshipping father to marry her husband, who was darker-skinned and probably not entirely Han Chinese. It was romantic, and definitely the healthiest example of a marriage on that side of the family.

They lived in Hong Kong and employed a string of Filipino servants. One year, after several days of calling and calling and not getting a response, their sons went up to the house with police and found the bodies in trash bags. The last of the Filipino servants was nowhere to be seen, and is widely believed to have committed the murders. Consequently, my cousins spent years trying to get the guy extradited to stand trial in the HK or the US from the Philippines, but have failed.

It's definitely a tragedy. Apparently, the manner of death was agonizing and horiffic. The murders haunt my cousins; it haunts my father, whose sibling my aunt was; it has had long-reaching and terrible implications for everybody in that family. My reaction, though, is -- complicated. Partially, it's because my aunt was homophobic as fuck and used to warn my mother that based on her experience teaching in all-girls' schools, I'd end up a lesbian unless I was forced to dress and present myself more "like a girl " since I was the kind of girl that "other girls like."

But I also wonder: my aunt was considered a nice woman, a respectable woman, but she punished her own sons as children not only making them kneel on bottle caps, but putting the bottle caps on a stool to force them to put more of their weight on the caps. If she would do that to her children, what did she do to her servants? And if she didn't do that to this particular servant, who was apparently young and strong and hired to work in the garden, what did she do to the domestics she almost certainly employed, and who are almost uniformly women? Smaller than her? Less powerful than her?

Nobody deserves to die like my aunt and uncle did, but my feelings are deeply complicated by the fact that my parents always characterize what happened as an example of the inherent criminality of the Filipino.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:31 AM on May 16 [100 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich - in what ways? I do not keep a slave or employ anyone for domestic or business purposes. I am however aware that the modern capitalist era means I can barely set foot out of my door without participating in the exploitation of someone at some point down the line but I try really hard to not perpetuate it where I consciously can, and to actively prevent or agitate against it where possible. And I'm not alone.

So, I think there is benefit in seeing how these blind spots can manifest in some people when they clearly do not in all, whatever the era. No doubt information propagation and law-making have a huge role to play in mitigating the impact of blindness-by-convenience, but this has to be a particularly wilful ignorance with regards the direct denial of personhood by one individual over another that goes beyond social mores.

Are we alike? On those terms, no, I really don't think so. Thanks OP for posting.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:34 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Thanks. That was hard to read, but I'm glad I did.

Living in Hong Kong, the ongoing debate about domestic helpers buzzes over the city every day. Today there was a huge discussion in a Hong Kong women's group about whether you should fire your domestic helper for smoking in their free time outside the home. (Most thought 'yes'.) Meanwhile last week, a wide ranging study about living conditions for domestic helpers has been in the news. This has sparked a wide debate about conditions in the city for Domestic Helpers and how much agency they actually have in choosing their working situation.
posted by frumiousb at 8:07 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


This is a story that will stay with me.

There are pretty frequent stories about domestic workers who are virtually slaves, so this still goes on.

Ways to not support slavery: investigate vendors, support minimum wage increases, including farm workers, pay domestic workers fairly and give them respect. Support legislation and legislators who will enact laws protecting workers' rights, which obviously excludes most of the current Congress and President Pants-On-Fire.
posted by theora55 at 8:10 AM on May 16 [9 favorites]


Oh my God. My childhood best friend's family kept a slave. I never put it together. Their story is exactly like this one.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:19 AM on May 16 [35 favorites]


Holy crud; that was an intense read.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:25 AM on May 16


I read this first thing this morning and I'm glad - that meant I read it before my shower, so I could finish crying in there before heading to work.
posted by maryr at 8:26 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


I was born in Manila, and both sides of my family as appropriately post-war middle class clans, had their own kataluyongs. My maternal grandmother had a kitchen staff with 2-3 cooks, a small handful of housemaids, and a chauffeur. My father's side was a little more bourgeois, and their staff was a little more compact, but it was still staff. When my parents married and moved into a condo, they had two guest bedrooms for the two maids who were part of their initial core staff. I think one of them had transferred from my maternal grandmother.

There was a yaya whose job was basically to be the bad cop of the family. E was the person who would lecture us sternly whenever we did something bad. She was the person who had to yell at us when we were misbehaving. She was the person to whom my mom outsourced toughness so that she could just be warm, loving, and kind.

There's also a part of middle class Filipino culture that rather presumes this notion that you will just have helpers, that your friendships and social activity is premised on the assumption that you don't have to always be present for your children, that you don't have to worry about grocery shopping all the time, or that you don't have to burn hours tidying your house. You pay someone else to do that for you so that you can focus on planning parties or gatherings or just hangout swapping chismis about who's having affairs with whom or who's family seems really prosperous but is really about to implode.

My parents weren't into that scene and before I was a teenager, we had emigrated to America. We brought over two maids, but laid off the rest of the staff. At first, I was a bit confused because my parents were specifically trying to raise us to be Western and do chores, and understand that proper work habits meant that you couldn't always ask a maid to do things for you, but if that was the case, and we were living in America why have maids at all?

My paternal grandmother had also moved to the States with us, and we realized later on that the maids were really for her, and it was the way she wanted things done. We gave them a day off every week, and at some point on her days off, E met a man and they fell in love and he wanted to marry her and get her a Green Card. I remember my mom being somewhat upset by it, feeling like it was a betrayal, but she let her go. I remember that it was bitter and acrimonious, and we don't speak of it much as I don't think any of us were proud of it. We let the other maid go a few years later after my grandmother passed away, and she returned to Manila to join her family and see her kids again.

A few years ago, after decades had passed, my mom ran into E at a Safeway somewhere in the East Bay and they became friends again. She's still with her husband, and was now working as staff in an assisted living facility. She visits us every now and again during the holidays and sends us a greeting card around Christmas.

I never know how to treat her. I know that she loves us and has invested in us in the way that any adult may feel invested in children that they have helped raise, but I think of her like I think of a teacher who was always mean to us, and I think that's unfair, but I'm not sure how to live with it besides only seeing her once a year.

I watched the entire run of Downton Abbey and when I see Carson, I also see her.
posted by bl1nk at 8:39 AM on May 16 [50 favorites]


Echoing what libraritarian said above, one of the things that enrages me most about situations like this is that they are enabled by gendered labor. Cooking, cleaning, caring for children, nursing the ill—all things traditionally done by women, and traditionally unpaid. The baseline patriarchal entitlement to these things make it more difficult to highlight domestic slavery. The subtext is that only men's work deserves compensation, and thus only coerced men's work counts as slavery.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:44 AM on May 16 [62 favorites]


This was a very difficult read. Thank you for posting it.

I had two childhood Filipina friends growing up in Queens, NY whose families kept slaves under similar conditions. The kids in both families had been instructed to tell outsiders that the women were Aunties.

Does this still go on today in the Philippines , I wonder?

According to the Global Slavery Index, as of 2015, approximately 401,000 Filipinos were living in slavery -- mostly forced labor of some kind. That's 0.40% of the population. Commercial sexual exploitation is apparently common. Leaving the country doesn't necessarily improve things, however.
Modern slavery exists in the Philippines in all its forms, however the issue of forced labour for Filipinos working abroad is a significant concern. The most recent survey on OFWs by the Philippine Statistics Authority suggests that one in every two Filipino women working abroad is unskilled, and employed as a domestic worker, cleaner, or in the service sector. These sectors represent some of the highest industry risks for modern slavery. Walk Free survey data revealed that roughly 69% of those reporting exploitation experienced the abuse within the domestic labour sector. Within those that reported forced labour, 25% reported that it occurred overseas, whereas 75% occurred domestically, suggesting that modern slavery is a serious concern not just for OFWs but also within the Philippines itself.

In 2015-2016, research has revealed that migrant worker exploitation occurs during all phases of labour migration, with many prospective migrants having a lack of knowledge of the processes and their rights resulting in an ease of exploitation. An estimated 10 million Filipinos migrate abroad for work, and many are subjected to human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour throughout Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

posted by zarq at 8:50 AM on May 16 [9 favorites]


The practice of importing indentured servants was part of Canada's immigration policy until the war (i.e., until just twenty years before the author emigrated to the States with his parents).

Now, of course, the bougie double-income families in the Canadian suburbs all have Filipino nannies...
posted by My Dad at 8:53 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


This was a complicated tribute to a woman the author obviously greatly loved. So painful to read, and it was so brave of him to write it.
There's so much here to unpack, but I'm still crying.
. for Lola
. for Alex
posted by honey badger at 9:00 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


My first instinct upon reading this story was, of course, horror. And I guess a bit of relief... As a second generation immigrant myself there's a lot of cultural unpacking I've had to do but I've never had to deal with anything anywhere near as horrific as slavery. Even in the tiny mining town where my dad grew up a story like this would be outrageous. But then again-

A few months ago he told me about a young girl, living in that town, who'd been raised by her stepmother after her father remarried. And, well, the easiest way to put what happened to her is that it's a Cinderella story with no prince at the end- she was basically a slave, and violently abused.

This sort of thing isn't considered acceptable... not really. Apparently it was pretty common gossip, in a how could she, the poor girl kind of way. But no one did anything about it. And then the girl died- was murdered. Just a year ago. I don't think she was much older than twelve. The stepmother was arrested, will probably at least be imprisoned.

When I heard this story I was aghast. How on earth could you know about something like this, talk about it openly, and then not do anything until the person literally dies?

It's more complicated than that, my dad told me. Here in the US- if you hear about something like that you'd go to CPS. The country where this happened... let's just say the police aren't the most dependable people around. Not as bad as some countries, but if they heard about something like this they'd probably make a note of it and then never follow up. And the social norms against direct interference in someone else's life are as strong there as anywhere, including the US.

Okay, I said. But if everyone who knew about it banded up- went to the police as a collective, went to the family as a collective, offered to take the girl off their hands- anything, wouldn't something have happened.

My dad conceded that with that effort, probably. But, he said, it's just a cultural difference. In the US there's this ingrained cultural norm that when you're not sure what the solution is you band up together and create a solution. That's not true there.

But... honestly, I don't know if he's right. Someone probably would call CPS, but if CPS was as useless here as it is there, would people in the US do anything? There's this fantasy in movies and books that all it takes to solve a problem is for someone to "discover" it- finding out is the hard part, the solution follows naturally. But that simply isn't true, as this story proves, and the stories people are sharing in the comments. Of the people who discover it quite a few will just put it out of their heads. Of those who are inclined to do something quite a few will give up if there aren't clear official channels or steps. Of the rest some will stop at the most obvious solutions. Then there'll be a few who will rack their brains looking for a way to solve the problem entirely but if they can't do that then they'll just put it out of their mind. At any one of those points a solution might indeed be found. But in a disturbing number of cases it won't.

I'd like to think that if I'd known about the girl's story- or Lola's story- I would have done something. But that's easy for me to say.
posted by perplexion at 9:07 AM on May 16 [25 favorites]


The baseline patriarchal entitlement to these things make it more difficult to highlight domestic slavery.

I think this is a really important key element. Because when those domestic slaves or servants don't exist - as happened when my family came here - the expectations didn't change, they just devolved onto the women of the family. The men still expect these things will get Done, to the same standards as having a houseful of servants. Then get angry when it isn't done, because it's impossible for one woman alone to do all of that.

And if you're looking from the outside - can you really define the difference between unpaid, harsh labor by an actual grandmother and unpaid, harsh labor by a servant who is also a relative, just a more distant one? You're seeing the same things happen, in the same way.
posted by corb at 9:10 AM on May 16 [36 favorites]


From the Twitter feed of Jia Tolentino (previously) -- who is, in her own right, an amazing Filipino-American writer and journalist :
Over the last year there's been some phenomenal writing about the impossibly complicated situations of Filipino migrants & immigrants.

- This Rachel Aviv piece, about the intimacies & sacrifices of caregivers who live two to a bed in Queens
- This Cal Sunday piece on the cruise industry's servant class: "It's like you're in jail, but you're earning money"
- And this by Ruth Margalit about Filipino caregivers in Israel, unprotected and "transparent but indispensable"

To me these are stories about how capitalism and global inequality openly abuse the human instincts to work & love & be literally selfless.

These stories & all others like them are why I have no moral respect for anyone who truly believes they deserve a maximally comfortable life.
posted by AceRock at 9:24 AM on May 16 [42 favorites]


also: Pulitzer Center collection of articles on Filipino overseas foreign workers and the sacrifices and trials of their life abroad

> To me these are stories about how capitalism and global inequality openly abuse the human instincts to work & love & be literally selfless.

Lately, I have had this future vision on my mind where this flow goes in reverse and how, in a future where automation and self-driving vehicles have devastated the retail and freight industries of the US, Canada, and Europe and with a continuing refusal to implement UBI, whether you'd see an outflux of poor, young, white people traveling to Asia or Russia to seek jobs as well-educated and disciplined servants for the new oligarchs.
posted by bl1nk at 9:56 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


These obituaries for Eudocia / Lola from 2011-2012 are like a stab in the face with the information that was left out.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:56 AM on May 16 [24 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:58 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I knew she’d been sending almost all her money—my wife and I gave her $200 a week—to relatives back home.

I'm sure the author paid reparations for her lifetime of slavery, in addition to the kingly sum of $200 per week. I didn't see that mentioned in the article, but I'm sure he did.

After all, with an attorney father and doctor mother, he must have inherited some of their ill-gotten wealth and returned what was due to his slave.
posted by jpe at 10:21 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


We had childhood friends who's parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. They brought their....servant? I'm guessing? who was one of the boat people who fled to Hong Kong from Vietnam. I never thought about this before now. I just asked my mom, who remembers her fondly, if she was paid. She is telling me she was, but I don't know how she could know that.
posted by kitcat at 10:28 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


My family's story is very much like bl1nk's. The assumption was that we would of course have maids and, if we were actually in the Philippines, a driver and a gardener, a cook. I remember going to hang out sometimes in the maid's rooms in my grandparents giant house, which were accessed by crossing a small courtyard and going into what looked more like dorms than rooms. I remember pressing a buzzer and asking the maid who arrived for a sandwich. I remember my tita's driver Vicente, who I have always thought of as a member of the family and has driven them around for something like 40 years. (I had a vague crush on him because it was always so nice to get into an air-conditioned, tinted window car on a hot Manila day, and it always smelled like expensive men's cologne and he was a suave part of it all, handsome and charming.)

And in the US, the one time we did bring a maid back over with us, my American friends not knowing how to treat Aida and me feeling very weird about the whole thing. The vague notion that although she had a private bedroom, a salary, evenings and Sundays off, we were weird and different and probably shouldn't talk about her presence in our lives. Not quite a secret, but not quite something that was comfortable. And yet it was so normal for my mom, and even for my American dad. Aida left on one of her days off and never came back, going, as the article described, TNT. My mom, if you ask her, will say that she ran away.

I get occasional updates on Vicente's family, and other people like him, maids who left one family member and went to work for another, a woman who's a great cook and has been poached a few times (so Victorian). My family there has gone through financial ups and downs, with some of them insanely wealthy and some having severe financial difficulties. Despite some of them being much poorer than they used to be, they always have at least one maid.

There is a family story that is occasionally told about my grandmother pushing a maid down the stairs. Nobody seems to have witnessed it or can even verify if it's true, but it's still a story in the family. It's related in a way that makes it seem like it was my grandmother's fiery nature overwhelming her. It's not condoned, exactly, but it's told in a way that makes it seem like it was just a fit of bad temper. It's one of the few glimpses of the cracks in a perfect childhood that my mom has allowed me to see. She didn't realize that's what she was doing when she told me the story.

And now there's my mom's current fussing about wishing she could have a live in maid. And my quiet wish that she would go back to Manila when she gets a little older, so she would not, for the love of god, move in with me or my sister. If she went back to Manila she could be like my great aunt who is over 100, tended by her maid (who is 90 and who actually has maids tending her) and getting round-the-clock in-home nursing care. If she stays here, well...

We didn't have a slave, but we were definitely exploiters. Are still. And the part of me that was raised to understand this all as normal gets very uncomfortable when I have to stare it in the face.
posted by PussKillian at 10:44 AM on May 16 [22 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. There are just so many lives out there. I'm glad to have been able to learn about this one.

.
.
posted by the sobsister at 10:48 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


jpe: as was mentioned in the article, Tizon's father abandoned the family when the author was 15 years old, and never paid child support. Tizon's mother supported 5 kids and a leech new husband--and a slave--as an female physician, including working "two decades at Fairview Training Center, in Salem, a state institution for the developmentally disabled." Add in the inevitable lower wages paid to a woman and immigrant as a physician, and if you think this family was wealthy by the American standards they were living in, you're dreaming.

It's a huge mistake to imagine slaves as luxury objects only attainable by wealthy rich bitches. Tizon's family exploited Eudocia / Lola with incredible cruelty and selfishness because they needed her to crush under their feet to drag themselves out of the threat of poverty.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:58 AM on May 16 [54 favorites]


There's this fantasy in movies and books that all it takes to solve a problem is for someone to "discover" it- finding out is the hard part, the solution follows naturally. But that simply isn't true, as this story proves, and the stories people are sharing in the comments.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - Edmund Burke

And sometimes evil triumphs despite good people doing something.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:30 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Read the article, was moved by Tizon's love for the woman who in many ways was his real mother; read those obits about Lola's "devotion" to the birth mom and wanted to throw up in my mouth a little bit; read this thread from Josh Sharyar on Twitter giving context to the institution the mom worked at and feel sick. Like a lot of people in this thread, I know families of multiple ethnic backgrounds who have had "maids" or "aunties" whose immigration and pay and general free human status were clearly not OK. These kids were often my school friends; the kids were minors, but the parents I had an instinctive revulsion and fear for, the knowledge that these people are not safe to turn your back on-- that kind of gut discomfort you get in a room with biker gang higher ups or known spousal batterers or people whose faces you recognize from the Megan's Law website. The body knowledge that these are people who are capable of absolutely anything if they aren't deterred not by any moral decency inside themselves, but by the fear of getting caught. That's a deeply self centered and trivial take on this article but it gave me words for that old kid homework fear of certain people. Ugh.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:56 AM on May 16 [14 favorites]


My gosh, I've now realized that I know a family who have a "nanny" who is pretty much in this situation. They took her in when the husband's parents passed away a few years ago, and have sort of hand-waived away questions further explaining why she is still there (these questions, in response to the wife complaining often of how she wants the nanny out of the house).

It's a huge mistake to imagine slaves as luxury objects only attainable by wealthy rich bitches.

In the case of the family that I know, they are solidly middle-class. Not rich, at least by American standards.

Thank you for posting this article sour cream. Once again my conciousness is raised via MF.
posted by vignettist at 12:15 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


There are so many ways to get labor free from people who are not free to go elsewhere, that I invite people to look around and ask themselves where it is happening under your nose right now.
posted by Peach at 12:15 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


Vignettist, here's the National Trafficking Hotline's webpage. Their phone number is (888)373-7888.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:29 PM on May 16 [9 favorites]


I'd actually been avoiding reading this story. Mainly because there's very little in this, or the NYT story from earlier this month, or the New Yorker story from last year, that I didn't already know deeply. Like in my bones.

My family did not have servants. I don't know how to act around domestic help or service workers. I hate being called "Sir." My move is to try and diffuse any status differences as quickly as possible, which usually results in everyone being more confused. Because of this, I'm pretty sure I piss off, or at the very least make things much more awkward for, my relatives in the Philippines when I visit.

I'm of several minds about all these stories. On one hand it's nice to see Filipino stories being told. On the other - it seems like lots of people's takeaway seems to be relief that there's someone they can point to that's clearly more terrible than themselves.

The author did a lot of hard fucking work to process his own role in this. He tried to make things more right than they were before. There's nothing he could have done to make it all up. There's nothing any of us can do to make it all up to all the people that suffer for our current positions. We should still try. The author tried, far more than most.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:31 PM on May 16 [32 favorites]


I'm so sick of The Atlantic. They have a way of telling stories that should be told about the oppressed but instead choosing for them to be written by the oppressors. This story was one of them. (Not a criticism of it being on Metafilter, just a criticism of the author and publisher.)

It was hard to read weak excuses by the author (who I understand is no longer alive to defend himself) about his treatment of Lola and failure to defend her from his mother's abuse. I know it's easy to point fingers, but he didn't take responsibility, he exploited this story for its shock value.

His loyalty was with to his birth mother, but not Lola. One part of the essay that really pissed me off: he insisted on trying to teach her to drive by physically picking her up and carrying her to car — yeah, that's fucking hilarious, I'm sure she was laughing but what was she supposed to do? Their actions said over and over that her body didn't belong to her, it belonged to the family, to be picked up or punched as they wished. Did he understand that? Did he understand why Lola had such fierce loyalty to their family? It wasn't because they deserved it, it was Stockholm syndrome.

Badgering her about her sex life: what did he think her answer was going to be? Is that how you show respect to her, by insisting she talk about what she missed out on because she was their slave? By refusing to realize that he will always hold power of her and asking invasive questions that she feels she owes him an answer to because of that power? How can he write that like it was about his will to get to know her better when it was clear he continued to view her life only as a curiosity?

Again, I know it's easy to point fingers. His upbringing makes this a very complicated story, but it's one I don't think he had the right to exploit. It didn't seem introspective to me, it felt dirty and lacking in context.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:33 PM on May 16 [56 favorites]


the parents I had an instinctive revulsion and fear for, the knowledge that these people are not safe to turn your back on-- that kind of gut discomfort you get in a room with biker gang higher ups or known spousal batterers or people whose faces you recognize from the Megan's Law website. The body knowledge that these are people who are capable of absolutely anything if they aren't deterred not by any moral decency inside themselves, but by the fear of getting caught.
I don't mean to threadsit, but the topic is close to home, and I've been expecting reactions such as this.

I don't intend for what I'm about to write to exculpate anyone who has hired a Filipinx servant for what was likely exploitation wages. I think there's an ample set of opportunities for abuse and cruelty in that system and I am grateful to my parents for recognizing that and working in their own way to detach our family from that system and not raising us in that style. I side with Josh Sharyar's comment that Alex Tizon's mother was a cruel monster, and I also feel ambivalent in Alex's role in coming to terms with that legacy as he wrote that article.

But I don't look at any Filipinos who still participate in it as automatically bad people or human traffickers in the same way that I do not look at all of my white friends and think that they're all murderers of black people. The issues at the heart of the Philippines' dysfunction with domestic labor are systemic and structural, and in the same way that it is difficult to experience middle class America without, in some way, being complicit in the system exploitation of minorities or foreign labor, it is also difficult to be a white collar Filipino and not be in, some way, complicit in the domestic labor market. It tarnishes us all, but I think it's hyperbolic to the point of useless to say that anyone who hires a domestic servant is automatically lacking in moral decency.
posted by bl1nk at 12:37 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


Please, Alex was every bit as cruel a monster as his mother. Not once in this piece does he even do so much as apologize. Instead, he makes excuses - oh, he could have freed her, but his slaving parents might have suffered, so instead he didn't. Oh, his sick mom needed a slave around the house, so he waited until she died. This is a vile piece of slavery apologism.

Here's a really well-done twitter thread about exactly why he's as culpable as she was.
posted by kafziel at 12:53 PM on May 16 [16 favorites]


I feel like I should specify that the first people I knew who did this were actually a deeply assimilated American Jewish family who "employed" an elderly, non English speaking Polish woman, and that their doing so was deeply culturally abnormal. This wasn't something thrust upon them as children like Tizon's mother or difficult to disentangle from like the situations you are describing. Other families (Los Angeles) have been white people who went from enslaving and exploiting Black women to seeking out Latinx workers once the civil rights movement shifted perception of who could be found to dehumanize. Yes many of the people whose parents I feared for complaining in front of the kids about lazy "aunties" etc were from cultures where that was a norm, but a lot of families actively sought these situations out, and yeah, wherever they were from, those people were and are frightening. I don't want to decontextualize this from it being a Filipino story or derail but also don't want that to read like a crypto racist diatribe.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:55 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to write about the slave you owned.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:03 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I've shared both the article and Shahryar's response to it. On first reading, I thought that it was a powerful, moving article - so much so that it wasn't until I read Shahryar's response that I realized that the situation was even worse than its described by the author. So, basically, Shahryar is correct - the piece is a (very effective and well written piece) of slave owner apologia no matter the intent. I'm not yet at the infuriated stage he's at because I'm still struggling with my initial response to the article, but I think fury is an appropriate response. Eudocia Pulido was enslaved and abused her entire life and the reason she wasn't ever freed as it would have been too much work and inconvenience and (frankly) jail time for the family that enslaved her. That's horrific.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:06 PM on May 16 [18 favorites]


I am pretty certain that there is no way to have a live-in maid/nanny/whatever and not have it be problematic, no matter their wages, especially if that person is directly paid (or not) by the household in question.

(I would say it's absolutely impossible to have servants in any ethical [presuming there is such a thing] manner if the help is not a sovereign citizen or otherwise of clear legal standing as an adult where they work.)

The thing is consent. There is no meaningful way people employed as live-in staff, especially where any future employment will absolutely rely on a recommendation from their current employer or "unemployment" at best means being deported, can give consent for anything they're asked to do, whether work or "extracurricular activities". I mean, yes, some of us are "trapped" in jobs we don't like, but not in the way these people are actually trapped.

I know this is kinda frivolous in this context, but my mind keeps conjuring up the scene in Down and Out in Beverly Hills where the Richard Dreyfus character is having sex with their live-in servant, played for laughs as a plot point and I keep thinking "WTF, that's a damn rape played as 'sexy Latina woman fucking her employer, of course, haha'." That's 30 years ago, but I doubt attitudes have changed in this retrogressing society.
posted by maxwelton at 1:08 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Just so that others don't have to click, the one new piece of information or context in that "really well-done twitter thread" is that his mom worked for a long time at a place that engaged in the horrific practices that were unfortunately common in many institutions for the developmentally disabled, and thus, was presumably complicit in them. The phrasing in the article suggests that the author may not have been aware of this history.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:08 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


I live in Oregon. I know Fairview's history. I built a guitar in a house several blocks away from the abandoned hospital. This story sickened me as much as hearing the story about what Fairview actually was.

May all the enslaved people find freedom in the coming years. May Lola rest in peace.
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 1:12 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


It was hard to read weak excuses by the author (who I understand is no longer alive to defend himself) about his treatment of Lola and failure to defend her from his mother's abuse. I know it's easy to point fingers, but he didn't take responsibility, he exploited this story for its shock value.

The takes. They're so hot.

I submit that there's ample evidence in the piece that 1) the author tried and 2) the author called himself out on how he could have done more. If I were to write a piece for me to benefit from, I certainly wouldn't write one that examined my own bad acts with this level of focus and pain. But sure - he lived this story over decades and stewarded the ashes himself to literally the boondocks for...a writing credit in the Atlantic? For a guy that won a Pulitzer 20 years ago, this seems like playing a very long game, for questionable stakes. Or maybe you're comically misreading him.

Let me put it plainly: if you're not Filipino, you're probably better off sitting this one out and learning something, instead. You say the author doesn't have the right to exploit this story. I could similarly claim your ignorance of the cultural contexts at play here probably doesn't give you the right to voice a take like this. Who am I to pass a judgement like that, you ask? I ask - who are you?

Or do you or anyone on the linked twitter thread have your own examination of your own acts of exploitation? Right now the only one I see is from the dead Pulitzer prize winner you're choosing to shit on. Maybe spend some time doing self-examination here instead of immediately reaching for the twitter outrage templates.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:13 PM on May 16 [42 favorites]


At my kids' previous school, which was in a wealthier part of town, I would often hear unsettling conversations by other kids' parents about the absolute cheapest way to have a Filipino nanny, and how to squeeze the most work out of their nannies. If they could get away without paying them at all I'm certain they would in a heartbeat.

I agree that this article is apologia.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:13 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


"One part of the essay that really pissed me off: he insisted on trying to teach her to drive by physically picking her up and carrying her to car — yeah, that's fucking hilarious, I'm sure she was laughing but what was she supposed to do? Their actions said over and over that her body didn't belong to her, it belonged to the family, to be picked up or punched as they wished. Did he understand that?"

It's very revealing. This is symptomatic of privilege and x-supremacy in thinking that agency-denying "benign" acts supposedly on behalf of an oppressed person are examples that they're not oppressive, not x-ists when, in fact, these kinds of acts are a hallmark. The coin of colonialism has two sides, and one of them believes itself to be benign.

As someone with privilege on most axes, it wasn't until well into adulthood that I truly began to understand that the most salient issue in these relationships involve the denial of agency and the reification of inequality -- and seemingly helpful, caring acts that do these things are in some respects the most insidious. They are trojan horses, they have plausible deniability, and a large number of people will outright deny that they are hurtful in any respect. It is really hard to get people to stop and reconsider their actions when they believe that they are being kind and helpful and "good", and if you even very gently imply that what they're doing just reinforces the power imbalance, they get incredibly defensive. I've come to view this impulse and this reaction to criticism of this impulse with deep skepticism -- it cannot be a coincidence that it usually functions like an inoculation against criticism of exploitation.

All that said, I really want to repeat that it's very difficult for us to recognize forms of exploitation that we've been socialized into taking for granted as normal. I view people like this author with a great deal of ambivalence because I think that it is a step forward in that he recognized in the first place the injustice, and made some efforts to address it, but it's a step backward that he did so in ways that both continued to undermine some of her agency and continued a policy of silence about this aspect of his family's life. As I wrote, I don't think, on a sociocultural and institutional level, that it's an accident that the first and most common response to becoming aware of a systemic injustice is to embrace a "correction" that, really, just reinforces it or otherwise only superficially alters it. I think that's revealing. Maybe about individual human psychology, but definitely about social psychology. We're very, very bad at reconciling ourselves to our participation in institutionalized injustice and what we tend to want, individually and as a society, is a quick and easy absolution followed by a forgetting.

And, I'm sorry to repeat myself, but what most concerns me about this sort of thing is not that we're inadequately, at the social level, reconciling and making reparations for our past mistakes -- though this is deeply important -- as we somehow just continue to see demonstrated that each generation, that every generation, has something like this, something that they have been lying to themselves about, avoiding, making excuses, making token efforts to address, and yet somehow fail to become aware of how this necessarily implicates our own generation's injustice, our own unrecognized misdeeds. It's really easy to pick targets for our scorn that are people two generations ago, or people in other countries or cultures -- what's much more difficult and much more imperative is to direct that criticism inward. Because I guarantee that every one of us is complicit or even wholehearted participants in things that two or three generations down the road will leave people outraged and aghast. If we expect these other people in the past, or in other cultures, to open their eyes to their own actions, then surely we have a much greater obligation to do that ourselves. It's not sufficient to say that, yes, I try to do something about the things I recognize -- what's necessary is to admit that there are monstrous things we don't recognize in ourselves and which we have a moral responsibility to identify and take responsibility for.

"The thing is consent. There is no meaningful way people employed as live-in staff, especially where any future employment will absolutely rely on a recommendation from their current employer or 'unemployment' at best means being deported, can give consent for anything they're asked to do, whether work or "extracurricular activities". I mean, yes, some of us are 'trapped' in jobs we don't like, but not in the way these people are actually trapped."

Yep.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:20 PM on May 16 [19 favorites]


Let me put it plainly: if you're not Filipino, you're probably better off sitting this one out and learning something, instead.

If that "learning" is that slavery is morally complicated, I'd really rather not.
posted by jpe at 1:27 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


I'm not really seeing this as slaveowning apologia, mostly because I didn't think I got the idea from the author that he thought himself or his mother was in the right. There's more the author could have done to unpack that relationship - the fact that it took him a while to ask if she wanted to return to the Philippines, him thinking she was childlike - but there was a long road to travel, and this shit really is hard. Maybe he would have gotten there with another edit, who knows.

There's this strain that seems to believe that we need to show all humans who engage in evil acts as completely uncharismatic and irredeemable, and I find that counterproductive. Because evil acts are committed every single goddamn day by people who seem nice, maybe who otherwise do good things, and expecting every person who is capable of evil to automatically come off as a hellbeast allows people to excuse a lot of shit and deny even more. Pointing out that he thought his mother was kind and loving to her children even though he knew she was horrible in other ways isn't excusing the actions, it's explaining how horrible actions can be so normalized and ignored. How can a normal-seeming immigrant family also be slaveowners? This is how.

Also, being angry that the author died before the piece came out is kind of weird? I didn't get the idea that he was sitting on this for decades with a little note saying 'publish this only after death'. Guy was working on it and keeled over.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:29 PM on May 16 [36 favorites]


If that "learning" is that slavery is morally complicated, I'd really rather not.

Actually, the message is that the social, emotional, and structural constructs that create situations like this are difficult to fix when you benefit from that system, even with good intent and moral certainty that slavery is evil.

But nuance, who cares, let's just have some more hot takes from white people who heard other white people talk about Filipinos once!
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:38 PM on May 16 [53 favorites]


The author did, far, far too late, offer Lola her freedom - when he took her back to the Philippines, he said she could stay. She chose to return to the US with him, maybe to return later. Now, she was 83, her village had changed, she had spent most of her life away. She may not have had a practical choice. She died suddenly, she didn't have a chance to return. But I don't think there's evidence that, in her old age, far later than he should have, the author treated her any differently than he would have an actual aunt, a blood relative. Maybe the fact that it took him 5 years to return her ashes is evidence that he did, I don't know. I would have liked to hear more about how it was decided that he, out of all of his siblings, would take her in.
posted by maryr at 1:43 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


One of the most heartbreaking points for me, only briefly touched on, is how Eudocia / Lola traded herself into slavery in desperation to escape her parents, who "wanted her to marry a pig farmer twice her age." She was being betrayed by family on all sides and it's horrifying. Did she wonder over the years about the differences in her life if she'd picked the life of forced marriage and marital rape in her own country instead of the lonely life of domestic slavery far away from and cut off from everything she knew?
posted by nicebookrack at 1:45 PM on May 16 [28 favorites]


"If that 'learning' is that slavery is morally complicated, I'd really rather not."

These arguments always frustrate me because I very strongly don't believe that I'm required to take one extreme or the other.

I am very comfortable with making very strong value judgments about certain kinds of practices in other cultures and other times, and about individual people being blind to their self-interested complicity -- but I also think, continuing to beat on my drum here, that this willingness to condemn others, in the past or in other cultures or people who have lived different lives must be accompanied by at least as strong an attempt at self-criticism, at asking ourselves: how are we like them? I don't think it's one or the other, I think it's both.

We're a long way away from any sort of perfectly just utopia -- all of us, in all times and all places, have a responsibility for soul-searching and it's a terrible error to self-righteously declare that we are free from these vices and loudly assert that "they" are monsters.

I don't begrudge people their outrage at horrifying injustice, it's natural -- but I think that we have a responsibility to always ask ourselves if our outrage at the vices of others isn't a bit convenient and self-serving and that maybe, just maybe, it should be followed by some soul-searching of our own.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:52 PM on May 16 [19 favorites]


dinty_moore, are you responding to my comment when you say this: Also, being angry that the author died before the piece came out is kind of weird? ? If so, there is no anger, I was noting he wasn't around to defend himself against criticism to this piece or provide further context. It wasn't implying anything about the timing of when the essay came out or anything. I hope that clarifies and stops that from being a derail.

NoRelationToLea, you are right that as a non-Filipino I should be listening. I apologize for taking up space that wasn't mine in this thread and causing those who are actually more connected to this story to have to shift the conversation to accommodate.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:53 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


I guarantee that every one of us is complicit or even wholehearted participants in things that two or three generations down the road will leave people outraged and aghast. If we expect these other people in the past, or in other cultures, to open their eyes to their own actions, then surely we have a much greater obligation to do that ourselves.

This, absolutely, and this is why I posted the article to my own social media network, along with discussion about how our entire economic system rests on a bedrock of modern day, commonplace slavery. Even if the story comes from the oppressor, whose guilt was insufficient, whose attempt at reparations was halfhearted, whose complicity was downplayed, whose love for his parents blinded him to the egregiousness of their actions. Even then.

Because his horrified moment of realization at age 13 wasn't enough. Because my horrified moment of realization when I read about the agricultural conditions that lead to me having strawberries isn't enough. Because being woven into a cultural web that requires slavery to function doesn't mean I actually know how to extricate myself, or any of the human victims caught within it.

The author actually indicates that he tries, repeatedly, throughout his life, to give Lola the resources that would allow her to escape his mother (money, access to transportation), and that Lola rejected these attempts. And she likely did so out of Stockholm Syndrome, and fear, and a lack of options, and the knowledge that being on her own without language or resources outside that family could have easily been worse-- but should he have refused to acknowledge her choices, at the moment when they were the very first ones she was given the option to make at all? Her choices were made out of duress-- but would ignoring those choices have been better for her? Would getting deported have been better for her? Maybe? But I think looking at the extent of modern day slavery requires us to not only examine ourselves for how deeply embedded it is in our lives, but also how few resources we actually have for helping people in that position. His best wasn't good enough. My best isn't good enough either-- but the slaves who are serving me are separated from my daily life by corporations and the US Govt and our carceral state, and so I don't have to hold them in my arms, or ask them what they want, or carry their ashes home.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:53 PM on May 16 [42 favorites]


As a side note, a Filipino-American friend of mine pointed out the importance of referring to the subject of the piece as Eudocia, rather than Lola.

As others have mentioned in the thread, Lola means grandmother. The name "Eudocia" was taken as part and parcel of dehumanizing her and making her into an object whose sole identity was to clean and do laundry and take care of children.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:53 PM on May 16 [30 favorites]


Does this still go on today in the Philippines , I wonder?

This still goes on in America today.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:55 PM on May 16 [20 favorites]


Thank you, joyceanmachine-- I thought about that right after posting, but I should have thought about it before. I will let it stand to preserve my mistake, but you are absolutely right. Eudocia's identity deserves to be honored without resorting to her owners' terminology, and I apologize.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:57 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


dinty_moore, are you responding to my comment when you say this: Also, being angry that the author died before the piece came out is kind of weird?

Nah, I'm referring to this tweet. Sorry for the confusion.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:58 PM on May 16


Does this still go on today in the Philippines , I wonder?

Slavery is still a huge problem around the world. The Global Slavery Index's Philippines report is a good place to start. Some OFW's are considered slaves.

If you look a UN stats, the Philippines accounts for half of all enslaved people in East Asia.
posted by My Dad at 2:01 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


I guarantee that every one of us is complicit or even wholehearted participants in things that two or three generations down the road will leave people outraged and aghast.
Yes, that's part of what I was trying to say (though it's equally possible people will laugh at the things that outrage us now, because culture is not a progression, but an ever-changing process). The thing about culture is that it's invisible to you while you're living it.

The moral outrage people express about things like the writer carrying the woman to the car to teach her to drive? It makes me blink and have double vision, because that was the kind of thing people did and didn't think twice about not that long ago.

The thing about good memoir is that it is honest and reveals something about the reader as well as the writer. Judging the writer is too convenient. Use it as a mirror.
posted by Peach at 2:15 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty okay with judging someone who aided and abetted slavery and abuse for decades, of someone he pretended to care about.
posted by tavella at 2:33 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


The thing is, I don't think it was as simple as him just not caring about her. I think it's an incredibly complex situation. He tried to help her when he got older, but she wouldn't accept his help. Was it because she didn't want it? Was it because she didn't want it from him? Was it because she didn't think that he had the right to offer these things to her? She spent nearly of her entire life in this manner. From age 12 to age 40, when the writer became an adult, she believed that she "belonged" to the writer's mother.

I wonder a lot if the reason she even listened to the author, when he told her to rest a little and go home, is because after the passing of the mother, she felt her "belonging" transferred as well.

Like that's the true horror of this kind of thing. The cage is not just on the outside. If you raise someone to adulthood into this kind of thing, they are permanently affected.
posted by corb at 2:46 PM on May 16 [10 favorites]


I'm not really seeing this as slaveowning apologia, mostly because I didn't think I got the idea from the author that he thought himself or his mother was in the right. There's more the author could have done to unpack that relationship - the fact that it took him a while to ask if she wanted to return to the Philippines, him thinking she was childlike - but there was a long road to travel, and this shit really is hard. Maybe he would have gotten there with another edit, who knows.

"By saying he didn't help free Lola to save his own family, he's implying that other people could make the same choice and not be monsters."
posted by kafziel at 2:48 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Oof. I'm 31, and for much of my childhood my family had a live-in nanny/babysitter. Some of them were older Filipina women, and the last few were younger Estonians-- I think our name made it onto some grapevine as a 'safe' family to work for. I know one young woman had been working for a family that was mistreating her, and my mom literally went to the house where she worked while the family was gone, loaded Tina and her things into her car, and took off. My mom joked, later, that she 'stole Tina' but I'm not sure she was actually joking anymore. I know some-- maybe most-- of them were overstaying visas or otherwise undocumented.

Most of them stayed with us for a year or two before going home, but I know my mom is still in touch with several of them. One met an Estonian guy while she lived with us, eventually married him, and my family sponsored them for citizenship. Her husband's a contractor now, and does a lot of work for my uncle. They have three kids and my mom gave them all our old baby clothes. That's probably the best-case scenario, right? Except I would bet even she was underpaid by my parents, and I've heard them tell the story of how 'shy' and 'quiet' Krista was her first couple of months with us-- because, they eventually realized, she wasn't sure yet if it was safe for her to be alone with my dad. It was safe, but that's not a funny story, and yet that's how my parents tell it: this 20-year-old woman without papers who spoke limited english was afraid Dad might sexually assault her! hilarious! Tina was held virtually prisoner by her employer and we had to jailbreak her! what a crazy anecdote!

I don't know if I even have a point to this, beyond: there is no version of this story that doesn't have something wrong, somewhere, because it's a system with the exploitation baked in.
posted by nonasuch at 2:49 PM on May 16 [34 favorites]


Pay attention to the title of the piece, too. It wasn't originally My Family's Slave.
posted by kafziel at 2:52 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


"By saying he didn't help free Lola to save his own family, he's implying that other people could make the same choice and not be monsters."

That's the thing. They're not monsters. They don't have green skin and pointy teeth. They're humans - selfish humans that are capable of ignoring and abetting a great amount of evil because that evil seems normal to them.

We are all capable of evil acts. We all can be complicit. Calling them monsters is a form of denial - that it could never be you, or your loved ones, or anyone that has ever been kind to you. The reason to recognize their humanity is as a warning.

And the other thing is right after he gave his reasons, he pointed out it didn't save his family in the end - it just broke apart more slowly.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:58 PM on May 16 [32 favorites]


She practically raised him, and he didn't even lift a finger to help her until he was in his 40s, and only half-heartedly then. He saw her on a regular basis and was fine with leaving her in slavery and abuse, because as Josh Shahryar points out, he thought it was more important that his mom have a slave to take care of her. I'm tired of the endless "oh, well, YOU WOULD DO THE SAME". Well, if I did I'd be a fucking monster and I would damn well hope people would stop me, not coo about how beautiful and honest my piece MAKING MONEY from my excuses for being a slaveholder was.
posted by tavella at 3:08 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


I wonder why some people in this thread, with limited information and limited insights into Filipino culture etc, have decided to judge the writer. I know MetaFilter is supposed to be a conversation (at least it was when I first joined in 2007), but is taking sides really the point here? What good does it do? How does it help solve a problem that still exists to this very day?

And I'm not talking about some problem that occurs "over there", in some exoticized locale we may never visit (I've been to the Philippines, though). The plight of Eudocia is the plight of many women right in our own communities. How to change that?
posted by My Dad at 3:13 PM on May 16 [10 favorites]


He wasn't living in the Philippines, he was living here in the US. I'm quite okay with judging him according to the laws and mores of my country. And again, attempting to bring up abstract other women, well I damn well support prosecution of all other slaveholders in the US. Exactly how does that mean I can't consider him a vile monster for his active, personal support of keeping Eudocia Tomas Pulido a slave?
posted by tavella at 3:20 PM on May 16 [9 favorites]


There is a universal preemptory norm against slavery. I don't need to know anything about a person or his culture to conclude that his family had no business keeping a fellow human being in forced servitude. I don't need to know anything about him or his culture to know that running away and leaving a human being to rot so his mother could have it easier was the wrong thing to do.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:21 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


His options were 1) get her deported or 2) kidnap her. There was no way to save her that didn't involve violating her will; it may have been the right thing to do, but the idea that everyone here would just go up and do it right away with supreme confidence is ridiculous. He's not supposed to pick her up and carry her to the car, but he is supposed to somehow fly her home without her consent? Or just call the cops, I guess?

I don't think the story is meant to make him look like a mensch but demonstrate how many practical and psychological difficulties there are to helping someone in a situation like this. If you've ever tried to help a woman out of a domestic violence situation or improve the lot of a child in dangerous living conditions you might appreciate how hard it is to actually do the right thing, whether you know and love the person or they're a stranger to you. Oftentimes getting the state involved means a harder life for everyone; often that's the case but you decide it's still right, often the person doesn't want your help and actively rebels against it and you need to decide how much right you have to exert your influence over theirs. You try to help them materially, they accept some help, some they don't. You can think the author didn't do enough but making it into a black and white situation is wrong and summarily unhelpful.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:28 PM on May 16 [54 favorites]


She practically raised him, and he didn't even lift a finger to help her until he was in his 40s, and only half-heartedly then. He saw her on a regular basis and was fine with leaving her in slavery and abuse, because as Josh Shahryar points out, he thought it was more important that his mom have a slave to take care of her. I'm tired of the endless "oh, well, YOU WOULD DO THE SAME". Well, if I did I'd be a fucking monster and I would damn well hope people would stop me, not coo about how beautiful and honest my piece MAKING MONEY from my excuses for being a slaveholder was.

I am not saying he was innocent or that he did his best at all, remotely. But this summary of the events as described in the article is blatantly untrue. His efforts to help began when he was a child, and they always ended with Eudocia begging him to stop because he was making things worse.

Seriously, how do you deal with that at 11? At 13? At 15? At 22? I can't say that he made the right choices. But I also have no idea what sort of choices I would have known how to make in that situation. The children tried to stand up for her, and it made things worse. They tried to help her with chores, and it made things worse. The author tried to get her medical care, and it made things worse. He tried to give her money and new skills, and she told him to stop.

I am not cooing, but I really and truly do not know what I would have done if I had been in that position, surrounded by people treating it as normal, knowing that going to the authorities could have ended up destroying her life even further (I mean, you know, ICE? Some of the most evil people in the country?).

I think criticisms of the author are fair. But is there an obvious "right" choice in this situation? There are an innumerable number of wrongs, of evil done to someone who could not defend herself. But responses that imply that there were obvious solutions along the way-- I don't know. I don't see those obvious solutions, not in the context of our incredibly broken culture. Part of what makes human trafficking "work" is that it separates people from any support network that might allow them to extricate themselves from slavery.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:30 PM on May 16 [31 favorites]


I definitely got the sense that Alex Tizon also did not think he had done enough, and at the same time he did not know what the better choices would have been. For what it's worth.
posted by nonasuch at 3:33 PM on May 16 [25 favorites]


ICE didn't exist in the 1970s, when AS AN ADULT he continued to to visit and condone her slavery. Which he would do for the REST OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
posted by tavella at 3:34 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


He was 6 in 1970.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:35 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


A better choice would have been having her freed, by the cops if necessary. A better way would have been obtaining her decades of back wages so that she has the financial resources to return home and live comfortably.
posted by tavella at 3:37 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


ICE didn't exist in the 1970s, when AS AN ADULT he continued to to visit and condone her slavery.
Surely you cannot be under the impression that there was no immigration enforcement in the 1970s. It was called the INS, not ICE, but it existed. And there are a lot more protections for people who have been trafficked now than there were in the '70s and '80s.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:38 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


"We landed in Los Angeles on May 12, 1964" "I was 4 years old when we arrived in the U.S."

So, no. He was an adult by the late 1970s.
posted by tavella at 3:39 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


A few years after Eudocia was trafficked to the US, her home province, Tarlac, was the birthplace of a Maoist insurgency that continues to this day. In the Philippines, during the time period in question, many men and women have fought and died to stop the kind of barbarism Eudocia was subjected to.
posted by Ptrin at 3:44 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


He was 19 in 1979. If he had contacted the authorities, his mom may or may not have been prosecuted and punished, but Eudocia would definitely have been deported. He had no way of knowing what would have happened to her if she were deported, and it's unlikely that at 19 he was in a position to give her a lot of financial help to weather that transition. I think you could argue that he should have taken action after she was able to normalize her immigration status following the 1986 amnesty, but before then he would really have been playing with fire in ways that I'm not sure you fully understand.

I actually would be really interested to hear what formerly-trafficked people and people who work with trafficked people think would have been the best outcome here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:45 PM on May 16 [28 favorites]


There are more slaves today than at any time in human history.

This was a heartbreaking story to read, and highlights the complexity of the situation. I don't believe you can be a hero in these situations. It's difficult enough to learn the challenges of helping victims of abuse that have more options and opportunities than modern-day slaves like these. It's easier to white-knight and criticize the author than to think about how we can instead try to prevent these situations from happening in the present.
posted by xtine at 3:45 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Let us not please not get into a detail of figuring out whether La Migra in the 1970s was better or worse than ICE today. Neither was something you would want to subject a family member to.
posted by corb at 3:46 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


The fact that your easy, obvious solutions involve an immigrant protecting or helping an undocumented woman by bringing her to the attention of the government, especially before any of the current (inadequate) protections for trafficked persons or policies about cops not calling immigration?

That's some wild-ass shit.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:48 PM on May 16 [25 favorites]


The poster was attempting to excuse Tizon's inaction because ICE were "some of the most evil people in the country". Given that ICE is a 21st century institution, that's a particularly feeble deflection. If they want to discuss potential outcomes for Eudocia if she was freed in the 1970s, then they should discuss that, with period-relevant data.

I will also note that Eudocia was *not* an illegal immigrant. In fact, she was apparently a perfectly legal resident up until about the time her father died, and it was only through the glossed-over actions of Tizon's parents that she became one because they prevented her from returning to the Philippines:

"Lola’s mother, Fermina, died in 1973; her father, Hilario, in 1979. Both times she wanted desperately to go home. Both times my parents said “Sorry.” No money, no time. The kids needed her. My parents also feared for themselves, they admitted to me later. If the authorities had found out about Lola, as they surely would have if she’d tried to leave, my parents could have gotten into trouble, possibly even been deported. They couldn’t risk it. Lola’s legal status became what Filipinos call tago nang tago, or TNT—“on the run.” She stayed TNT for almost 20 years."

"Lola became a citizen in October 1998."
posted by tavella at 3:50 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Bracketing off the question of whether or not the actions taken by the author of this article were terrible — I know it's a big question to bracket off, but. — bracketing that off, what are we going to do, as individuals and as a group, now that we have heard Eudocia's story, or at least heard a version of it filtered through the pen of one of the people who benefited from her enslavement?

What are we going to do?

Arguing about whether one guy is a bad guy or a good guy is, well, there's no emoji frowny enough to properly respond to that as a suggestion for what we are going to do.

Likewise though we can't (right now) go all John Brown and start organizing a militia of liberation.

We must through our actions somehow reduce the amount of slavery in the world; to free the oppressed, to topple the oppressors, to make space for the formerly enslaved to participate in free society, to free our society enough to make participating it in worthwhile, to put tiny flecks of good on the scale to counterbalance the weight of the evil we've inflicted upon each other and on the world, even though we know we will never, ever, ever make enough good to genuinely make up for all the bad we do. And we must through all of this dwell on the good that we can do rather than on the evil that has been done, because once we start dwelling on the evil we let ourselves off the hook, we catch ourselves thinking "well, I'm not as bad as that guy who wrote for the atlantic who was raised by a slave! god, fuck that guy!" and then we do nothing.

I don't have the slightest clue about how to go about doing any of that. None whatsoever. I'm trying not to buy clothes made by slaves, though that's hard, and I'm trying not to eat food picked by slaves, but that's hard, and both of those consumer-side interventions feel real inadequate. And of course I vote for and give money to and campaign for the leftmost semiviable candidate in electoral races, since the left is where you (occasionally) find politics rooted in mutual respect, and therefore where you find real political opposition to slavery. but participating in electoral campaigns is less than inadequate; it is nothing.

Something I find myself wanting, coming out of this article, is a set of instructions for what to do when I suspect that someone I know is keeping a slave. What does the Underground Railroad look like? how do I get that person to people who can usher them away from slavery and to safety? How can I make sure that, once liberated, the former enslaved person has the resources they need to thrive in our only sorta-free society? I don't care whether or not the Atlantic writer is bad. He probably is, but that doesn't matter. What I care about is how I can be better.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:54 PM on May 16 [35 favorites]


I will also note that Eudocia was *not* an illegal immigrant.
She absolutely was undocumented, as is made clear in the paragraph above the one you qouted:
There was another reason for secrecy: Lola’s travel papers had expired in 1969, five years after we arrived in the U.S. She’d come on a special passport linked to my father’s job. After a series of fallings-out with his superiors, Dad quit the consulate and declared his intent to stay in the United States. He arranged for permanent-resident status for his family, but Lola wasn’t eligible. He was supposed to send her back.
Between 1969 and 1986, she didn't have a valid visa. She was able to get permission to stay in the country because there was an amnesty for undocumented immigrants in 1986. That's what put her on the road to be able to get citizenship in 1998. Before that, she was subject to deportation if she came to the attention of authorities.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:56 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


The poster was attempting to excuse Tizon's inaction because ICE were "some of the most evil people in the country".

First of all, I absolutely was not trying to excuse anything. Please stop making assertions that have no basis in anything anyone has said here.

I am sorry for mis-typing INS as ICE, but if you think INS in the 1970s was a bastion of respect and nuance for non-white residents of the US, then I think you do not know much about it. It was just as much of a white supremacist org as ICE is now.

If you think that a 19 year old with emotionally abusive parents would have known the best course of action about Eudocia's residency/immigration status at the point when her father died in another country, despite the fact that he says he only learned about the details said status years later, from people who spent most of his life actively covering it up, then okay. I am not arguing that the author did right. I am asking what options you see that would have been better. LAPD in the 1970s? INS in the 1970s? NYPD in the 1970s? Rural Oregonian police force in the 1970s? These all seem equally likely to destroy Eudocia's life, even as terrible as her life was.

I'm not asking these questions because I think the author needs to be defended. I'm asking because, like You Can't Tip a Buick says above, we all need to know how to act in this situation. The author did not. What would his better options have been? What would Eudocia have wanted? What can we do for people in similar situations now? I know multiple immigration attorneys, and calling the cops or law enforcement of any kind is literally the WORST option in the majority of cases. So what are the better ones?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 4:01 PM on May 16 [18 favorites]


May have read the timeline wrong there, but it's still true -- she wasn't an illegal immigrant, she came legally to the country and was imprisoned and prevented from returning on the expiration of her papers by his slaveholding parents. She never voluntarily entered the country illegally.
posted by tavella at 4:02 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Nobody actually said she was an illegal immigrant (ctrl+f), they said she was undocumented, which is generally a way to indicate that she does not have valid papers, which by the time the author would have been old enough to understand or act on any of this, was true.

The idea that she would have been treated properly by authorities even with valid papers is still questionable.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:11 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


May have read the timeline wrong there, but it's still true -- she wasn't an illegal immigrant, she came legally to the country and was imprisoned and prevented from returning on the expiration of her papers by his slaveholding parents.
Right, but in the eyes of the law, she was undocumented. (And for what it's worth, many undocumented immigrants come on valid visas and then overstay them.) I don't think that there was any recognition of human trafficking in immigration law in the 1970s: undocumented immigrants were treated the same no matter whether they had been held against their will or not. It may be that she would have been delighted to return to the Philippines at that point, although I don't think that anyone wants to be deported by force, but it may be that she would have faced economic and other hardships. People who have been trafficked need a lot of support, and they should be allowed to decide whether to return to their home country or not.

Like I said, I would be really interested to hear from people who have experienced or worked on these issues. I don't feel qualified to have any opinion about what Tizon should have done.

One really good thing about this story is that it highlights the human trafficking of domestic workers, which generally doesn't get a lot of attention compared to trafficking of sex workers but is very, very common.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:23 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


Nobody actually said she was an illegal immigrant (ctrl+f), they said she was undocumented
she wasn't an illegal immigrant
I will also note that Eudocia was *not* an illegal immigrant.
...millions of illegal immigrants eligible for amnesty (from Tizon's piece)


No human being is illegal.
posted by soy bean at 4:35 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Arguing about whether one guy is a bad guy or a good guy is, well, there's no emoji frowny enough to properly respond to that as a suggestion for what we are going to do.

It's more than a little interesting that what some people think is the most important thing to talk about with regard to this piece is judgement of the author. That not one of the people derailing on that point has anything to say about their own complicity in today's injustices is both telling and hilarious.

Think the author is the bad guy? Fine - what about you? There are similarly complicated (or apparently, very simple) situations present in your world today. Go to Home Depot tomorrow morning. Go to the back of any restaurant tonight. Please - put your white savior instincts to good use in those situations and report back on how easy it all is. Tomorrow we'll have you sort out our food and clothing and electronics supply chains.

The whole point about carrying her to the car and not respecting her agency. This same terrible author asked her where she wanted to go. Why is he even asking her? He should just free her! Who cares what she wants? Forget that she doesn't know her homeland anymore, or can't deal with life in the US on her own. Or that the slave-holding author is, effectively, the closest thing she'll have to a child and grandchildren of her own. It's all quite simple, really. He's the bad guy, and she's the whale in Free Willy.

NoRelationToLea, you are right that as a non-Filipino I should be listening. I apologize for taking up space that wasn't mine in this thread and causing those who are actually more connected to this story to have to shift the conversation to accommodate.

Thank you - truly. But I think we still really, really need to adjudicate the author some more.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:38 PM on May 16 [35 favorites]


We can find ourselves in situations where we have good reason to suspect that someone is being kept as a slave laborer in someone's home. Someone who is a friend or a work colleague invites us over; we find someone in a situation like Eudocia's, or Aida's.

We now know something. We know who the most important person in that house is — the person who is being kept as a slave. We want to act in a way that respects that person's importance, ahead of the importance of the people who first invited us to the house where the enslaved person is living. This is not to say that the people who invited us over aren't people, aren't themselves important, but due to the material situation at hand their importance as people is well outmatched by the importance of the person who we just met.

We may have to shun the people who invited us over; we may alternately have to interact with them more than we'd prefer to, so that we can help further the interests of the important person to whom they've introduced us.

What do we do for this important person? How do we improve their situation? What do we do in the moment to show respect and offer help for the important person, and what do we do after the fact, when we are organizing to free other people who have become important because they've been placed in similar situations? How do we thwart social practices that train us to mark workers as lower (and slaves as lowest) in order to show the proper respect for the people who we should be showing respect toward, and how do we do this with an eye toward undoing the systems that bar us from allocating our respect properly, rather than to just make everyone temporarily uncomfortable?

How do we recognize slavery? How do we free slaves?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:46 PM on May 16 [18 favorites]


Please, Alex was every bit as cruel a monster as his mother. Not once in this piece does he even do so much as apologize.

Honestly I think there might be a huge cultural disconnect here because to me if he apologized then the piece would be about him and his guilt, not about Eudocia's tragedy.

For every Alex there are thousands of people who would not bat an eye at how Eudocia was treated. I get that people who are unfamiliar with this issue are upset, but maybe if you start from the assumption that most people in developing countries are just like you (i.e. mostly rational, not evil, and overall doing what in their view is the right thing), then you must recognize that there are other dynamics at play. Gender roles, group mentality, internalized racism that comes from being a colony (specifically from Spain, let me tell you).

Demonizing middle class Filipinos is simplistic and prejudiced in a trump-degree. The world is complicated. Humans are complicated and not as independent in thought as we'd like to think. Most times evil is the result of ignorance, privilege, group think, and outdated ethical standards.
posted by Tarumba at 5:26 PM on May 16 [19 favorites]


Demonizing middle class Filipinos is simplistic and prejudiced in a trump-degree.

I'm trying hard, really hard, to word this in a way that doesn't appear to be trollish, so bear with me please.

Does this statement imply that slave ownership is a default attribute of the class of people known as "middle class Filipinos"?
posted by some loser at 6:15 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


I'm not demonizing middle class Filipinos, I'm demonizing slaveholders and their accomplices. Unless you are claiming it is typical that middle class Filipino-Americans hold slaves? Because I'm pretty sure that's insulting the hell out of them.

And if you do in fact know families holding slaves, I suggest you use this number: 1-888-373-7888 (the Polaris Project, https://polarisproject.org/national-human-trafficking-hotline)
posted by tavella at 6:18 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


Yes, we should seek out and find stories told from the perspective of enslaved and exploited people. But not to the exclusion of stories from the exploiters.

If for no other reason than it allows those of us who are more likely to unwittingly find ourselves the exploiters, rather than than the exploited, to recognize exploitation and its self-justifications when they happen.
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:27 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Honestly I think there might be a huge cultural disconnect here because to me if he apologized then the piece would be about him and his guilt, not about Eudocia's tragedy.

But it was about his guilt. Otherwise we wouldn't hear about his complicated relationship with her mother but instead, we'd hear from the relatives who missed her. Instead of his parental abandonment we'd learn about the cultural norms that allowed for her enslavement. For goodness sake, why doesn't he use her real name in the story instead of her slave name?
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 6:30 PM on May 16 [14 favorites]


In a lot of real ways, this is a domestic violence situation, with added immigration law and possible language barriers. Not only that, but domestic violence in immigrant communities that have very real and very good reasons to be distrustful of authorities and outsiders. The same types of abusive behaviors and reactions still stand - the same sorts of fears from both the abuser's family and the abused seem likely. But there are people who do help - and I don't know much about it, just a little I did research in years ago, but it can take years to get them out of this situation safely.

I'll be doing more research, but my instinct is to treat it similarly as a domestic violence sutation, if possible, give an out to the enslaved person, offer resources, but it has to be their choice, and you can't push it without potentially doing a lot more damage.

I also agree that this is a story about Alex first, Alex's mother second and Eudocia third. It also sounded like Eudocia didn't really want her story told, or didn't think she had a story to tell. I don't think Alex ever got all the way to respecting Eudocia's personhood, despite his efforts. I wonder about his siblings, what their reaction is to this story.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:46 PM on May 16 [14 favorites]


This is a small thing to notice, and it probably gives the author too much credit, but I keep thinking about how Eudocia finally felt safe enough to cook only when it gave her joy. Decades of fear had to be peeled away for that to happen. The author did want her to have autonomy, and though he sometimes tried to force his vision of what autonomy should look like onto her - driving a car, having a bank card - at least in that one case he succeeding in respecting and supporting her vision of autonomy.

He was stumbling in the right direction. Not far enough, yes, but I'm not sure I would've done any better, given everything, so I'm not going to throw too many stones.
posted by clawsoon at 6:51 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Hey, tavelia, as a Filipino and an immigrant who has lived in the US for more than 20+ years without citizenship, I can attest to the fact that INS (pre-ICE) was no fucking picnic either. Certainly the post 9/11 reality gave them some extra shittiness, but even before that, they were not an agency to cross lightly. Overall I side with maxweltons assertion that unless the servant is a citizen and has full mobility in the geography where they work any employment contract is going to be unethical and sketchy. And while I fully sympathize with Eudocia's plight, I am doubtful that (without concrete details) any intervention by Alex Tizon would've been beneficial to her.
posted by bl1nk at 7:31 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


If you're having trouble, and willing to do the work to engage with people who, you know, actually understand the cultural context, the only comments you really need to read here are from joyceanmachine and bl1nk.

From You Can't Tip a Buick:

I don't have the slightest clue about how to go about doing any of that. None whatsoever.

Hard disagree. You said it yourself in that same comment - "tiny flecks of good."

The aggregate weight of all the casual indifference and cruelty can be offset. Maybe only a little, and maybe it'll take time, but it can. By this measure, a lifetime of leaning against what he was taught by his native culture, where filial piety is no small thing, where servants and mistreating servants are unfortunately all too common, let's be clear: Alex Tizon is a fucking hero. There are very few people in the world who would throw a shoulder into their culture's injustices like that, as either a child or an adult, and fewer still that write about it in a way that also implicates themselves. There's very little chance you're doing the equivalent labor in your cultural context, and there's zero chance your last work before you die will attempt to explain all this to readers in an adopted context who either unintentionally or deliberately misunderstand.

If this were a foreign movie with subtitiles, maybe some folks would get that this isn't their world. Just because it's written in English and in the Atlantic and part of the story happens in the US - that still doesn't mean you're automatically the audience.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:41 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]


Unless you are claiming it is typical that middle class Filipino-Americans hold slaves?

I said middle class Filipinos, not Filipino Americans, and yes, I did absolutely mean to say that labor abuse that gets quite close to slavery and sometimes is literal slavery is widely accepted not only by the middle class but by most people in the developing world. Otherwise it would not be a system that continues to survive and thrive. Absolutely all of my family, friends and acquaintances back home take advantage of vulnerable and poor populations this way, with varying degrees of compassion.

You are the one making a moral judgement about it. I am not. I do not think my family are evil for keeping underpaid, overworked staff that didn't even finish primary school. I think the problem is ignorance, group think, and inherited racism. Qualifying it as "evil" and using it to fluff about how western people just know better is childish and simplistic and resolves nothing.
posted by Tarumba at 7:46 PM on May 16 [12 favorites]


As others have said. We need to NOT normalize and humanize these slavers. And that's that he and his mother were. No excuse.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:53 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


NoRelationToLea: If you're having trouble, and willing to do the work to engage with people who, you know, actually understand the cultural context, the only comments you really need to read here are from joyceanmachine and bl1nk.

Normally I'd agree with you, but in the context of slavery this makes me uncomfortable. There's historical precedent for saying that the only people with standing to talk about slavery are those who are part of the slave-owning culture, and it's not good precedent. I dunno. I hear what you're saying, but at the same time... I dunno. Bringing in my own privileged, ignorant perspective is less than ideal, but failing to take a strong stand against slavery is also less than ideal. Y'know? I think that this article would be less emotionally and morally confusing if it was written by a slave, or if we had a slave or former slave with us here in the discussion.
posted by clawsoon at 8:09 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Bringing in my own privileged, ignorant perspective is less than ideal

Um, yeah? Maybe typical Americans can knowledgably discuss American South, brought over on a boat, sold at auction slavery. This is not the same.

Tarumba's comments are also attempting to provide context here, but people are deliberately not internalizing what's being said. And even then, Peru is not the Philippines and vice versa.

There's a reason the first use of the word "slave" in the piece results in a dramatic confrontation and redefinition of the relationship between Tizon and his mother. Your sense of that word, his sense, and his mother's sense, all intersect to some degree. But don't presume they're the same.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:22 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


Honestly, it feels kind of not great to have people bashing all the immigrants who came in here to give first person experience of what it's like to exist in a culture not that far removed from this and trying to unpack hard stuff.
posted by corb at 8:30 PM on May 16 [15 favorites]


corb: Honestly, it feels kind of not great to have people bashing all the immigrants who came in here to give first person experience of what it's like to exist in a culture not that far removed from this and trying to unpack hard stuff.

I don't mean to do that, and I apologize if I seemed to be piling on. Unpacking one's own privilege is hard, and I very much appreciate both the author and the people who have shared their stories in this thread.
posted by clawsoon at 8:44 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


I totally feel a form of that conflict, clawsoon. And, I mean, I have no issues with people here piling on Alex's mom for her direct engagement and first degree embrace of slavery. But impugning the author (Alex) for not doing enough to disrupt that, when he is brought in to the situation 28 years after she's been enslaved (going by the timeline that he's recognizing her enslavement when he's 11 years old) ... that's something that I'd dispute. And further, I'd dispute the slightly gross sentiments in this thread about other folks who knew someone from a developing country who had maids and are instantly jumping to the conclusion that they're probably human traffickers.

I mean, "yes! Interrogate your friends' relationships with their servants!" "hold them accountable to their responsibilities as an employer!" but don't come away from this thinking "OMG! So-and-so that I know from my high school experience is probably, totally, I think, someone who owned a slave because they're foreign and they just don't get how free America is." That's a bit of a leap.

Recognize that in all countries, there's a spectrum. At the risk of getting into "there were good slave owners" hairsplitting, there's a range of employer relationships that, like it is anywhere else, ranging from an extreme where unscrupulous employers rely on abusing their power to extort and exploit a cheap and desperate labor pool, and others who recognize a certain accountability and humanity in their position. Not every kataluyong or yaya is conscripted into service against their will. Many go into it willingly because that's their best opportunity for actually earning cash. It's also somewhat relevant that this story has its roots in the 60s and the contemporary labor market is both more complex and depressingly familiar in its persistence of endemic problems (the gendering of certain forms of labor among them, as others have pointed out). I think this exploitation is wrong, and I support every effort to give the oppressed global underclass more options for employment, but I don't know if the solution lies in simply going to these people who are describing their truth as being monsters.

Recognize that in the West we live in societies that have gone through these conversations and established regulations to determine when exploitation happens and other countries have not been through that journey yet. Recognize that this is what all of us will resort to in the absence of such regulations and laws. Recognize that this can happen here if we do away with these laws.

But, not to bring Downton Abbey back into this, but also recognize that in Upstairs, Downstairs, or Gosford Park or The Remains of the Day, or Any Other Creative Work About The British Aristocracy And Their Servants Who Are Being Paid a Wage And Are Not Slaves At All, that this exact bargain has been struck between an upper class family and a proletarian seeking their employ, and we did not go into that decrying "slavery!" and maybe we should ask ourselves why that is the case.

(Maybe recognize that at the end of this journey is just Karl Marx welcoming us with open arms. I am seriously writing this comment after coming back from drinking a lot of whisky at a social function for an employer I sort of hate, but they funded my Green Card, so ...)

I mean, I don't know. I think we all want the same level of humanity and recognition of how we all matter, but I think one thing that's hard for all of us to confront is how this article paints this image that there's a point where it's too late. The damage is done. The Stockholm Syndrome is set, and the desire we have for granting everyone liberty and respecting everyone's agency runs into conflict. Sometimes people choose captivity because that comes with security, and Americans have it as their founding myth that everyone who came to this country rejected captivity and security in favor of liberty and opportunity.

In the story, Eudocia chose not to go home, not to accept freedom, because she had security as flawed as it was. We have every reason to think Alex Tizon is an unreliable narrator, but we also have equal reasons to believe him and believe his descriptions of her choices. And maybe before we cast stones we have to ask ourselves why we want to believe one narrative over another based on one magazine article.

(and fwiw, I now live in New England and I will not even hire a person to help shovel my sidewalk or my roof because I have grown up with fucked up notions of what it means to engage in commerce on human labor)
posted by bl1nk at 8:54 PM on May 16 [34 favorites]


I think the cultural context piece may well go both ways. Alex's mom clearly didn't see herself as a slaveholder, which of course does nothing to absolve her, but it is also unclear whether Eudocia ever thought of herself in those terms. Since the story doesn't tell us, we can't know. From where I sit (upper-middle class white lady), it seems like those who want to condemn without any room for nuance based on cultural context risk reducing Eudocia into the role of slave without respecting that she may well have had a different way of viewing herself. I think there is plenty of room to critique the misogyny, classism, and racism that allows slavery, especially domestic slavery and sex slavery, to continue, without treating Eudocia as a one dimensional victim, which is, I think, the direction a lot of the critique of Alex goes. Certainly she was a victim of horrendous treatment which should not be excused, but I don't think that being open to a nuanced view of her situation is the same as excusing what happened or the underlying oppressive forces that made her enslvement possible.
posted by ElizaMain at 9:13 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Or what bl1nk said better...
posted by ElizaMain at 9:18 PM on May 16


Sarah Jeong is working up a long tweetstorm on this. A sample:
Yet another flaw is that he misses the connection between feminine familial relations, feminized labor, and exploitation.
I don't mean that he should have written a feminist treatise instead. I mean that he doesn't realize Lola is his bio-mother's abused wife.
...
Reread the Tizon article with Lola as the third parent, the wife's wife.
...
Tizon, as a child, chooses not to "break up" his family and get everyone deported by blowing the whistle on what's happening to Lola.
This... is a familiar choice to children of abusive parents?
The piece isn't about the conflicting emotions of a slave-owner, it's about how much Tizon hates himself and how much he loves Lola.
Maybe he should have hated himself more. I don't know how to measure that.
Over the 12 years that she lives with him, he tries to get her to tell him her story.
He says that these attempts are like playing 20 questions, over the course of days and weeks.
At this point in time, most of her family is now dead. By the end of the article, he meets with her niece.
In short, the subject of a potential purely reported piece died without wishing to be interviewed, and other interviewees were also dead.
The essay from Lola's perspective that you want? It doesn't exist. It can't exist. Lola didn't want to write it.
Does that make for an inherent flaw in the story? Maybe so, but it doesn't make for preventable erasure.
Many sons have written about their feelings grappling with watching their mothers beaten by their father.
It's getting increasingly deep into thoughts on emotional labor and parenthood and emotional labor as servitude as it goes on.
posted by zachlipton at 9:53 PM on May 16 [32 favorites]


"Recognize that in all countries, there's a spectrum. At the risk of getting into 'there were good slave owners' hairsplitting, there's a range of employer relationships that, like it is anywhere else, ranging from an extreme where unscrupulous employers rely on abusing their power to extort and exploit a cheap and desperate labor pool, and others who recognize a certain accountability and humanity in their position. Not every kataluyong or yaya is conscripted into service against their will. Many go into it willingly because that's their best opportunity for actually earning cash."

Yes, I agree that it's important to keep these things in mind, and not just from the direction you're arguing, but from the other direction, as well.

What we're talking about is large power imbalance in a relationship, most especially so when it's institutionalized. And I really feel like the fundamental principle in this, regardless of what precisely happens in that relationship, whether it's apparently malign or benign, is that the degree to which the power is imbalanced, and the degree to which this is reinforced institutionally, is the degree to which everything about this relationship is destructive in that it's implicitly dehumanizing and agency is greatly restricted. It just doesn't matter that much that there were slave owners who tried to act benevolently, that Alex Tizon tried to act benevolently and certainly succeeded more than did his mother. In some very important sense, that's missing the point.

This will come off as very frivolous, but there's an underappreciated epic fantasy novelist, a woman, who I greatly like who has repeatedly dealt with slavery in her second-world societies in extraordinarily thoughtful and challenging ways. Specifically, she repeatedly challenges the benevolent slave owner trope, she leads the reader along the path of seeing an otherwise very sympathetic protagonist as demonstrating their virtue in how they buck their cultural tradition and treat the slaves much better than most, as servants and friends and, eventually, secures their freedom ... only, in the end, to get a reality check when these people, who do genuinely love them, make it extremely clear that, no, the relationship was not the one that their former owner imagined, it was always profoundly tainted by ownership and that this is the essential truth of slavery -- it is poison, even when we do our best to make it sweet.

I think this applies generally to large power imbalances in relationships of all sorts, but most especially across large class divides and in employment, at opposite extremes of an axis of one or more privileges. Sometimes in these relationships, people love each other, but it is a distorted love. And while the member of the oppressed class has every reason to be confused about this and the extent of their own agency, no such excuses should apply to the member of the oppressor class.

Last year I had the experience of sharing my home for six months with a 21 year old high school dropout single mother (my step-niece, who grew up in profoundly abusive and neglected home), along her young daughter, while my step-niece was coping with the prolonged death of her mother, a lifetime of learned helplessness (she doesn't drive, she's only had one job for one year, she's never been more than fifty miles from home), and a six-year-long relationship with a physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend, the father of her child, who also happens to be a convicted criminal. So. This is the single most dis-empowered person I've never known nearly this well. Everyone wanted her and her three-year-old daughter away from her boyfriend and she was, as is typical, ambivalent and inconstant.

The point of me mentioning this is that every interaction, every attempt we in the family made to find ways to help her also carried the burden of the possibility of reinforcing her dis-empowerment and limited agency. It is not easy, as people have been saying, to find a way to navigate this terrain, most especially when you, yourself, have in relative terms a great deal of privilege. It's very easy to both materially make the situation worse while also doing more psychological harm. And all of this traces back to these extreme power imbalances that radically diminish agency, create blinders in the privileged, and encourage a hubris in the privileged that we believe we most likely know best. Speaking for myself, my watchword in dealing with my step-niece was less to offer her specific advice or to question her decisions, and more to find every way possible to create space for her to empower herself, to discover that this was even possible.

Exploitation takes many forms, deliberate or inadvertent, ad hoc or institutionalized, and it is more present to the degree to which the power relationship is imbalanced. I guess I'm being long-winded and roundabout, but my point is that the confused and conflicted feelings of the oppressed, the complexity of their situation, the ambiguity about what is best, is not a mitigating factor of the oppression, it is essential to it. That doesn't mean that we should ignore it and therefore compound the denial of their agency; quite the opposite. But this reality is not in the least exculpatory.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:09 PM on May 16 [21 favorites]


As a side note, a Filipino-American friend of mine pointed out the importance of referring to the subject of the piece as Eudocia, rather than Lola.

As others have mentioned in the thread, Lola means grandmother. The name "Eudocia" was taken as part and parcel of dehumanizing her and making her into an object whose sole identity was to clean and do laundry and take care of children.


How about we refer to Pulido by her last name, the way we normally refer to strangers in published pieces? Women are much more likely to be first-named, both in print and in metafilter discussions, and it's disrespectful.

While I was writing this, zachlipton posted Sarah Jeong's tweets, which last-name Tizon, and nick-name Pulido.
posted by medusa at 10:09 PM on May 16 [13 favorites]


Thank you, SourCream, for posting this, it was an amazing read, touching me on so many different levels and reminding me of people I have known and stories I have heard and read and touching my own life. Reading the comments that have been posted has been much less emotional (I cried while reading the story - not so much while reading the comments!). The part of the story that struck the deepest, most personal chord with me was his relationship with his mother:

....and she wished to God she hadn’t given birth to an arrogant, sanctimonious phony like me.
and
The night ended when she declared that I would never understand her relationship with Lola. Never. Her voice was so guttural and pained that thinking of it even now, so many years later, feels like a punch to the stomach. It’s a terrible thing to hate your own mother, and that night I did. The look in her eyes made clear that she felt the same way about me.
and
Loving my mother required that kind of mental surgery. It was the only way we could be mother and son—which I wanted, especially after her health started to decline, in the mid‑’90s.

Bear with me, I do have a relevant point. My family never had a slave (just us three kids, that were at the beck and call of our narcissistic mother). We were 2nd and 3rd generation white, middle class, Chicago suburban people who moved to a tiny town in rural Michigan in 1972. But how he described his parents and the dynamics of their relationships was spot on for my family - dysfunction is dysfunction whether it is Filipino or American! And the hatred he and his mother experienced toward each other - I experienced that when I was 20 years old (1987) after coming out to my parents three weeks earlier - the night my mother came at me with a machete trying to kill me screaming "I would rather you be dead than gay!" and the mental surgery that I performed in order to be able to love my mother (and my father) and how after decades of living across the country from them I returned to take care of them in their old age and see them as peacefully and comfortably and safely as possible through the end of their lives. I could relate to both Lola and Alex - facets of my experience touching facets of theirs. Locked by circumstances in relationships with my abusers.

Reading through the comments I could feel the anger of some people, the disdain of others, the assuredness of some commenters on what would have been the right thing to do, or what was the wrong thing to do, or who is or is not culpable, or what was or was not respectful of Lola - some people may even be offended that I am using Lola rather than Eudocia - but I did not read anywhere that she asked to be called Eudocia - and if one reads to the end of the story her niece, when Alex arrives with the ashes, her niece asks "Where is Lola?" not "Where is Eudocia?"

I do not know what it is to have only THESE two choices - marry an old pig farmer or go with a man to take care of his daughter. I know from my own life experience that this world is not black and white/right or wrong/good or evil or any other polarization - it is many varied shades of everything, with very little if any fairness sprinkled in. I once had two choices and neither was great, or fair, but they were MINE. To become homeless or to prostitute myself. I chose to prostitute myself and keep a roof over my head. I am not ashamed of my choice, nor do I regret it - it is just a fact of my life.

I know that my judging other cultures (both foreign and domestic!) from my white middle class christian upbringing has rarely ended well unless I was only hanging with other white middle class christian people that judge in a similar manner as me - and it didn't end well then, either - we just didn't get into arguments. Having outgrown much of the white and most of the christian part of my upbringing, I know judging other cultures (both foreign and domestic!) doesn't work out well for me from my more mature perspective. So for me it's the judging that is the issue moreso than the perspective I am judging from - at least that is how it seems to be for me.

I appreciate the comments on how this form of slavery/servitude is happening all around us - literally - all around us - and we ignore it. From the inexpensive food in grocery stores to restaurants to the electronics we use and the clothing we wear and have dry cleaned to the street drugs to the day laborers used in construction in the USA to the cheap all inclusive luxury resorts in 3rd world countries and Islands.....to the cities like Dubai that are built on and run with forms slave labor....it is everywhere if I am willing to look for it and recognize it. EVERYWHERE, even in the rural United States. It is in domestic service, the service industry, commercial production, construction, mining, and the booming forced sex trade. All. Around. The. World. Including YOUR community.

Who am I to judge Alex? Who am I to judge Lola? Who am I to judge mom?
posted by W Grant at 10:13 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


And here are some perspectives from Filipinos, especially this one: "these are OUR truths to confront!!! what is with usamericans presuming to come in and preach at us when their capitalism is slavery ALREADY"
posted by zachlipton at 10:34 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]


I don't know. I am not terribly convinced by the argument that we should excuse literal slavery in our midst because capitalism is slavery. That seems remarkably facile.

And I guess that, while I completely understand the need to be culturally sensitive and attuned to context and to listen to people from relevant communities, I also reject the idea that this isn't my business or that there may be people in my community who are exempt from the fundamental human rights protections that are the entitlement of everyone. I'm not super interested in adjudicating whether the author of this piece was a bad person or not, but I am still going to condemn human trafficking and think about my own role in perpetuating or fighting it. The problem is that I think, based on a tiny bit of out-of-date experience volunteering at a place that worked with immigrant women who were experiencing domestic violence, that proposed solutions sometimes make things worse and that it's super important to listen to affected people about what they need in order to improve their situation. And this piece isn't really a start at that, since it's completely from the point of view of the exploiter, not the exploited.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:17 AM on May 17 [19 favorites]


In context, the argument is more nuanced. It's certainly not about excusing slavery, but about the idea, also expressed here, that there's a ton of baggage around colonialism and imperialism when it comes to the Philippines, and that it's particularly grating to hear critiques from Americans without an acknowledgement of the wider systems of oppression at work, both historical and modern that we benefit from.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with that critique. The issue is inherently cross-cultural, that's the point: the events described here took place in the United States, and many of the other forms of exploitative labor discussed upthread involve us as well. It's all of our business. But listening to the Filipino voices who are starting to talk about the article and surfacing some of their thoughts seems like a good first step.
posted by zachlipton at 2:19 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested in hearing someone explain what the argument is for the claim that you don't have standing to have an opinion on the morality of holding a slave for decades in the US unless you're Filipino. That strikes me as a particularly egregious torturing of concerns about cultural appropriation.
posted by lodurr at 3:13 AM on May 17 [13 favorites]


I can't comment on the story too much except to say it touched me in complex ways.

Regarding exploitation... At one point my husband and I were struggling to find daycare for my son, and we were floored at the handful of people who told us in occasionally excruciating detail how to get and exploit a domestic worker, generally Filipina as they are "happy and caring." This in middle-class liberal suburban Toronto. We actually lost (no loss) a friend over it because I heatedly got to the word unethical.

Even after we cobbled together resources to pay a live-out nanny $15/hr the racist bs continued...so much racist bs, neighbors reporting to me that she was reading while my son napped beside her (the horror! As if she didn't deserve a break), assumptions assumptions. I eventually found a daycare which also pays its staff well (yes, I asked and yes, it costs.)

I was stressed out but I learned one place exploitation takes hold: in dinnertime conversations and mom groups.

And honestly, if my life were just a bit different I don't think I could afford to take a stand on daycare wages; as it was the times we had a nanny we were close to a monthly deficit.

These are the things I think would be a difference, maybe not the difference:

Liveable minimum wage for all workers.
Guaranteed basic income.
Universal daycare.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:26 AM on May 17 [20 favorites]


I appreciate that link to sarahjeong's tweetstorm (relinking for emphasis) because I'm glad that she brought in the notion that Eudocia really was the author's mother, the abused third wife of his bio-mom. If you reframe this as a story of a child in an abusive household coming to terms with the abuse of one parent by another, then I think that helps illustrate how all of these cries around reparations and how he should've acted earlier to break up his family and free his slave really are based in rage and a hunger for retribution, but aren't necessarily based on understanding the people involved.

Eudocia's story is the story of a crime. It is also the story of an abused family where one set of parents have involved another adult in the raising of their children and have also deprived that adult of a chance at raising a family of their own. That is terrible, and it shouldn't have happened, but it did happen and by the time the author had grown to the point that he could have any agency in the situation, it had already been happening for 26 years. Eudocia is his mom in almost every way, and he is her child, and I think that, again, it's worth considering that Alex did make different efforts to emancipate her, and she chose not to be emancipated. They may have been clumsy or terrible, but I don't doubt that they were sincere. She chose not to leave her family, and we have to listen to that and accept that and ask how one lives with that. I think, in that context, choosing to bring her into his home and essentially treat her as the grandmother that she should have been is a legitimately humane choice.

How much responsibility do you have to put on a child for healing the abuse of their mother?

I guess, that's the part where this sort of conversation can happen more efficiently between Filipinos, because in reflection, these truths around Eudocia's status as Alex's mom is one we've all internalized about our yayas and domestics, and we've all had complicated relationships with them. We all do need to talk about it, but we all live with different experiences and the complexity of those experiences defies the easy path of hot takes and outrage.

(oh and just the note on the nickname Lola/Eudocia/Pulido wrangling: Filipino culture is all about assigning petty nicknames to each other. Sometimes if you're a son named after your dad, you're given the nickname of 'Boy' and are known as 'Boy' Rodriguez for the entirety of your life, and if you're lucky you might get to reclaim your proper name after your dad dies. My grandmother was the youngest of 7 and was always known as 'Baby' and I was raised to call her "Lola Baby" from when I was born to when she passed away. I know the name on her birth certificate but it was never a name that we used. Given the way her relatives referred to Eudocia as 'Lola' it would not surprise me if Eudocia's general nickname was just 'Lola' and it wasn't a 'slave name' assigned to her by Lt. Tom. So, imho, it doesn't feel like using Lola is just an act of power and depersonalization, and I won't call folks out on it. My siblings and I abandoned the practice of using our family nicknames when we became adults (it's also just weird hearing Westerners use the nickname) so my preference is just to call Filipinos by their birth name when I'm talking in English, and that's just how I was raised)
posted by bl1nk at 5:30 AM on May 17 [54 favorites]


zachlipton: ...there's a ton of baggage around colonialism and imperialism when it comes to the Philippines, and that it's particularly grating to hear critiques from Americans without an acknowledgement of the wider systems of oppression at work, both historical and modern that we benefit from.

Aye.

In a smoothly functioning system of exploitation, one advantage of increasing privilege is a decreasing need to feel like a bad or unpleasant person. Those at the top surround themselves with people only slightly less privileged than themselves; everything is arranged so that those at the bottom become more and more invisible the higher up the ladder of privilege you go. If you're at the top, you never need to express more than the mildest displeasure (if you don't want to). You don't have to ever feel like a bad person in order to get what you want.

So I can understand how galling it must be to hear criticism from higher up the ladder of privilege, criticism from people who the whole system was designed to shield from ever feeling bad about themselves.
posted by clawsoon at 5:40 AM on May 17 [13 favorites]


This thread is helping me to reassess our relationship with the undocumented Nicaraguan woman who cleans our house every two weeks. A periodic maid is a far cry from a live-in domestic, but some of the dynamics are the same. Hmmm...
posted by tippiedog at 6:57 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Our cleaning lady charges $25 an hour. If they paid, I dunno, $10 an hour (assuming that over all years taking inflation into account), given what were at least 12 hour days from TFA, 365 days a year, for 60 years, she was owed at the very minimum $2.6 million in back wages.

I don't think it can be stressed enough that most of this story takes place in the USA. American laws, labour codes, and societal norms are absolutely important in that context.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:06 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]


Twitter thread aggregating Twitter threads on the subject.
posted by Peach at 9:02 AM on May 17


I'd be interested in hearing someone explain what the argument is for the claim that you don't have standing to have an opinion on the morality of holding a slave for decades in the US unless you're Filipino.

The argument is not "don't have an opinion", the argument more "consider whether deciding to hold that opinion loudly and publicly is doing anything useful or just taking up space that could be better occupied by the opinions of a fillipino person".
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:12 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I keep getting back to how this story is just incredibly, incredibly complex, and you need to be thinking about a lot to even begin to unpack it. Sarah Jeong's tweetstorm, referenced above by zachlipton, really gets into a lot of these places - she (correctly, imho) identifies this as a familial exploitation, rather than a strict employer-type exploitation.
@sarahjeong Was Eudocia Tomas Pulido's name erased? Yes. In favor of a familial relationship. Was she made less by that? I don't know. I'm not sure.

Lola is his mother and I don't know if he ever realized it.
Because you know what? I think he looked at his relatively distant parents and thought, "that's what parents are" --
...and looked at Lola's feminized labor and emotional labor - things coded in our society as motherly love - and thought "that is servitude."
But is he really wrong there?
Because marriage, for most of human history, has been a gross violation of human rights - economic and bodily exploitation, coercion.
Because gross harm and exploitation is not *incidental* to domestic labor, labor coded as motherly love.
Tizon's love for Lola, and Lola's love for him, were not *incidental* to the violations of her rights, of her enslavement.
That bond, and the caregiving, were the basis, the cause, the reason of her exploitation. It was also one of her joys. [so she says, to him].
That is *fucked.*

My grandmother was sixteen years old when she married my grandfather, who had two small children and had already been widowed twice.
She was his neighbor's daughter. He liked the look of her. He needed someone to take care of the house, to take care of his children.
My grandmother is dead. In her lifetime, other grandchildren tried to get her to tell her life story, but it was too painful to relive.
Based on the bare facts alone, I know something was wrong with the relationship between my grandparents. I will never know everything.
There is horrific exploitation embedded in the chains of our familial ties through centuries. No exceptions for any of us.
For someone, somewhere down the line, our existence - our familial tie - is the basis and rationale for their grief.
We are poison to our own mothers.
Does Tizon get there? Not really, kind of, maybe. But I got there after reading. That's why his article will linger with me.
posted by corb at 9:20 AM on May 17 [16 favorites]


why doesn't he use her real name in the story instead of her slave name?

15 words

(oh and just the note on the nickname Lola/Eudocia/Pulido wrangling: Filipino culture is all about assigning petty nicknames to each other. Sometimes if you're a son named after your dad, you're given the nickname of 'Boy' and are known as 'Boy' Rodriguez for the entirety of your life, and if you're lucky you might get to reclaim your proper name after your dad dies. My grandmother was the youngest of 7 and was always known as 'Baby' and I was raised to call her "Lola Baby" from when I was born to when she passed away. I know the name on her birth certificate but it was never a name that we used. Given the way her relatives referred to Eudocia as 'Lola' it would not surprise me if Eudocia's general nickname was just 'Lola' and it wasn't a 'slave name' assigned to her by Lt. Tom. So, imho, it doesn't feel like using Lola is just an act of power and depersonalization, and I won't call folks out on it. My siblings and I abandoned the practice of using our family nicknames when we became adults (it's also just weird hearing Westerners use the nickname) so my preference is just to call Filipinos by their birth name when I'm talking in English, and that's just how I was raised)

220 words

I wrote almost the exact thing around names yesterday. Then I said "you know what - fuck it." There are people participating in this thread in aggressively bad faith, who simply do not want to learn anything. Why does bl1nk have to write an order of magnitude more to respond to some bullshit formulation? And this is just around *names*. Capturing the full weight of everything going on in this story, much of it unsaid, is pretty much impossible, even when writing volumes. Especially when ignorant people can't be bothered to fucking even try to understand (or to read some of the other links. Want views from the oppressed? Those stories are linked). But hey, there's no way cultural context can offset slavery. I'd really love to see that expressed another dozen times - ideally in single sentence cast-offs with zero labor put in to support the assertion, cause that seems to be the only way that idea is getting expressed in this thread.

I don't think it can be stressed enough that most of this story takes place in the USA. American laws, labour codes, and societal norms are absolutely important in that context.

I'm really quite happy for you that your experience of America has all that stuff apply. Maybe that's not true for everyone?

I'd be interested in hearing someone explain what the argument is...

I kinda don't feel like working for free today. Maybe you can read some of the thread?

Honestly, it feels kind of not great to have people bashing all the immigrants who came in here to give first person experience of what it's like to exist in a culture not that far removed from this and trying to unpack hard stuff.

Don't ever change, MeFi. FWIW - it'd be nice if the clueless white people listening thing was something we could apply, like, in general instead of re-litigating the idea every fucking time a new ethnic group is featured in the news.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:23 AM on May 17 [22 favorites]




I haven't seen a single person advocating for the practice of slavery in the Philippines or in America; what I have seen is people rightfully saying that Americans proclaiming loudly that the situation is so easy to fix and they'd fix it in a minute and why don't the Philippines and also a teenager in the 1970s just fix the problem by fixing it all are contributing exactly nothing except making themselves feel better. If it's so fucking easy to fix, go ahead and fix it!
posted by stoneandstar at 9:42 AM on May 17 [17 favorites]


Oof. That was a hard read and had me teary at a couple of points. Humans are just fucked up.
posted by trif at 9:50 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I found the whole article hard to read, but I just lost it at this point:

And she taught herself to read. It was remarkable. Over the years, she’d somehow learned to sound out letters. She did those puzzles where you find and circle words within a block of letters. Her room had stacks of word-puzzle booklets, thousands of words circled in pencil. Every day she watched the news and listened for words she recognized. She triangulated them with words in the newspaper, and figured out the meanings. She came to read the paper every day, front to back.

And then

I found recipes she had cut out of magazines in the 1970s for when she would someday learn to read. Photo albums with pictures of my mom. Awards my siblings and I had won from grade school on, most of which we had thrown away and she had “saved.” I almost lost it one night when at the bottom of a box I found a stack of yellowed newspaper articles I’d written and long ago forgotten about. She couldn’t read back then, but she’d kept them anyway.

I don't know for sure why this bit hit me so hard. She was physically abused and had no personal freedom, but I'm tearing up over the fact that they didn't even teach her to read and she had to teach herself? Maybe it's because in all her life she had few opportunities to do something for herself, do something just because she wanted to, and she damn well chose something.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:10 AM on May 17 [9 favorites]


The editor's note from Eudocia's Seattle Times obituary:
This obituary, published in 2011, was written at the suggestion of and after an extensive interview with Alex Tizon, a former Seattle Times reporter. This week, a story in the June 2017 issue of The Atlantic written by Tizon, who died earlier this year, describes Eudocia Tomas Pulido as a slave and details her relationship with his family spanning decades. The Seattle Times is shocked at the newly revealed disparity in Tizon’s accounts of her life and will have more to say about the issue.
posted by AceRock at 12:05 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]


As a reminder, this is the obituary in which Tizon says “She was never angst-ridden and never felt entitled to anything, including happiness. I think that’s one reason she was one of the most peaceful people I’ve ever known.”

He portrayed the hideous damage his family did to her over decades of slavery as an adorable wonderful personality quirk.

Yeah, he's a hero here. Right.
posted by tavella at 12:30 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Alex Tizon's 2014 memoir mentions Eudocia only a few times, as his "aunt Lola", making no mention of the slavery he says here he was aware of since he was 11. So, yeah, I think it's pretty significant that he waited until he was dying to put out this article, avoiding any opportunity for questioning or having to defend himself. What else changed in the last three years?
posted by kafziel at 12:30 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


I'm honestly curious how many people so excited to tear this guy apart have ever tried to rectify an abusive situation on someone else's behalf before... ? He's no hero, but lord.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:18 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


He didn't wait till he was dying to publish the story. He dropped dead suddenly in his home. I don't think he's a hero (I don't see anyone saying he is a hero btw) but to suggest that he didn't want to answer for this story and planned it around his death is a staggeringly uncharitable reading of events.
posted by thereemix at 1:28 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]


It's a straight up smear, actually.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:30 PM on May 17 [9 favorites]


why doesn't he use her real name in the story instead of her slave name?
My first thought, as an African, is maybe it would have been disrespectful for the children to use her first name when addressing her.

also recognize that in Upstairs, Downstairs, or Gosford Park or The Remains of the Day
Oh my lord! In Gosford Park Robert Altman makes an extended comparison between 'service' in the big house and plantation slavery! It's hundred per cent intentional. I couldn't believe the script writer is the very Fellowe who writes the codswallopping Downton Abbey. Altman must just not have told him where he was pointing that script.

The article was an appalling and heartrending read. But as a person from a developing country, I very much appreciate the author's untangling of his own complicity, which he did with courage and without flinching. To be middle class in a developing country is to be complicit in entrenched systems of exploitation, and to even realise it is something you have to work towards. And after the realisation, working out how to act in a way that's even a little less casually destructive/ oppressive is not straightforward at all, as posters have written about above.

Because we are all very much complicit, sitting here in our comfortable homes with reasonable infrastructure and prospects and not even the whisper of a possibility that there may be neither food NOR water NOR power NOR cash NOR jobs for random reasons at random times. Do we produce the things that make us comfortable? Who does, and what conditions do they work in? Who stopped buying Apple products because of suicides in China? Who stopped eating seafood because of slavery in that industry? Who decided not to buy ...hardwood, granite counter tops, gold, precious and semi precious stones? There may be plenty of people reading who avoid those things - but who doesn't buy ready made clothes? Very few western people have the awareness and determination not to do that. So really, I get the outrage, but I'm not convinced at all that it goes with a corresponding rigour in interrogating the ways in which slavery benefits all of us sitting here, comfortable and safe. We've simply outsourced the slavery that keeps us going, to countries where we don't have to look at it. Suppose we were to investigate it, with courage and without flinching, we might be able to muddle towards making it better.

People have discussed the gendered nature of Eudocia's oppression, but men as much as women are trafficked and enslaved - not so much into the domestic sphere but into farms and factories. Men aren't luckier than women in this regard at all.
posted by glasseyes at 1:31 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]


Americans have it as their founding myth that everyone who came to this country rejected captivity and security in favor of liberty and opportunity.
Considering the circumstances, this is a funny comment in a gallows sort of way.
posted by glasseyes at 1:38 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Thanks those of you who corrected the assumption about his illness, I had heard he died suddenly as well.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:43 PM on May 17


It's a straight up smear, actually.

Word. People so excited to tear apart the author that they're actually saying he arranged his death. To coordinate with the Atlantic's publishing schedule. On purpose. All to...avoid feedback. Really?

I don't see anyone saying he is a hero btw

I am, and did, and maintain that position. Given the context and baggage of everything happening in this story, I think that assessment is more than fair. Upthread from Tarumba:

For every Alex there are thousands of people who would not bat an eye at how Eudocia was treated.

Given the context, Tizon went out of his way to try and make something better. Could he have done more? Of course. Can you do more, today, in you life right now? Of course. Are any of the people obsessed with all of Tizon's bad acts and convenient death conspiracy theories lighting up the thread with what they've done, with examples of how they've gone out of their way? Nope.

This man and this story are about doing more, even when you're not supposed to. I'm sincerely happy that your context and privilege allows you to judge him as not doing enough. You have the benefit of being able to judge him from a more civilized place (that was built on, and continues to operate because of, people like him and his family - but whatever). Congratulations, you won the temporal and geographical lottery. But don't believe for one second that in his position you would have done even a fraction of what he actually did.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:11 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]


As for the commentary on the obituary, that looks like his editor just trying to disingenuously cover her arse. For heaven's sake, he should have summed up her life with "Well, she was a slave and she had a miserable life"? Would she have been happy to be described so? "Oh well, she was a poor slave and you should be outraged and also sorry for her." Does that describe the person and what she achieved? She achieved LOVE. Not all of us will. The writer's bio parents didn't.

An obituary is supposed to describe a person, to neaten up their story, to make the shape of her life have meaning. It usually doesn't contain a long list of miserable disasters, because, whether they happened or not, that's an awful, defeated way to sum up someone's life.
posted by glasseyes at 2:33 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


The Seattle Times: Why the obituary for Eudocia Tomas Pulido didn’t tell the story of her life in slavery, by the reporter who wrote it:
Obituaries depend on the fundamental honesty of the people who survive to tell the story. Tizon lied to me, and through me, to our readers, depriving Ms. Pulido of the truth of her life, and the rest of us an important piece of our history. And for that I am truly sorry.
posted by zachlipton at 2:33 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. We need folks to be able to express their differing takes on the morality of the author/the situation, without going after other people in the thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:41 PM on May 17


Because we are all very much complicit, sitting here in our comfortable homes with reasonable infrastructure and prospects and not even the whisper of a possibility that there may be neither food NOR water NOR power NOR cash NOR jobs for random reasons at random times. Do we produce the things that make us comfortable? Who does, and what conditions do they work in? Who stopped buying Apple products because of suicides in China? Who stopped eating seafood because of slavery in that industry? Who decided not to buy ...hardwood, granite counter tops, gold, precious and semi precious stones? There may be plenty of people reading who avoid those things - but who doesn't buy ready made clothes? Very few western people have the awareness and determination not to do that. So really, I get the outrage, but I'm not convinced at all that it goes with a corresponding rigour in interrogating the ways in which slavery benefits all of us sitting here, comfortable and safe. We've simply outsourced the slavery that keeps us going, to countries where we don't have to look at it. Suppose we were to investigate it, with courage and without flinching, we might be able to muddle towards making it better.

Yeah. I might not own the slaves, but I admit to buying the cotton. Because participation in modern life requires it, because systems are set in place to perpetuate it, and it's easy to ignore.

Nobody is defending slavery here. But there's a lot more work than needs to be done to make it okay, and condemning one dead man seems like a way to ignore the larger problem. Humans are really, really good at rationalizing away injustices and building systems to perpetuate them. I'm sure, in a generation, they'll be asking why the hell we didn't do more to combat global warming - how we could kill an entire world knowingly, and not be willing to give up enough comfort to stop it when we had the chance. And some of us do some pittances, but I can't imagine like they'll seem like enough down the line. We all can be doing more, but within the confines - within the lies society tells itself, it can be unclear as to what 'more' actually looks like.

And right now, if you're telling yourself that you aren't currently benefiting from someone else's slavery in any way, you are lying to yourself.

And part of me. . . look, when I was 13, I had a friend, whenever her mom's boyfriend would want to stay over, would tell our group and she'd sleep over at one of ours. We didn't ask why, we just knew it was important. It was different from her mom having other boyfriends over. At one point she attempted suicide (which didn't seem that weird at the time - about a half dozen girls and a smattering of boys I knew well either were hospitalized or died from suicide attempts, and more talked about ideation), and she claimed it was mostly to get away from him. And it was sort of a joke, but I also believe it was true. So we all knew something was wrong, and her mother knew something was wrong, but we didn't tell anyone that could have done anything about it. My mother was a social worker, and I still had the idea that I wouldn't have gotten help or been believed from her. This continued on until I lost contact and found out her mom's boyfriend had moved them a few states away (she was fifteen by then). We lost contact for about a dozen years, found each other on facebook, and she seems fine now. But I've never had it in me to ask what her mom's boyfriend was doing to her, if anyone ever helped. I've never really asked anyone who was an adult at the time if they noticed anything, if they were at least a little perturbed by the fact that suicide spread through that school like an epidemic. I know some of them must have seen something wrong - we weren't master spies, and there was more going on besides. But a good part of me never wants to have how ugly it really was confirmed and having person after person tell me that they couldn't possibly have done anything to help on their own. So part of me really sympathizes with finding yourself staring at a giant systemic issue with personal consequences evident right there and feeling powerless, like nothing you can do is enough. And how much are you willing to disavow your family, your social circle, to fight for the right thing.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:04 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


I think one reason the article spoke so much to third culture people is because he dealt with the complicity in all its emotional tanglement, and that has to happen before you can think of trying to improve things. And the complicity for us (3rd culture) is something we have to deal with in a very practical sense, how to treat people who depend on you, against the expectations you've been raised with. It is a very present, not abstract, dilemma. Because the dependency is as real and urgent as the oppressive power structure, but it is pretty damn glib to elide those two separate things.

Then again, in postcolonial places, complicity is exactly the position of the middle class with regard to the west. But we don't talk about it much. Or if we do, it's always some other bastards that are doing it.

And right now, if you're telling yourself that you aren't currently benefiting from someone else's slavery in any way, you are lying to yourself.
Absolutely.

suicide spread through that school like an epidemic.
Sorry you had to experience that. In fact I believe suicide is catching, which is why authorities try very hard not to publicise it much. And there are marginalised and precarious mainly aboriginal communities where it is an epidemic that may finish what colonialism started.
posted by glasseyes at 3:36 PM on May 17 [9 favorites]


Word. People so excited to tear apart the author that they're actually saying he arranged his death. To coordinate with the Atlantic's publishing schedule. On purpose. All to...avoid feedback. Really?

Or, you know, what was actually said. That he arranged publication to suit his impending death. He wrote her obituary in 2011, and his own autobiography and memoir in 2014, and in both actively covered up this enslavement that he now claims weighed on him the entire time, and only now in 2017 took the opportunity to make a deathbed confession.

This man and this story are about doing more, even when you're not supposed to.

What you are supposed to do when confronted with someone being literally enslaved is take direct action to stop it, to find a way to help the person who was enslaved and get justice against the slavers, not perpetuate it because it's cheaper and more convenient for you. No, there isn't a cultural context that excuses fucking slavery. The system of world exploitation that underlies capitalism is complicated and endemic and can't be easily or individually unraveled, but this was not that. This was a single person held as chattel by a single family, outside and in defiance of any system, the most addressable kind of slavery there is.

And he didn't do more. He did nothing. That's entirely the point. The question has been raised repeatedly in this thread about what exactly he should have done, but the fact is he didn't even explore options. He left Eudocia enslaved by his mother until his mother died, then inherited her as though she was property - because, to him, she was. He was annoyed, complained that she saved things - because she was forced to live her entire life with nothing. He's upset that she says bad things about his father and his mother's other ex-husband, never stopping to ask whether they did anything to their slave, instead quizzing her on her sex life like it's a joke. Celebrating them for buying her dentures, when their neglect destroyed her teeth. Thinking that telling your slave to stop cooking or cleaing when she's 75, with so much ingrained abuse that not cleaning makes her constantly fear physical punishment, is doing something meaningful about slavery? That's not a virtue or a point of cultural pride, that's just completely fucked.

And offering to abandon someone to their own devices after decades of isolation and abuse isn't "doing something", it's more abuse. His family had already stolen her life completely by then, and he'd been culpable in that since he chose to do nothing. Defenders of this slaver keep acting as though her wanting to stay that late in life is a free and meaningful choice, not the product of abuse and fear. And ignoring her repeated desires to go home much earlier, when she was still psychologically capable of it, which he and his family denied her.

And willingly going along with all of this is doing what you're "supposed to"? Writing a story justifying yourself, humanizing your slaver mom, and infantilizing your victim is "doing more"?
posted by kafziel at 4:03 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


That is a hilariously bad faith reading of the article that is almost an itemized list of every fact in the story inverted into an obvious lie.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:22 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


The system of world exploitation that underlies capitalism is complicated and endemic and can't be easily or individually unraveled, but this was not that. This was a single person held as chattel by a single family, outside and in defiance of any system, the most addressable kind of slavery there is.
I think that pretty much everyone thinks that the systems of oppression in which they are implicated are complicated and endemic and can't be easily or individually unravelled, while the systems of oppression in which other people are implicated are really quite straightforward and easy to solve. And I would suggest checking that impulse, because it's likely to be self-serving.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:33 PM on May 17 [14 favorites]


Also, the idea that because someone's will is coerced you can just pull an uncoerced version of them out of a hat when you decide to pursue justice on their behalf is really... something.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:40 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


Again, I submit that if you're not Filipino, or let's say intimately familiar with similar dynamics in other developing nations - you'd really be doing yourself and others trying to productively discuss this story a favor by sitting this one out. You simply are not equipped to contribute anything here beyond graphic illustrations of your profound lack of exposure to worlds that have fundamentally different dynamics than the ones to which you're familiar.

MeFi has progressed to a point where men mostly know to listen/read in threads centered on gender, and where white people mostly know to listen/read in threads centered on race. Sometimes. This thread reads very, very different (and much more compactly, productively, insightfully, etc.) if you read only contributions coming from immigrant or non-western posters. Why is that?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:46 PM on May 17 [15 favorites]


[Folks, I'm going to take a hard line here about comments asserting that there's zero nuance in this situation. If that were the case, we would have deleted it as outragefilter. You can make up your own minds, of course, but please skip the declaration that only X is true and there's nothing else to discuss. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 5:17 PM on May 17 [12 favorites]


I agree that it's not about race, but I submit that a large part of this article and how it can be read and understood completely revolves around cultural upbringing, one that maybe only a few eastern Asian or eastern Asian-Americans can understand and most of the southeastern Asian or Asian-Americans (and the Fil-Chinese, and the Fil-Chin-Americans) can also understand.

I got into a Twitter exchange with Mikki Kendall about this earlier today when I said I feel intensely uncomfortable when I read a "take" on this from someone who claims to be able to state definitively what Tizon might have been feeling while writing this piece who isn't either Filipino, Filipino-American, or even married to a Filipinx. So many of the takes I've read from AsAms and FilAms (some of which are linked above) understand that there are two true and opposing ideas here that were present in Tizon's writing:

1. He and his parents were complicit in keeping a woman underpaid, abused, and mistreated for decades; and

2. He loved her because she was his "Lola."

I think that in order to be able to understand this piece more complexly, one needs to keep the dialectical in mind. It is a completely different situation than what was experienced by Africans being brought to North America as slaves, and to conflate the two types of experiences is insulting to both groups of people who were enslaved.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:26 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


1. He and his parents were complicit in keeping a woman underpaid, abused, and mistreated for decades; and

2. He loved her because she was his "Lola."


Here's the thing, this is pretty much how white southerners felt about the enslaved women who took care of their kids. The clearest example of that is how close we came to having a monument to the "faithful slave mammies of the south" on the National Mall. Even the context in unfamiliar, the attitude isn't and this article was published in an American magazine for an American audience.

MeFi has progressed to a point where men mostly know to listen/read in threads centered on gender, and where white people mostly know to listen/read in threads centered on race. Sometimes. This thread reads very, very different (and much more compactly, productively, insightfully, etc.) if you read only contributions coming from immigrant or non-western posters. Why is that?

Because Americans are still fighting the Civil War. There are still too many Americans who have a hard time admitting that slaves were treated badly or that slavery was really a bad idea as an institution. If someone is talking about slavery in America, I'm sorry, but they're going to get tangled in this country's messy history. As an African-American woman and a descendant of slaves (not everyone who finds fault in justice delayed is white), I see myself in Lola. My default setting is kindness. In a situation like this, I could see myself caring for the children to the best of my ability. That doesn't mean I wouldn't want my freedom that entire time, and it pains me to think that someone could look at the miracle that Lola managed not to lose her humanity as an excuse to rob her of it.

I want to thank bl1nk for the informative explanation of "Lola"; I only wish the author had provided the same context himself.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 7:00 PM on May 17 [19 favorites]


I took a break from this thread to talk with my IRL friends about this topic and I wanted to bring back this particular observation someone raised when we were discussing the point of "what actually would've been redemptive?" and they observed that in all of these conversations about what Tizon actually owed her, it was Westerners who usually talked in terms of money: the wages that were stolen from her and the economic value of her material and emotional labor, and Asians who talked in terms of, basically, adoption.

And, I think that's worth outlining here for why we keep talking past each other. A foundational aspect of domestic labor in the Philippines is grounded in this history of plantation life and the feudal trappings of a landowner who has dozens of tenant farmers who pay them rent and look to them for protection and security. The landowners servants would sometimes come from the second and third sons and daughters of these tenant families. They are usually paid wages but there also has been this expectation that the servants are brought into the family and are an extension of the family. You give us your life and loyalty and we will give you our own loyalty and take care of you. And we'll give you some money to support your own family so that they continue to be loyal to us and support us. That's the social contract, and there's a lot in Alex Tizon's opening act that shows that Lt. Tom's agreement with Eudocia and her parents went along with that practice.

Is that practice ripe for abuse and exploitation? Of course. Is it a gross imbalance of power and inherently disenfranchising to these serfs? Certainly. Are there examples where it works out and servants who got to retire or see their kids get out of the cycle of poverty? Sure. The system is contingent on having a few lottery winners tell their stories to give everyone else hope. Does it need to be supported and endorsed? Absolutely not. But it's the rules as they've existed for many of our generation, and it's the rules that we all recognize.

It's also contingent on this complex economy of shame and guilt that keeps us all trapped in this web of mutual complicity. We have a term, "utang na loob (pronounced ooh-ta-ng na lu-ob)" that is literally "the debt we carry inside ourselves" or "soul debt' that is just meant to quantify all of the favors that we owe to all of the people who've helped us. It's acts of service all the way down.

So, yeah, if you want to read Alex's last chapter of taking Eudocia into his household as some demeaning form of extending her captivity and treating her like a family pet, that's your take and your perspective. But to the rest of us, it's still a pretty extraordinary act of kindness and humanity. And that's already on top of all of the other efforts he made to encourage her to go home, to teach her how to drive, or use an ATM, or assert some level of independence. He did work, and his final choice to bring her in and let her be an aunt or grandma to his kids IS its own gesture of service.

I would not take in my old yaya if her husband died and she needed someone else to care for her. My relationship with her is different than Alex's with Eudocia, and I don't feel like I owe it to her, but that doesn't stop me from recognizing that this other dynamic is significant and that domestic relationship in the end felt redemptive in its own tragic, pathetic way.

With all that said, I do recognize that Tizon's body of work when writing about Eudocia's obituary or his other articles handling human trafficking cases in the PNW are highly problematic and really do render him an unreliable narrator in this article. I feel pretty sketchy about taking his description of Lola's journey back to the Philippines and her choice to return to America at face value. I am also want to hear more about his other conversations with her about carving out a life of her own, but I know that I'm not going to get that because they're all dead. I felt frustrated reading this article knowing that further depth or insight to his choices or actions were impossible. So just left at what he has presented to us and taking it at face value, I don't find a cause to condemn him, but it's the thinness of the account that continues to leave me feeling ambivalent.
posted by bl1nk at 7:08 PM on May 17 [26 favorites]


bl1nk: Is that practice ripe for abuse and exploitation? Of course. Is it a gross imbalance of power and inherently disenfranchising to these serfs? Certainly. Are there examples where it works out and servants who got to retire or see their kids get out of the cycle of poverty? Sure.

Could there be ways to limit the patron-servant relationship so that it stays mostly the same but eliminates most of the abuse and exploitation? It seems like the fundamental difference between the relationship that Lola had with Alex's mother and the relationship that she had with Alex is that his mother didn't give Lola any choice about staying in the relationship, while Alex - at least according to his own account - tried to. That made it seem fundamentally different to me from a freedom/slavery point of view, while staying fundamentally the same from a patron-servant point of view. Is there anything to this thought, or am I misunderstanding? If patron+servant+choice wouldn't work, why (if you'll indulge me) not?
posted by clawsoon at 7:40 PM on May 17


Just want to thank NoRelationToLea, bl1nk and other Filipinos / SEAsians for their contributions to this thread. They've done a lot of heavylifting and emotional labor in providing cultural context that's crucial to better understanding this story and its dynamics.

NoRelationToLea's comment bears repeating:
Again, I submit that if you're not Filipino, or let's say intimately familiar with similar dynamics in other developing nations - you'd really be doing yourself and others trying to productively discuss this story a favor by sitting this one out. You simply are not equipped to contribute anything here beyond graphic illustrations of your profound lack of exposure to worlds that have fundamentally different dynamics than the ones to which you're familiar.

(Threads like this I really wish people would self-identify their racial background when they jump in to comment. I believe a lot of MeFites once pledged they'd do that, after some lengthy MeTalk threads discussing sensitivity to PoC/non-white threads...)
posted by aielen at 7:42 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


Eudocia Pulido was an US citizen since 1998. Alex Tizon was a celebrated American writer.
The bulk of the story happens in the United States.

Seems to me that it's very reasonable for all Americans of any ethnicity and level of knowledge about the Philippines/Asia to engage in the discussing and criticizing the events, actions/non-actions and motivations of the story.

(I am of East Asian ethnicity with Western/US education, born and currently living in an Asian economically less developed country)
posted by Bwithh at 7:52 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


clawsoon - I haven't lived in Manila for 30 years and it's been ... 15 years since my last visit. Most of what I know currently is second hand from talking to friends and relatives who still live there, and what I should also reiterate is that Alex's life and circumstances are rooted in a relationship with his grandfather that started in the 60s. The situation changes and evolves as the global economy evolves. What I described is also antiquated and 'charming' by modern standards. It's the equivalent of talking about people who work for an American corporation that still uses a pension as a way of ensuring lifetime employment.

The biggest changes are rapid urbanization and the globalization of the nanny trade. It's no longer just about the patron/master/plantation paradigm anymore. That stuff still happens to a degree, but the collapse of the agricultural sector's weight in the economy in favor of sweatshops and call centers means that people just aren't staying on those tenant farms anymore. They're moving to cities and getting other jobs or working in other households. The service paradigm in those jobs still has some trappings of utang but it's a lot more transactional now, and it's really just coasting on this fact that multiple generations have done it and it was a path to a better life for a few once a long time ago..

Concurrent to that is that the market for employers is no longer about Filipino households, but, as other have mentioned in this thread -- American, Hong Konger, French, Qatari, and Australian households. There the aspiration is much more about the money that can be sent back home to support family and the possibility of finding some path to immigration and starting a new life in a new country with more opportunities. And in these foreign contracts, there's numerous stories of overseas foreign workers falling into human trafficking traps with losing their passports and getting in a cycle of having their pay docked for "additional services" from their placement agencies or other similar scams that land them in a cycle of indenturedness. I know that the Philippines government has paid lip service to improving regulations and cracking down on the worst of the agencies, but what is happening right now is really a global problem and something that needs a global solution. And that absolutely warrants engagement from white and brown allies.

Whereas there are aspects of Alex Tizon and Eudocia's story that's really more about an older time and an older set of dysfunctions that continue in different forms to the present day, and having to tease out and explain aspects of that relationship is leading us into this Gordian knot of participation.
posted by bl1nk at 7:58 PM on May 17 [9 favorites]


He loved her because she was his "Lola".

Further on 'Lola': I'm not Filipino but my family's from a nearby Asian country and we have a similar custom where all elders are called grandma/grandpa, whether or not you're related to them. It's not a pet name just for those close to you, it's a title for everyone of that age and it's incredibly rude not to use this convention. If I ever dared to call any 'grandma' by her first name I would be inviting the Wrath of the Universe upon my head. I wonder if it is the same in the Philippines.

I was born/raised in Canada but I still kind of stutter calling my friends' parents by their first names, as everything within me screams that it's rude. The hierarchy is ingrained.
posted by emeiji at 8:12 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


As a black American, like Catastrophe Waitress, I can only see myself as Eudocia. It's not so very long ago; it's really not. And all the calls for nuance & context — they hurt so much. For all the differences, they stole her life & everything she could have been. And but for 109 years, it would be me.
posted by dame at 9:11 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]


Let's go back to the use of the word "slave" here. In that interaction with his mother, Tizon deliberately chooses to use that word as a provocation. bl1nk has outlined that most people familiar with this context frame this kind of relationship in familial or adoptive terms (which still doesn't totally capture all aspects of this). This would be like an American kid in the 70s saying to his old-fashioned father that the traditional gender role mother is his slave (American South style), to be bought and sold as property. Filipino domestics are less property and more fucked-up family. Yes there's multiple dissertations' worth of stuff to unpack in the distinction, but broad strokes. In either case, telling your parent they're treating a member of the family as chattal is really getting after it. It's certainly not nothing. If that were me and my mom, I'd expect a hard, angry slap in response.

Now whatever this relationship is, it's not instutionalized, like slavery in the American South or in South African Apartheid. There aren't really laws codifying it (for better or worse). But because it's about families (kind of), every arrangement has the potential to be super screwed-up and disfunctional. Yes, you can try and understand all this in terms of family or American South slavery - but translation losses. I'd be super careful about drawing conclusions or making declarations, here.

So, as someone who was raised in the relevant culture's diaspora, but who rarely visited - some things I noticed when I visited the Philippines last year:

-My cousins and their wives all had ya-yas growing-up. One of their co-workers, however, currently in her 30s, still had her ya-ya help her shop, attend to errands, etc. They thought that was weird.

-One of my cousins had a maid, who was absolutely delighted that my kid interacted with her as just another relative vs. the help. I thought it was no big deal. I eventually noticed that my cousin and his wife were pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing. This particular maid had clearly not crossed the family boundary (wherever/whatever that is), so my son's interaction with her made things weird.

-Most of my cousins had maids. Some had drivers. None of the ones with kids had ya-yas.

-My uncle had a domestic helper come to dinner with us. I have no idea if she was a longtime ya-ya, or maid, indentured servant, slave, etc. - but I know though she wasn't a blood relative, and my cousins and I all treated her as yet another Aunty.

-All my uncles and aunts over there have maids and drivers. Any family that made it to the states do not (including my own). For those members of my family that came over when they were older, the adjustment to not having domestic help was hard. Americans forget, but servants aren't really a thing in the US - so we have a really hard time with this. I have trouble with this anytime I go to a place where servants are woven into the local fabric. Getting mamsired drives me bananas.

-Of 15 first cousins, 4 were just pawned off to people other than their biological parents. Familial bounds are fluid. Biology matters, but so does the network of obligations bl1nk described. Their effective families didn't treat them as servants, but they weren't really great parents, either. I'm not sure their treatment really escapes the realm of shitty biological parents, however.

-My kid had a nanny. She was from El Salvador, and though she was a legal resident, she still wanted to be paid under the table. We migrated her to over-the-table, witheld taxes, etc., keeping her take-home amount the same. She then pushed to get that witholding/social security money in cash. My guidance to her was 1) "you're the pro, here. Teach us what to do" 2) "take him wherever and as far as you can go during the day, just bring him back at night" 3) "We'd prefer you speak to him in Spanish, cause it'd be cool - but whatever works for you (she complained that her English got worse working for us)." When we're in her neighborhood our negotiations boil down to how long she gets to have him at her house (she wants him the whole time, we try to keep it to a night or two) and payment (I want to pay her, she refuses). She considers us family, and I look at her sort of the same. Of course it's not exactly the same. She had shitty employers after us, one of whom was a friend. Maybe she really hates us and is playing a long game I don't see - I can't claim to know her mind, ultimately.

Anyway, this stuff is complicated. I'm glad we seem to have gotten to a place where we're allowed to try and delve into this stuff instead of constant defense from unilateral proclamations. Maybe. Also: bl1nk's (and others') experience will be different from my experience. None of have lived the same lives. In general, I've found immigrants and minorities are far better at accounting for context (because we have to), but this still needs saying cause, you know, white people.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:13 PM on May 17 [10 favorites]


Filipino domestics are less property and more fucked-up family.

"They were really more like family" is the go-to argument of white southern American apologists for slavery.

I can't help but notice that the people who are defending the Tizon family and claiming that anyone from a different culture can't understand or judge are telling a lot of stories about growing up with, or living with, domestic workers, but there are no stories from the people who have been on the other side of those situations—who have been domestic workers themselves. Those are the people I'd like to hear from and those are the people who really have the moral authority to speak here.

I will also say that, while I have been neither Filipino nor a domestic worker, I have been subject to violence and abuse in institutions like (but not as awful as) the one in which Tizon's mother worked, which performed "forced hysterectomies, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and even castrations" and punished patients with "leather cuffs, cow whips, razor straps, and isolation cages." Here is how Tizon describes that institution:
She’d worked for two decades at Fairview Training Center, in Salem, a state institution for the developmentally disabled. The irony: She tended to underdogs most of her professional life. They worshipped her. Female colleagues became close friends. They did silly, girly things together—shoe shopping, throwing dress-up parties at one another’s homes, exchanging gag gifts like penis-shaped soaps and calendars of half-naked men, all while laughing hysterically.
This is a disgusting whitewash and it is very clear that he was not able to see his mother clearly. His willingness to look away from abuse here makes me very suspicious of his reliability as a narrator in the other parts of his story.
posted by enn at 6:38 AM on May 18 [9 favorites]


"Those are the people I'd like to hear from and those are the people who really have the moral authority to speak here."

Yes. I'm in agreement with the criticism of those who drastically simplify this and make it all about their own outrage and are not interested in understanding the cultural context, but, even so, it seems remarkable to me that the angry calls to listen to non-privileged voices comes from people who are, in the precise situation under discussion, the privileged class. While those of us who are white Americans are failing to take a step back and think about and listen to a perspective that isn't blinkered by our privilege, it's also the case that, in this context, the middle-class Filipino immigrant who grew up with a ya-ya, or has family or experience with such, is very much the privileged voice who should be asking for the input from the class of people they do not belong to and for which they claim to be speaking.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:45 AM on May 18 [9 favorites]


It would be ideal to have posts from people who had both cultural context and the economic/social context. Therefore, it would be ideal to have Filipinx who had direct, nonprivileged experiences talk about their reactions.

In the absence of that, which voices should be given the most weight in this thread? Economically privileged (compared to the Filipinx who currently find themselves in situations like this) liberal Westerners with minimal understanding of the cultural or historical context? Or economically privileged people who are Filipinx or Filiipinx-American?

If you look on social media, the response of Filipinx and Filipinx-Americans is mixed, like it is in this thread. But there appears to be universal frustration with the unwillingness of white/American/Western liberals to acknowledge the importance of culture in understanding what happened, why Alex Tizon acted the way he did, and why Eudocia acted the way she did:

1/ Here is a long-ass thread where I try to educate well-meaning American liberals on Filipino culture re: the Tizon story in @TheAtlantic

if i have to see another fricking commentary on tizon's slavery story written by a usamerican/westerner with my own two eyes, I SWEAR,

Dismissing unique peculiarities of Filipino culture and power dynamics as we try to dissect by railing at us is Western supremacy in action.

A lot of the comments tend to conflate Alex Tizon's family with white slave masters, Lola with black slaves, and their household with the antebellum slave plantation. The last is from Vicente Rafael, a professor of history at the University of Washington. He talks more about pre-colonial slavery here, and there is discussion in the comments.

Also, for people who wanted more context from somebody speaking from a nonprivileged context: i don't like to talk about this often (not because i'm ashamed but because it isn't my story to tell) but my mum started out as a katulong. The replies have other Filipinx with close family members who had been in similar istuations -- annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd one "Liz J Bates" from San Francisco at the end, interjecting her totally necessary and important commentary.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:52 AM on May 18 [11 favorites]


it's also the case that, in this context, the middle-class Filipino immigrant who grew up with a ya-ya, or has family or experience with such, is very much the privileged voice

I am speaking from a Nicaraguan perspective, so there may be portions that don't map well, but at least in my cultural context, the people who serve and the people who are being served are often from the same family, but a different branch as measured by people who measure extended families. I.e., it's about circumstances, not class.

I am the only daughter of the eldest son of the main line of what was once a well off family, so I initially grew up with the expectation that I would be inheriting the matriarch role- that any property amassed up the line would eventually go to me. That role came with the obligation to offer space to anyone connected to me by blood, but also with the understanding that anyone who resided in the house would contribute to the house. This was what I saw growing up and this is how, when I was a little girl, I expected to live. Unmarried relations all lived in the house of my grandmother, and sometimes the married men. And because there's a lot of deep sexism baked into these expectations, the women always provided domestic service and men, manual labor.

For a lot of familial, complicated reasons, including that America complicates these things, that is unlikely to happen. The property and ability to help others - far more limited at any rate - will pass to the second son, to my cousins, who previously I helped, but now under traditional rules, would have the obligation of helping me. So in this case, if I were widowed and unemployable and needed to return, I would be the unmarried drudge in exchange for housing and food. This is what I believe and expect, at least on some level, because those are the cultural supports I feel in my heart I can rely on.

Bl1nk and NoRelationToLea have touched on kind of the slow destruction of these kinds of relationships, and I think there's something I really want to work hard on unpacking about the expectations we inherit and the various ways people deal with those expectations and the differing world we now live in.

Because my own expectations of "how do well off people live, what obligations do you carry" are this weird and difficult mish mash of the developing world and the world I actually live in. And it becomes really difficult. Who can house poor relatives in America the way they could when you had a multigenerational family home? And how do you handle poor relatives when you live in America which tells you your main loyalty is not to your extended family but only to your nuclear family? I don't know the answers to those questions. It's not just as simple as "leave the old ones behind, pick up the American ones." It's hard to deal with having two cultures simultaneously living inside you which are in direct contradiction and opposition.

How do you deal with being a feminist who grew up and acculturated in a culture marked by astonishing sexism? How do you be an egalitarian American when you grew up in a culture marked primarily by hierarchy? I don't know these answers, because I struggle with them every day and still can't find them.
posted by corb at 8:55 AM on May 18 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure exactly why it's viewed as offensive to become less ignorant about slavery as it exists in the current day; as horrific as it is, and it is, it's not a precise analog to American or European slave trading, and rarely does remaining staunchly ignorant about the circumstances of abuse help anyone in any way. I think understanding that Alex viewed her as family doesn't excuse his actions; it also explains why he acted the way he did despite his willingness to call his mother a slave owner to her face. He was clearly morally horrified by the situation and its possible to understand his complicity without accusing him of things that didn't happen.

As someone who grew up around horrific multigenerational domestic abuse, as so many of us did, I'm wondering when we're going to start blaming the children in these interactions? After all, I wasn't abused, I was doted on, while my grandfather and stepfather beat and raped and tortured my mother and grandmother. And when I was 16 and got a job, I offered money, offered to pick them up and drive them away when they were in danger, went to the courthouse, spoke the counselors, got divorce papers, did everything I could. I arranged for a place for my mother to stay when she left the first time (though she went back). But I also obeyed their wishes when they told me not to call the cops or not to yell at the abusers, because it made the abuse worse. So I guess I'm complicit and I'm an abuser, too? No, for some reason when it happens in non immigrant families we're all very careful to let the children off the hook and underline the fact that you can't right the wrongs of domestic abuse against someone's will. And guess what? That's true. I did ultimately help my mother out of her abuse, but on her own timeline, because it was dangerous, and because she had her own agency, and I wasn't up to kidnapping her, whether that agency was coerced or not. And guess what? My mother still cares about her abuser. She still stays in contact him. But we're very careful to preserve language about that to explain the psychology of abuse because we care about the agency of American women; we don't want to shame them. If it's OUR mother who loves her abuser, we have to have the utmost respect; that's American feminism. Once it's someone else, though...

If Lola loves Alex and his mother, that is material to Alex's ability to do anything for her, despite whether it's wise that she love them or they deserve it. You can't just abduct someone because you want to liberate them. I mean, you can, e.g. children in abusive homes. But if you don't have the resources to see them through the system, the outcome is generally not ideal.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:57 AM on May 18 [17 favorites]


1) "They were really more like family" is the go-to argument of white southern American apologists for slavery.

I can't help but notice that the people who are defending the Tizon family and claiming that anyone from a different culture can't understand or judge are telling a lot of stories about growing up with, or living with, domestic workers, but there are no stories from the people who have been on the other side of those situations—who have been domestic workers themselves. Those are the people I'd like to hear from and those are the people who really have the moral authority to speak here.


2) it's also the case that, in this context, the middle-class Filipino immigrant who grew up with a ya-ya, or has family or experience with such, is very much the privileged voice who should be asking for the input from the class of people they do not belong to and for which they claim to be speaking.

I'd ask that you guys think hard about what you're arguing here. You're essentially saying that because I, personally, haven't been a domestic servant, maybe my input isn't what we really want, here. Consider this: would either of you say that to an African-American who's never, personally, been a slave on a plantation in the American South? That's the go-to argument of racist white people, right? Didn't happen to you - so who are you to complain?

Still - I absolutely agree that primary sources would be better. Here are two (notably, previously linked upthread, and pretty much undiscussed):

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/11/the-sacrifices-of-an-immigrant-caregiver
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/03/magazine/israels-invisible-filipino-work-force.html

Yes, yes - those still aren't really primary sources. They're second hand-accounts, via non-native reporters, American publications, etc. I understand the bar or moral authority we're trying to move to here is comments from the actual people. Yes, my family in the Philippines is privileged. But my family in America (with few exceptions) is most certainly not. They have to work their nursing, or retirement home, or daycare, or convenience store, or retail, or casino, or hotel, or warehouse shifts. An elderly uncle still tries to pick up odd handy-man jobs and has stood in Home Depot parking lots because (his words) "I can pass for Mexican." They don't get to hang out on MeFi or twitter during their workday - so I guess you're just stuck with me.

the people who serve and the people who are being served are often from the same family, but a different branch as measured by people who measure extended families. I.e., it's about circumstances, not class.

And even if not from the same family, often the same race or ethnic sub-group. Again, a significant difference from the American South. Is this the part of the thread where some of us say "This is just like this part of slavery in the American South" and some of us are all "Well, (an order of magnitude or words later) - not really?"
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:14 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]


There's a number of posters in this thread who keep insisting that the people who are most qualified to add richness to this discussion need to keep jumping through hoops to prove that they really deserve to be heard above the white voices. I guess the privilege we're deriding them for of growing up middle class knowing or having domestic servants doesn't extend to us giving them basic decency of believing that they know more about this than a white American. They've given the context that we (including myself) felt was missing from the original article and linked to countless other voices. They've provided a nuanced view of Tizon that we're lucky to have.

They're not claiming to speak for domestic servants, but if you think in the fairly unlikely chance a former domestic servant who's liberated themselves is on Metafilter and reading along with this thread, ask yourself if you think they'd feel welcome to speak up here when we're busy picking apart every word spoken by anyone who isn't speaking in absolutes about Tizon here.

I've been following this thread closely and learning so much from NoRelationToLea and bl1nk , among others, and I feel ambivalent about speaking up again. I know everyone is more than capable of defending themselves against white people insisting they have a right to every discussion but I wish you didn't have to keep doing it on Metafilter.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:06 AM on May 18 [10 favorites]


And for that matter, the children of slave-holding families were usually raised by black slaves, who the children often called affectionate family nicknames. In 1923 the US Senate infamously authorized a monument "in memory of the faithful slave mammies of the South." The complex twisted ways love and family can be part of, even used for, a system of oppression is nothing unique to Filipino culture. It's the recognition of it that stabs as deeply as anything, and I say that as someone who damn well knows _because her own family did it_.
posted by tavella at 10:11 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


I guess the goal of the middle class white Americans in this thread is to elide all differences between all forms of global slavery, insist they're all exactly the same as American pre-Civil War slavery, then smugly reassure everyone that middle class white Americans already took care of that problem optimally and without any fallout?

If you think you're helping anyone at all by insisting that the only way to deal with modern slavery is to grow up conveniently very far away from it and do absolutely nothing about it in your own life but pontificate, well, this may shock you, but...
posted by stoneandstar at 10:12 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]


I wish I were more surprised by the white savior outrage in this thread, but I keep getting the feeling that the people here who are most committed to their anger at the author are the same people who most needed the author's careful and extensive emotional labor in order to see Lola as a human being with valid needs at all. In order to be capable of really seeing Lola, you'd also inevitably see the human trafficking that permeates our society and that all of us participate in on a daily basis, and Lola's situation wouldn't seem so unique or strange.

In this sense, its almost like their anger at mefites in a position to grapple with their own experience with this particular form of slavery isn't over any complicity in slavery but in their own failure to grapple with their own complicity.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:18 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]


The idea that the complex twisted ways love and family can be part of, even used for, a system of oppression is nothing unique to Filipino culture

It's not unique to Filipino culture, but it has actual consequences in the real world, where most of us are living. Let me blow your mind: the abolition of slavery was very good, but the way freed slaves had to make their way in America without economic resources, social support, or legal protections was very bad, and has had hugely negative consequences to the current day.

But keep telling everyone how if you grew up with a domestic slave you loved like your Grandmother you'd just call the cops against her will at 16 years old and it would all get neatly squared away, or whatever.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:19 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


We're at the point where being a descendent of white slaveowners now imbues you with moral authority. Not enough moral authority to seriously grapple with your own complicity in global slavery and the fallout in the Philippines, but enough to scoff at a dead man who hesitated to put his parents in jail, which these people have definitely done and not just imagined they would have had they been born 300 years ago. OK.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:24 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


But keep telling everyone how if you grew up with a domestic slave you loved like your Grandmother you'd just call the cops against her will at 16 years old and it would all get neatly squared away, or whatever.

Literally no one has said this. It's a straw man. What people are objecting to, specifically, is the claim that "Alex Tizon is a fucking hero." Grappling with complexity, that isn't.
posted by enn at 10:27 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


ONE person said they thought Alex Tizon was a hero. One.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:30 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


I'm a little uncomfortable with the repeated characterization of the objections to Tizon's article and conduct as an entirely white phenomenon. There are multiple people in this very thread who have stated both their unhappiness with Tizon and that they are not white.
posted by Copronymus at 10:30 AM on May 18 [10 favorites]


And if your position is not just that he's not a hero but that he's actually a villain and second-generation slaver (any more so than an abused child is a second-generation abuser by default), you have a lot of work to do to show that.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:31 AM on May 18


It's hard to know what people are really trying to say, and some of the people doing this are great Mefites who I generally love to read. But right now, it feels like whatever the intent, the /effect/ is silencing the interesting conversation I'd love to be having with my fellow mefites, because every time it gets started someone jumps in with something like that and the conversation gets derailed into talking about that instead of the conversation that keeps struggling to breathe.
posted by corb at 10:31 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I think the emphasis on white is an emphasis on "not Filipino or remotely knowledgeable about Filipino culture," not just white ignorance. If you're ignorant but not white, I apologize. But you're still ignorant.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:33 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


When you pull out one sentence in the midst of multiple comments that give context to that quote, enn, it becomes less of a 'gotcha' and becomes bad faith. Especially because that comment has been explained at length.

Which is the point I think we're hammering away at now. There's a difference between thoughtful discussions about parallels between other slave owning cultures and whether 'slave' is the right word, what actions Tizon could have taken, etc and the comments that are being called out here: when you pull snippets out of a comment like the above, ignore the context around them, and use it to insist that poster has no grounds to speak as has been repeatedly done here, it becomes extremely concerning.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:36 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Especially when there are repeated insistences that Alex should have done more, but not a single actual concrete suggestion as to what he should have done, let alone one that exhibits any understanding of the circumstances. Which is why I said what I did about making a phone call-- I mean, feel free to fill in the blank with what you actually would have done, but I haven't seen a single good suggestion. Which would imply not that there aren't any, but that people getting angry and judging haven't thought about this very much, or don't really care about anything except attributing as much blame as they can.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:40 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I'm a little uncomfortable with the repeated characterization of the objections to Tizon's article and conduct as an entirely white phenomenon. There are multiple people in this very thread who have stated both their unhappiness with Tizon and that they are not white.

There are even some of us who are Fil-Ams who are disgusted by what Tizon and his family willingly participated in for so long.

I mean, feel free to fill in the blank with what you actually would have done, but I haven't seen a single good suggestion.

Well, if we're extrapolating based on Tizon's personal timeline, when he won his Pulitzer Prize in 1997, Tizon was 38, one year younger than I currently am. He was a reporter for the Seattle Times and he won the prize with two of his colleagues (Eric Nalder and Deborah Nelson) for an investigative piece about the Federal Indian Housing Program (source: Wikipedia). Between the three of them, I feel absolutely certain that one of them or one of their other colleagues would know about a program somewhere which helps survivors of domestics abuse and gets them acclimated back into society where they can make their own life choices. He need not to have stuck to a Roman Catholic entity; Lutheran Community Services Northwest has been around since 1921 and they started offering services for refugees in the 1970s. They could have also totally helped her gain legal standing as a citizen if she wanted to, or to go back to the Philippines.

If I can come up with a plan like this in 5 minutes, think of what a trained investigative journalist with a fucking Pulitzer Prize could have done. But he didn't. That pisses me off so much.

Also, I really, really, really, really want to hear what his widow Melissa Tizon and their kids have to say about this. The fact that they were okay with The Atlantic publicizing this after their father's/husband's death says a lot to me about their relationship with him, too. My mom and dad totally freak out when I even get vaguely political at them in private email and text exchanges. It makes sense that this story only came out after he died and after everyone else who was complicit in this also was dead.
posted by TrishaLynn at 11:13 AM on May 18 [11 favorites]


(in the midst of work so don't have a lot of time to dive back into this now, but ...)

The family did work to get her citizenship granted, and he did make an effort to encourage her to go back to the Philippines. She refused and how much of that was a fully-informed choice vs. a false decision based on trauma and fear is a very debatable point of the story, but we're never going to know that because they're all dead. Maybe, hopefully, the widow might know and might have some perspectives to share. But, to me, there are many aspects of this story that mirror other violent domestic abuse situations.

At what point, if you are a witness to abuse, but are not a direct victim, are you obligated to intervene and take on the responsibility for healing that victim, even if that victim chooses to remain in their abusive situation? At what point, as a child, if you witness one of your parents abusing an aunt or a grandmother who is powerless to leave your home and denies help or aid, do you choose to call the cops anyway to get your parents locked up and take on the responsibility of caring for your relative?

I think that's the nub that we need to discuss, to pull ourselves away from this need to contextualize the slavery conversation in either Filipino or American or universal terms.
posted by bl1nk at 11:22 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


But he wasn't a child. That's the straw man again. He was in his twenties and thirties as the abuse went on. He was in his 40s when he waited 8 years *after his mother died* to buy her a ticket to the Philippines to see her family again.
posted by tavella at 11:30 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


At what point, as a son, if you witness one of your parents abusing an aunt or a grandmother who is powerless to leave your home and denies help or aid, do you choose to call the cops anyway to get your parents locked up and take on the responsibility of caring for your relative?

Better?
posted by bl1nk at 11:31 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Yes; it's not that there are no solutions, it's that the solutions are extremely fraught, and being flippant about how easy it is to take multiple leaps-- not only into the arms of whatever institution you hope will help more than they harm but also without the express consent of the woman you're trying to help-- is not something you just wake up one morning and do with supreme confidence. I still beat myself up constantly for not doing enough, doing too much, not trusting my mom, trusting my mom too much, etc. when it comes to the domestic abuse we grew up in. I wish that being educated and successful made it easier to do the right thing, but it just makes it more obvious that "the right thing" often has terrible fallout, however necessary it is. We can understand this when it comes to domestic abuse, but not anything else? There are success stories and there are terrible stories that are not success stories, and sometimes you're rolling the dice. We don't protect women in our society, legally or otherwise, is this such a surprise?

Investigative journalism is excellent and everything but it doesn't exactly have responsibility for tying up loose ends or resolving the situations it uncovers. Often there are institutional attempts to, but it's not the truth that doing the right thing always means doing what people who are suffering want you to; it's a choice, but it's not a simple one. Sometimes you cause short term pain for long term justice. When it involves your loved ones it's just that much more complicated.

tavella, you're the one who was insisting that he was fully capable to take care of the situation as a teenager in the 1970s so I wouldn't be so quick to trot out the straw man defense.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:34 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]


NoRelationToLea: Is this the part of the thread where some of us say "This is just like this part of slavery in the American South" and some of us are all "Well, (an order of magnitude or words later) - not really?"

It might be Tizon's fault that the discussion has gone this way. The way that he tells it, he came to America, learned what American slavery was, and then realized that Lola's situation fit the description. "We couldn’t identify a parallel anywhere except in slave characters on TV and in the movies." It seems like he learned later about Filipino-specific variants of slavery. When he first realized that Lola was a slave, the slavery that he was familiar with was American slavery.

So it's been valuable to get a broader cultural perspective from yourself and other that I guess Tizon himself didn't have?
posted by clawsoon at 11:51 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I agree that the moral thing to do would have been to attempt to extricate her from his mother's home once he became an adult with the resources to do so, and request the help of local organizations to acculturate her and enable her to live independently as much as possible. I also realize that she might not have been a willing participant, at least immediately, and it would have most likely been a long-term process involving a dedication of time and resources, which is to a certain extent what happened anyway. I think it's morally repugnant to whitewash the crimes of his mother, and I also understand why, as her son, he did so, despite the fact that that part of his story is saccharine and ridiculous to me. But I have to admit to myself that I still love my grandfather after watching what he did to my grandmother; I'm terribly angry at him and haven't seen him for years, but this is the very reason that abuse is complicated. Would I have the guts to put him in jail? No, I wouldn't. I don't know what that makes me; definitely an enabler, but again, American social justice is about protecting ourselves from that kind of blame.

I also understand why it's important to emphasize that to the outside world, his mother was an average woman of middle class means and tastes, etc. That is precisely why it's so strange to watch the reaction to Alex. You can judge and critique him for what he actually did, not the invented villainous version of him. Because pointing out how this one particular person is uniquely evil and culpable is frankly, not the case; these things happen because the bonds of societies and families allow them to happen. I know we congratulate ourselves for not actually keeping slaves in our homes here in America, but the amount of suffering and carnage we build our lives on top of is frankly despicable, and the only reason we're not all in a moral agony all day is because we've all agreed we can't do anything about it.

I guess people like to be given permission to judge. You see it all the time: the non-abused asking why they can't judge the abused, men asking why they can't judge women, white people asking why they can't judge black people, Europeans asking why they can't judge Americans, Americans asking why they can't judge Filipinos. Go ahead, judge away, no one thinks slavery or self-objectification or domestic abuse or gang violence or insert complicated tragic issue is a good thing. Just don't fool yourself that you're contributing anything.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:11 PM on May 18 [14 favorites]


It might be Tizon's fault that the discussion has gone this way.

Maybe it's his fault it started this way. But the fact that it continues to go this way is on the posters who insist on derailing whatever this could be with their baggage. Especially when multiple people are trying to get them to chill the fuck out.

It's hard to know what people are really trying to say, and some of the people doing this are great Mefites who I generally love to read. But right now, it feels like whatever the intent, the /effect/ is silencing the interesting conversation I'd love to be having with my fellow mefites, because every time it gets started someone jumps in with something like that and the conversation gets derailed into talking about that instead of the conversation that keeps struggling to breathe.

What she said. I can't co-sign corb hard enough, on this point. In fact, let's go back and service the discussion she tried to start before we got derailed again:

Because my own expectations of "how do well off people live, what obligations do you carry" are this weird and difficult mish mash of the developing world and the world I actually live in. And it becomes really difficult. Who can house poor relatives in America the way they could when you had a multigenerational family home? And how do you handle poor relatives when you live in America which tells you your main loyalty is not to your extended family but only to your nuclear family? I don't know the answers to those questions. It's not just as simple as "leave the old ones behind, pick up the American ones." It's hard to deal with having two cultures simultaneously living inside you which are in direct contradiction and opposition.

This really gets to the heart of it. It's horrific and wrong to say to immigrants "you're in America now - speak English." So why is it ok to frame their stories in your terms? Why is it ok to solve their problems with your solutions? Mansplaining and whitesplaining are a thing, right? How is this different?

The best (or worst) part of all of this is we all have our own personal "weird and difficult mish mash." Mine is not the same as bl1nk's. It's not even the same as my brother's. I hear and feel corb's tensions - totally. But I cannot offer her guidance, as those specifc tensions really only belong to her. She needs to find her own answers. As I do. As Tizon did. We aren't just isolated, estranged, and alienated from our original or adopted homelands, but also each other. Can't even look to our parents, because they're coming from a different time and place. Or our siblings, as even a few extra years as a child in a particular culture result in huge differences.

So you might not like the answers. That's fine. But you also aren't living all the things that are being folding into the calculations that got to those answers. Now, people have been trying to show you. But they're not valid. Or coming from a place of privilege. Etc. I think some of you need to seriously ask youselves why you, who are far from this, are dedicating so much energy towards invalidating the perspectives of commentors who are closer (and no, not the same - but still).
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:03 PM on May 18 [10 favorites]


Investigative journalism is excellent and everything but it doesn't exactly have responsibility for tying up loose ends or resolving the situations it uncovers.

I agree that it's not the responsibility of the investigative journalist to tie up loose ends or resolve situations. But perhaps--and I don't think I'm going too far out on a ledge in judging Tizon (which is my right as his fellow countryman and compatriot and also fellow first-generation Fil-Am)--being an investigative journalist would help him, I don't know, find out what those resources are and maybe apply them to his own fucking family, both his mom and his mother figure.

But the thing that we Filipinx-adjacent commentators (and those others whose countries of origin I didn't catch) keep saying is a huge part of this story that so many people who aren't Filipinx-adjacent keep bypassing is the amount of pressure there is on a child of Filipinx parents to live up to your parents' and ancestor's ideals and what a terrible person you are if you don't. I talked about this a lot in the Emotional Labor thread and I've only now started to talk about this to people in real life and on my Facebook, but I was recently diagnosed with dysthymia, which is a mild form of depression. Whether or not it was in me to begin with, the level of depression I experienced as a teen intensified whenever I didn't think I was living up to my parents' ideals because goshdarnit, my mom could have been a high paid CPA in the States, but she only worked as a bookkeeper because she had kids four years after they moved here and we had better be grateful for every opportunity we got because of the sacrifices they made to come here. That's a uniquely immigrant story, one that's decoupled from an African American (forced) immigrant narrative and one that is definitely a factor that many people keep brushing aside as insignificant because of the larger issue of slavery involved.

Does that help explain why we're upset a little? Fellow Filipinx, am I recapping this correctly?
posted by TrishaLynn at 1:33 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


My reaction to Tizon would have been vastly different if the setting of this story and his upbringing were entirely contained on a distant island on the Philippines rather than the American suburbs and if Tizon was someone other than an upper middle class Pulitzer Prize winning American author with degrees from University of Oregon and Stanford.

He's not remotely the only person in America to have come from a struggling immigrant family whose parents became professionals and provided their children with high quality university educations in this country.

At best I can view him as being raised by a domestic abuse victim of his mother whose relationship he couldn't really solve.

But it's like that saying that has been passed around lately: "You know how you ask yourself what you would have done in pivotal moments in history? What you're doing now is what you would have done."

I can understand how he basically decided to pretend the entire situation wasn't happening as he developed a successful career and family of his own. But let's not pretend this was anything other than a case of human trafficking in the local suburbs. This isn't even the first case I have personally heard of a foreign household maid being abused by a middle class immigrant family in the USA.
posted by deanc at 2:19 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]


But the thing that we Filipinx-adjacent commentators (and those others whose countries of origin I didn't catch) keep saying is a huge part of this story that so many people who aren't Filipinx-adjacent keep bypassing is the amount of pressure there is on a child of Filipinx parents to live up to your parents' and ancestor's ideals and what a terrible person you are if you don't. I talked about this a lot in the Emotional Labor thread and I've only now started to talk about this to people in real life and on my Facebook, but I was recently diagnosed with dysthymia, which is a mild form of depression. Whether or not it was in me to begin with, the level of depression I experienced as a teen intensified whenever I didn't think I was living up to my parents' ideals because goshdarnit, my mom could have been a high paid CPA in the States, but she only worked as a bookkeeper because she had kids four years after they moved here and we had better be grateful for every opportunity we got because of the sacrifices they made to come here. That's a uniquely immigrant story, one that's decoupled from an African American (forced) immigrant narrative and one that is definitely a factor that many people keep brushing aside as insignificant because of the larger issue of slavery involved.

But you're in America now - speak English. Also - throw out your parents' crazy expectations.

Sorry I don't really think that, just saving some folks some time.

Two things:

1) I've been you. For me, personally, what comes out of evaluating all the different authority entities' opinions about what I should be doing is they're all, ultimately, not quite right - and sometimes really wrong. None of them are living my life, in my time, with the people I've chosen to have in my life. They all are part of my accounting and calculation (for better or worse) - but the synthesis at the end belongs to me. So no - I don't respect my elders in the most traditional sense. I don't respect the judgements of hella ignorant USians, either.

2) The parental sacrifice thing only got better after I became a parent. There is no fucking way I would ever, under any circumstances, leverage my mom's formulation of "I sacrificed, therefore you shall do this" on my son. It seems fine, all parental figures seem to say it etc. when you're a kid. Maybe it was ok at the time. It's not now. So it doesn't weigh on me, any more. I have a very clear priority queue of whose needs I attend to now - and grown-ass doñas are not high-up on that list.

Now, there are costs. Outside observers would think walang hiya is my mom's nickname for me.

This doesn't even begin to get into how some parents (not just Filipino) make child-rearing decisions based on how they'll be perceived by the greater community. "What would so-and-so think?" Yo - what does your child need?

And that doesn't even begin to get into being someone who grew up in modest means, now raising a child of privilege. Right now that formulation looks something like "you have talents and opportunities others do not, therefore you have an obligation to use those to make some part of the world better." How much and in what form ultimately come down to what will let him sleep at night. Right now we're working on picking up and throwing out garbage that's not necessarily his.

And yes - none of these positions are truly free, as they're all informed by and reactions to all the shitty inputs.

And no, I'm not exactly answering your question specifically with regard to the story - because we've tried to cover that ground for outsiders and that just results in misunderstanding and invalidation - so fuck 'em. No more free emotional, cultural, and contextual labor soup for you.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:16 PM on May 18 [5 favorites]


just for reference and in response to those asking to hear from the voices of the exploited, this isn't exactly that, but someone else drew my attention to this piece on Medium written from the perspective of a daughter of a katulong sent to America under indentured circumstances.

The Slave Who Raised Me Was My Mother

(looks like it was written two years ago, but the author went back and added a prologue in response to the Alex Tizon article)

I'd also redirect your attention to the Pulitzer Center articles about overseas nannies which I posted early in this thread.
posted by bl1nk at 3:48 PM on May 18 [7 favorites]


But perhaps[...]being an investigative journalist would help him, I don't know, find out what those resources are and maybe apply them to his own fucking family, both his mom and his mother figure.

I see this in the opposite light. He was probably drawn to reporting because he felt so helpless in being able to help his family. In his own life, he couldn't reconcile his own feelings with Pulido's expressed wishes. With reporting, he could do both. He could connect people with resources if they wanted, or preserve their anonymity and limit his help to raising awareness.

I've been untangling a lot of my family's history with domestic violence. It's uncomfortable to acknowledge that I am able to push back as much as I can because I have privilege relative to my mother and grandmother. And their sincere desire is that I not rock the boat for the ongoing financial and emotional abuse. Because at least they've taken steps to stop the physical violence.
posted by politikitty at 5:56 PM on May 18 [4 favorites]


Where I'm from, some of the agencies (government or religious) which are tasked with helping the abused have a mixed record at best with POC. There's a justified suspicion that bringing an agency into a situation will not end up being a good thing for the victim. Perhaps Tizon, as a journalist who worked with the underprivileged, knew who he could call. Perhaps, as a journalist, he had also seen why that would be a bad idea. An excessive eagerness to break up POC families who want to stay together (where a similar white family wouldn't be broken up) has been a feature of do-gooder colonialism for a few centuries now.

And his shame kept him from talking to anyone who might have been able to help.

And he was genuinely horrified by the way Lola was treated by his parents.

And it was awfully convenient for him to have Lola take care of his mother until her death, wasn't it? He could have done it himself - lots of people do - but... well... Lola was there... and so was a steady stream of self-rationalization...

And in the end he tried to do some right things.

I don't think that this story is simple enough to have a single, simple conversation about. Like Solzhenitsyn (another complicated person) said, you can't draw a line between good people and evil people; the line between good and evil goes through each of our hearts. I think it's possible to be simultaneously horrified by what his parents did and by what he failed to do, heartened by a few of the things he eventually did, and recognize that most of us wouldn't have done much better given the same history no matter how highly we like to think of ourselves.

bl1nk: just for reference and in response to those asking to hear from the voices of the exploited

I was one of those people. Thanks for these links, and thanks for all the other great links that people have posted.

Every comment by yourself and others here makes the story seem more multi-dimensional and understandable. Every victim story makes the story seem more one-dimensional and indefensible. I don't think that those are necessarily contrary impulses.
posted by clawsoon at 7:06 PM on May 18 [8 favorites]


This thread seems to be ebbing down, but I just wanted to come back and contribute suggestions for something that can take us a step beyond impotence and despair. I think we spent a lot of time arguing about whether Alex did enough to help Eudocia and also we asked ourselves what we would or should do in this situation. On reflection I realized that I did a lot of explaining, but I didn't participate in the solution finding part of the conversation. That was not intentional. I just felt like I had to play a lot of defense over the past couple of days.

Anyway, as preamble to this, I'll share that over the winter, a friend of mine got burned out of their apartment and my wife and I let them move in with us for a few months while they sorted out new lodgings. That friend has Complex PTSD from an abusive childhood and while they felt safe with us, living with them was still a learning experience for me when it comes to living with someone who is actively managing their healing process from trauma. I can't claim to speak for my friend, but what I drew from them on these last few months is that trauma survivors need the company of other survivors to help themselves heal, and they also can't rely on the people who were complicit in their abuse because of multiple ways that those people can intentionally or unintentionally re-trigger their trauma.

Basically, I believe Alex Tizon's singular failure of Eudocia, was that he never succeeded in helping her find a friend; and his failure to us is not describing any efforts he made to do that or portray that as a viable option. I am willing to agree to that and willing to judge him on that. I don't think that he could've emancipated her by flying her to Manila or reporting his mom or stealing Eudocia away and taking care of her himself. Because even with whatever love they had for each other, the shape of that love was never going to give her a way out of her situation. I believe that the path that I would have wanted to take if I were in his shoes would've been to contact another former yaya or katulong through an NGO like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, ideally find somebody who would befriend Eudocia and talk to her about her options and talk through her fear, and I would just get out of the way except when material support is needed.

Of course, I've only really known to do that now, in my 40s, after knowing other trauma survivors. I don't know if I would've known or felt empowered to do that in my 20's. I may have. Traveling in Hong Kong when I was younger and even more recently, I'd always find clusters of Filipina domestics out together on their Sunday days off. Hong Kong is so dense and so populous that it's nearly impossible to isolate the nurses and yayas and cooks who are just running around their daily errands. They form friendships, and they share stories with each other, and support each other. It still doesn't prevent the abuse and exploitation because the imbalance of power is still pretty significant and the culture is still heavily weighted towards their masters, but it's something, and it would've probably put me in a mind to search for an equivalent in the US. Friend networks like that were how my old yaya was introduced to her husband, and how she found her own ticket out of our family.

But, yes, so if this conversation did leave you feeling hopeless and frustrated and eager to support some kind of change, I'd encourage you to look into organizations like the NDWA and see what they'd suggest as ways to help.
posted by bl1nk at 7:02 AM on May 19 [19 favorites]


I honestly don't think trying to carve out solutions from a distance and in retrospect is going to be that helpful. It's not helpful for people who are literally dead and gone. It's not helpful for any of us going forward as you're fighting the last war - the next one will have different players and circumstances, so their specific solutions are likely to be different as well. This is not to say there's nothing to do here. I think instead of a solution, we're probably better off coming out of this with a methodology.

There've been very few people in this thread who've touched on this - mostly obviously stoneandstar. Even doing the "right" thing violates her will. Emancipation...and then what? Topple the dictator...and then what? A western sensibility presumes that if you ride in on a white horse and fix that one big thing, you've done your duty and are now free to run off to the next opportunity for glory.

Everyone lives in differential power relationships. None of us is superior in all our relationships. None of us is subordinate in all our relationships. When I look back at the superiors or authority figures in my life who did their jobs badly, what they were missing was they simply could not be bothered to know me or my needs. Couldn't be bothered to ask. Wouldn't listen when I stood up and told them what I wanted. Even when they were doing the "right" thing for me, it was mostly not or not at all about me. They were going to inflict themselves - either their oppression or their well-intentioned help - upon me, whether I liked it or not.

So, the methodology - if you're in a position of power, maybe you should ask, or just listen to what they need. Maybe they won't tell you and you need to put in the work to know them to intuit their needs. Put in the work to make sure your intuition is correct. Put in the work to make sure they want that need addressed, and if so, do they want that from you, specifically. Maybe you should consider that your concerns or spectrums of possibilities are different. Maybe you should check yourself when those with less power speak up. Maybe you should think about how long "fixing" the problem is really going to take. Not to disuade yourself from helping, but because that person is going to need more from you than just that first, obvious fix. If they need you, are you sticking around for that part? Are you willing to go away when they say you're not being helpful, anymore, or if they say it's not your place to interfere? Or are you going to barge in there and inflict yourself and your needs and your guilt and your baggage upon them, anyway? Because it's the "right" thing to do.

Which brings us back to this idea of adoption. Maybe stewardship. Most people seem to think Tizon's continued exercise of power was a bad thing here, full stop. It's certainly not without a ton of baggage. But he did not abandon her. He didn't just hand her off to some organization or ship her off to another country for a quicker absolution. He asked her what she wanted to happen. You say all that's continuing to exercise power over her. That's true. Superiors have power over their subordinates, but also obligations and responsibilities. Maybe for some of you simply stopping that exercise of power is a greater good than honoring those obligations and responsibilities to her (as known and defined by them, not you). I don't think it's that obvious, and it's especially fraught given all the different inputs.

But hey - it's all easy if you choose to ignore or refuse to acknowledge or brush aside inputs that are foreign to you, right?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:50 AM on May 19 [14 favorites]


I'm not suggesting that it's the same thin that it's the same thing, but I think maybe people who've grown up either experiencing or witnessing long term domestic abuse can understand in a way. You know your home life is different, you can even know it's wrong, but it can take a lot of time and work to break through the defense mechanisms you built up to get through it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:55 PM on May 19 [6 favorites]


As a white Australian who grew up with domestic violence, that aspect of Pulido's story leapt off the page at me. Reading about Filipino culture explains more about nuances of the name situation. Without judging anyone else's stance on that, I feel that as an Australian and a stranger to her I am not entitled to use either her birth name or nickname. But the fact that Lola means grandmother doesn't affect my opinion of either Tizon or his mother. Plenty of people abuse their nuclear family members, their staff, or anyone they spend a lot of time with; and they still call their victims by affectionate names. It doesn't prove or disprove anything.

What people have said about supporting individual victims by helping them do what they think is best for them - that's good advice for anyone you want to help, even if their choices are not what you want for them. I'll also suggest that in a more general sense, we should be providing better reproductive health options for women everywhere. Having the ability to choose the number of children you have, at the time you want, is a huge foundational component of ending poverty. And when women can have children at the rate they can afford they don't need to find ways to marry them off asap or send them to live with richer relatives. Or sell them off to overseas work programs, like the mother in the Medium article had done to her.

Again, I'm not familiar with the Filipino culture around this apart from what I've read in the links people have kindly provided here. But in England during Jane Austen's time, it was common for richer people who couldn't have kids or who felt like having more to waltz off with a child or two of their poorer relatives. Sometimes this went well (one of Austen's brothers was cared for then adopted by a rich uncle, and inherited the uncle's property). But other times it was much more like Austen writes about in Mansfield Park - the child is given a home and food, and is treated as a source of free labor.

I am sure this has happened at other times and places around the world too. It's a practical alternative to starving in a ditch, for sure, and if those are your options then geez who wants to starve when there's at least a small chance of something better? Take that chance and do what you can with it. But it's a situation ripe for abuse. And even at its best, it's feudalism.

My understanding is that a majority of the Philippines is Catholic. If this is true, do you think it affects the contraceptive options available to women there? I grew up Catholic and was part of a multicultural parish. I met many Catholics who took the Church at its literal word on not using birth control, and many others who happily used birth control and believed that the official doctrine would be changed eventually. So I'm not sure if it would have any impact or not?
posted by harriet vane at 5:19 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


harriet vane - Filipino Catholic tradition and dogma absolutely plays a role in the continuing oppression and limitation of women across all social classes. Beyond the lack of access to birth control, abortion is also banned, and divorce is still (still!) illegal.

There are members of my extended family who had gotten trapped in abusive marriages for all of those reasons above, and I can say from personal experience that unwinding each of those above practices would go so very far to improving the welfare of that country.
posted by bl1nk at 7:26 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Again, I know it's easy to point fingers
posted by benzenedream at 4:58 PM on May 20


Thankyou bl1nk. I hope your relatives can find relief somehow, I know how corrosive those marriages can be. I'm so tempted to massively derail into my feelings about the misogyny of the Catholic Church, but I'll restrict myself to... just saying that we need to believe and trust women to know what is best for whatever situation they find themselves in.
posted by harriet vane at 7:01 PM on May 20


It is all a writer can hope for, that their work will inspire such passionate discussion. And Miss Pulido will not be forgotten. For all the pain and trauma, it is not all bad that these two people came together while they lived.
posted by Scram at 10:32 AM on May 21


My understanding is that a majority of the Philippines is Catholic. If this is true, do you think it affects the contraceptive options available to women there? I grew up Catholic and was part of a multicultural parish. I met many Catholics who took the Church at its literal word on not using birth control, and many others who happily used birth control and believed that the official doctrine would be changed eventually. So I'm not sure if it would have any impact or not?

Yup. We could get into this, but "abortion is always wrong" would be even more of a disaster than this thread's attempts to work through "slavery is always wrong." But you've touched on many things that contributed, heavily, to this whole thing. The bit about Jane Austen is almost exactly what happened to several of my cousins.

Stepping back - your mention of Catholiscism, along with the notion that anything is always wrong, raise some interesting questions. At one time, Catholiscism worked. Traditional gender roles worked. Racism worked. Slavery worked. On balance better than the alternatives, for some but definitely not all. Conditions didn't change that quickly, and different cultural contexts didn't mingle that much, so there really wasn't a need to re-evaluate and modify working assumptions or things thought to be absolutely true.

It's trite to observe that things have changed, or that the rate of change seems to be accelrating. However, I rarely hear anybody talk about what to do about that accelerating rate of change. Usually it just turns into incoherent screaming from opposing entrenched belief holders. Or hand-wavy arguments that we should either catch everyone up to the same place (How? Is that what they would even want?) or stop/avoid whatever is coming. We exist in a world today where subsets of the population are not only interacting with each other over vast geographical distances, but temporal distances as well. I mean, some folks are literally living in a future that has yet to reach me, and others are living in circumstances that are years, or decades, or even centuries behind.

If anything, something like "cultural context is important" might not be expansive enough. It's almost as if we not only need to ask ourselves where are we, or where did they come from - but *when* are we? When are they (where "they" are the people we don't understand or are in a rush to judge according to our context)?

So - what to do about it. "Try and understand each other better" is so well-worn that it's practically meaningless, but I'm not sure what else there is. Phrased differently: I'd rather all of us not be the calcified uncles or aunts at Thanksgiving with the antiquated early 21st-century belief systems - but it seems like there's no escaping that. Like, my kid or grandchild is probably going to come at me with body horror CRISPR self-editing - but maybe that'll just be fashion to them, you know? Or maybe that stuff will be framed in terms that have yet to be even really defined.

Anyway, this particular story spans half the globe and 70+ years. Every opinion expressed in this thread is probably "right" somewhere in there. I think the hard part is figuring which ones really matter, and to whom. I kinda think it ultimately boils down to Tizon and Lola Eudocia (<- see what I did there), and that was ultimately probably unknowable even when they were alive.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:48 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I don't think that this story is simple enough to have a single, simple conversation about. Like Solzhenitsyn (another complicated person) said, you can't draw a line between good people and evil people; the line between good and evil goes through each of our hearts. I think it's possible to be simultaneously horrified by what his parents did and by what he failed to do, heartened by a few of the things he eventually did, and recognize that most of us wouldn't have done much better given the same history no matter how highly we like to think of ourselves.

But I don't care about him, I care about her. For an essay ostensibly about Ms. Pudilo I think Tizon's article (and much of this thread) focuses too much on the complicated abusers and the culture that created them and not enough on the victim and what she went through. This tends to happen t when the victim of something horrible is a woman. A reporter goes to the town of a high school gang rape and interviews the football team; or the neighbors of the man who held his daughter in his basement for 20 years; or the police force of a town where an officer was convicted of exploiting sex workers. These all sound familiar, right? In every story there is a culture that promotes silence in the face of injustice and standing up to that culture is always very, very hard.

To me, these stories fail because they answer the wrong question: why? I think we all know enough about the patriarchy we don't need to need to ask. The question I'm interested in is "What about the victim?" If there is a second question, it would be "How can we prevent there from being more victims?" And I think it's worth noting that You Can't Tip a Buick and several others asked this well up thread but it mostly got lost in the discussion of blame and cultural context.

This piece is beautifully written and I'm much more sympathetic to it than I was to the New Yorker's profile on Darren Wilson. But both pieces share the sin of looking away from the murdered black teenager in the street or the woman forced to sleep in a closet on laundry. If I was Tizon's editor I would have encouraged him to start over and start with Ms. Pudilo. I would ask him to go her home village and learn about where she came from, who missed her what led her to this life. That story would have fully accomplished what he was trying to do, I think, better than the touching but flawed piece we have.

Finally, I think this article from Slate "What the Conversation Around Alex Tizon’s Atlantic Essay Is Missing" is the best response that I've read on the article because it brings in the discussion of culture while pointing out flaws inTizon's essay, and unequivocally condemning slavery and human trafficking ( which I didn't think was that hard an ask.)
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 7:45 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


To me, these stories fail because they answer the wrong question: why? I think we all know enough about the patriarchy we don't need to need to ask. The question I'm interested in is "What about the victim?"

That story doesn't exist at least in part because Pulido didn't want it to exist - that much is clear from the essay, and the author's attempts to pull more information out of Pulido sound rather awkward at best and demeaning at worst. And we can speculate as to the reasons why, and if Pulido would have been willing to tell it to people who weren't related to the Tizons but somehow knew of her plight, or what - but there has to be some level of respect for the victim's wishes, also. Retelling the story of trauma can be traumatic on its own. The choice people are demanding is a false one - it's not between telling Alex's story and telling Eudocia's story, it's between telling Alex's story and no story at all.

As to why there aren't more stories from slaves, or child stories, or from victims - there was a twitter thread that was linked to above about this, but a lot of it has to do with the narratives that are privileged, and those are the ones that have some sort of outsider point of view, because publishers and editors and the general public have decided that the abused need interpretation, and readers like to imagine that they can, as an individual, jump in and solve the problem - even on a micro scale. Changing this means changing the publishing industry. Again, the answer requires a larger cultural context, and a much larger systemic failure.

I don't know, I feel like a lot of this thread have been people talking past each other in order to prove points that most of us already agree upon, but are phrasing in different ways. The last few comments have been about what can be done about it, just more on an unsatisfying systemic level, as opposed to what a specific person can do about it, because the best thing we can do is work together and help the culture change (and of course, the first step in that is to actually listen to the people who know most about the cultural context), instead of jumping in and being somebody else's first-world savior.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:41 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Pretty interesting article here, from a Black person: When I, a Black person, was told I didn’t know enough about another culture to have opinions on slavery.
"The ongoing consumption of Black labor and the systematic way Black life is made not to matter is an international thread that has held civil societies together since the first ship left Africa’s shores with our ancestors in chains.

"Black people have a place in every modern story, because every story since the establishment of the Atlantic Slave Trade is made legible through the anti-Black systems that grew from it. "
posted by adrienneleigh at 1:29 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


I think the two most important things that should be kept in mind are:
  • Oppressive cultures, their institutions, and members of the oppressor class always center the discussion on their experience, the "complexity" of the context, attempt to speak for the oppressed class ("they're happy", "some of my best friends..."), and react to any criticism with extreme defensivenes.
  • The Philippines has suffered from colonialism, including the introduction of European-style chattel slavery (though prohibited by Spanish royal decree, it nevertheless continued), for most of its history and, most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, has been a subject of intense American colonialist imperialism, including long stretches of military occupation and war, throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This truth cannot be elided or ignored when non-Fililpino-Americans presume to lecture Filipinos about this aspect of their culture. We are, first of all, directly historically complicit, and, second of all, everything I wrote in the previous point applies to the relationship between the Phillipines and Filipino culture and American culture. We should be cognizant of how easy it is to judge others but fail to look at ourselves, and at our defensiveness when Filipinos rightly ask us how we dare to be so sanctimonious.
This is not zero-sum; one perspective doesn't have to be blameless for the other to be culpable. Privilege and institutions of oppression work by making themselves invisible to the privileged. None of us are blameless; each of us should look to ourselves and ask ourselves hard questions.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:05 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]




holy shit, thanks, dinty_moore. This part in particular is adding to my feeling that most of Alex's essay really is just self-serving sentimental garbage.
Alex had written in The Atlantic that when they took Cosiang into their care, they paid her $200 a week. Emilia and Ebia also revealed that Cosiang had worked in a canning factory, although they are unsure of the timeline.

All these don't add up for Ebia. Had Cosiang earned that much, on top of social pension, why did her aunt say she still needed to earn more to go home?

This is a conflict in the story. Alex claims Cosiang had sent all of her money home to Mayantoc, but her relatives here swear she sent only a few on a couple of occasions.

Ebia also said that when her aunt had shared her plan to renovate the sari-sari store, she asked her aunt to send money ahead so she could start. Cosiang instead said she would just take the money with her in December 2011.

But no point asking where the money is now, said Ebia.

"Patay na si Alex, sino pa ang makakapagsabi kung meron (Alex is gone, who else would be able to say if there was really money)," she said.
There's a way of reading that and saying that perhaps Eudocia/Cosiang/Lola was exaggerating the amount of money that she was actually making to make her family at home think that she was better off than she was and to hide her shame. But that feels like an egregiously generous reading now, and that's also on top of the Tizons' lack of communication over the past five years, and the fact that he completely left out her plans to resettle in the Philippines permanently a month before she died.
posted by bl1nk at 8:17 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


Sending home baking tools one by one - three muffin sheets, a measuring cup, a pot - because she still had a dream of her own... heartbreaking.

Thanks, dinty_moore.
posted by clawsoon at 8:43 AM on May 25


Code Switch has an episode about this story and they talk to Alex's widow, Melissa Tizon, as well as others who I think add a lot more to the conversation:
This week, we join the global conversation on The Atlantic's essay "My Family's Slave," in which Alex Tizon writes about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, who was his family's katulong, or domestic servant, for 56 years. Why did Eudocia's story hit such a raw nerve in the U.S. and the Philippines? Shereen and Gene talk to Vicente Rafael, a professor who has studied and written about the practice in his native Philippines. We also hear from Lydia Catina Amaya, a Filipina who was a katulong in the Philippines and the United States. And we talk to Melissa Tizon, the author's widow. Eudocia Tomas Pulido lived in their home for the last 12 years of her life.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:44 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


I have kind of been struggling with a lot of complicated feels, between here and the women's mental labor thread. Why am I so angry about this? I think it basically boils down to: Alex Tizon's actions seem, to me, neither better or worse than most men who are socialized in sexist societies treat the women who are part of their families. Because Pulido was a member of his family, initially distant, later close. And she did work her fingers to the bone for free. But so too do women in these cultures, especially in mine, who don't have servant-cousins, and not only do they never get paid, no one even suggests they should get paid. My mother didn't have her own money for most of my life until she divorced my father, except for money she earned while he was gone and I was at school and never really told him about. One of my grandmothers, like Pulido, never entered a room while others were eating unless to bring them more food. I don't know when or if she ate what the family did, because she never sat at the table so I never saw it.

And so it feels incredibly wrong and angering that only if you frame this as outside-the-family labor - a description that doesn't even really fit this situation - do people, particularly white Americans, care about it. Only then do they care about how incredibly unfair it is for a woman to do all this service and gain only her room and board and the ability to love others.

And so these arguments for Pulido to get retroactive pay exist at the same time as people are making the arguments that equality means wives should get less alimony when they get divorced, because after all alimony is only to cover the gap until you can participate in employment, not restitution for the years of domestic labor you gave to a marriage you were willing to do because you thought it was permanent and you were getting something in the end. When wives get left or abandoned, no one thinks they are owed minimum wage for the years they were married.

And so it bothers me that people can care about what is genuinely terrible treatment only if they can apply it to their own lives - if they can compare it to their rights as a worker, not as their inherent sympathy and humanity for overworked, undervalued women.
posted by corb at 11:40 AM on May 25 [13 favorites]


There's a way of reading that and saying that perhaps Eudocia/Cosiang/Lola was exaggerating the amount of money that she was actually making to make her family at home think that she was better off than she was and to hide her shame. But that feels like an egregiously generous reading now, and that's also on top of the Tizons' lack of communication over the past five years, and the fact that he completely left out her plans to resettle in the Philippines permanently a month before she died.,

So heroic.
posted by kafziel at 2:18 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


So all these people were asking for additional information and perspectives. A week on, those perspectives are out there (for example: these comments from Tizon's widow).

Tellingly, those seem people don't seem to have much to say. Are Eudocia's relatives reliable narrators? Is Melissa Tizon? Both their accounts paint a picture of a woman who could have returned to her home, if she wanted. And yet, chose not to. Repeatedly.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:09 PM on May 28


NoRelationToLea: Tellingly, those seem people don't seem to have much to say.

Since you provided the bait: :-) I was one of the people asking for more perspectives. You might be right about the relatives being unreliable narrators, but I still found their version of the story heartbreaking. That doesn't make me any less of a hypocrite for hiding behind my privilege and market power so that I don't have to face the outcome of my actions - I buy my food at the supermarket, like a lot of people do, without asking too many questions about where it comes from, for example - but the fact that the critics are hypocrites doesn't make what they're criticizing less bad.

I know how tempting it is to use that defense - hey, I'm a white male, and I know a lot about the urge to "understand" and "explain" the indefensible actions of privileged people who resemble me, and to look for hypocrisy in those making the accusations - but it's an empty defense. The plight of the women that corb, libraritarian and others talk about doesn't make Lola's life less bad; it makes clear that the problem is much bigger than one isolated woman in one unique family. (And the Atlantic story didn't do that at all, so I can understand the frustration.)

One thing that was confirmed in the relative's story was the abusiveness of Tizon's mother. And the insult of bringing Lola's ashes home in a cheap plastic container.
posted by clawsoon at 8:10 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


One thing that was confirmed in the relative's story was the abusiveness of Tizon's mother. And the insult of bringing Lola's ashes home in a cheap plastic container.

True. But there are also parts from the relatives' accounts that remain curiously uncommented upon. For example (from the story linked above):

-Ebia, who was only 12, was recruited by her aunt Cosiang to help take care of the Tizon kids.

-After Ebia left of her own accord, it was her sister, Emilia's mother, 70-year-old Avelina (aka Belen) who followed Cosiang to work for the Tizon family in Manila.

-...according to Emilia (Belen's daughter), her mother had told her that when the Tizon family was set to fly to America, Cosiang's parents rented a jeepney to Manila to fetch Belen to bring her back to Mayantoc. Alex had written that his father's sponsor to the US had allowed the family to bring one domestic.

Based on stories in the neighborhood, Cosiang's father had not allowed her to go but the young Cosiang was persistent because "gusto niyang makaapak sa America (she wanted to set foot in America)."

-Looking back now, Ebia and Belen could have been Cosiang. But they left, and she didn't. We asked Ebia why she thinks Cosiang stuck it out that long...Ebia said...She was very patient because she treated Alex's mother like her own daughter.

None of these details touch on what you're describing as your own first world hypocrisy. They all go back to the nature of the relationship between these two families and the choices people made for themselves. I agree those choices are symptomatic of a much bigger set of problems that others have already touched on - but that doesn't change the relevant details from her family's account. Which is: she not only continued to choose to stay, she recruited multiple sisters to come work for the Tizons, and ultimately defied her own father (no small thing, given the time - yes there's lots of stuff there) to travel with the Tizons to the US.

FWIW, I'm not particularly interesting in treating either the relatives' or the writer's widow's accounts to the same level of scrutiny or good or bad faith reading we treated the original piece. I do, however, think there's something around Eudocia/Cosiang's own choices across all these pieces that people would really rather not think about given the narrative they'd prefer to have in their heads, which also go some way towards explaining why she chose not to go back to the Philippines given multiple opportunities.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:58 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about some of this - the Pulido relatives say Eudocia/Cosiang believed she would die if she got married, but also that she loved Tizon's mother like a daughter...it may be that because of her belief of what marriage would bring, Tizon's mother was the closest thing she thought she could ever get to a daughter.

I've been thinking a lot about the things that come with marriage as well...so many women in these cultures trap themselves to a man because it's the only way they will have children. The ties of love are in many ways stronger than force.

But to imagine Eudocia/Cosiang with the only "child" she would ever have treating her like a particularly disliked servant... it's also horrible, Tizon's mother exhibiting the behavior of a spoilt child who didn't have anyone to tell her otherwise.
posted by corb at 11:11 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


NoRelationToLea: I do, however, think there's something around Eudocia/Cosiang's own choices across all these pieces that people would really rather not think about given the narrative they'd prefer to have in their heads, which also go some way towards explaining why she chose not to go back to the Philippines given multiple opportunities.

That's a fair point. Weren't her explanations for not going back money and then health care? There are lots of stories which have been posted in the thread of domestic workers who are desperate to go back to their families but who keep working overseas decade after decade because of the relentless pressure of money. Is Tizon a reliable narrator about how much he paid her? Would the business she hoped to open have been able to support her if she had gone back? Had the young woman who defied her father and set out for America been so boxed in by fear for so many decades afterwards that she couldn't take the step back that she wanted to take? Or was America home now, and Tizon her closest, most meaningful family?

I dunno. I'm not sure we'd know even if someone had asked her. I got the impression - and I may be wrong - that she had the protective reflex of many abused people (and many people in general, especially if it's standard cultural practise) of saying what she thought her listener wanted to hear and keeping quiet about things she thought might upset or disappoint them.

I keep thinking about my own mother, and all that she poured into my daughter during the last years of her life. She wanted to - there was so much love there, so much pride and joy that bubbled over - but I let her do more than she should have because it was easier for me. There was stress, you know, and money, and work, and all the excuses that Tizon gave for having Eudocia/Cosiang/Lola take care of his mother instead of doing it himself. Easier not to think about at the time.

And my mother used it as an excuse, too - maybe in the way that you're thinking Eudocia/Cosiang/Lola spoke to her relatives in the Philippines about returning - for not going back to my father, a reason she could give that wouldn't force her to say that she didn't want to go back.
posted by clawsoon at 1:33 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


I don't think there's any reason to doubt the amount of money that Tizon gave Eudocia/Cosiang. But I think there is reason to ask: how far did that money get her? Did she feel like she was able to spend it all on herself? Did she have the financial literacy to ensure she wasn't taken advantage of?

In the relatives' story, we see for example that (unbeknownst to Tizon) she would call home, talk to her relatives. One of the things I'm super familiar with is those damnable "calling cards" you have to use to call internationally. You always see them in small grocery stores where the language spoken is not English, and they're always super exploitive. I've seen 20$ for 30 minutes, for example. It's hugely unlikely the family in the Philippines would have paid, and since Tizon didn't even know she was doing it - see his lack of awareness that anyone would have cared about her death - it's unlikely she would have used the family phone.

So it's not inconceivable that plus sending packages to the Philippines took up a lot of her money, and she didn't have a lot to send back. It's also possible that she did save up money but didn't know what to do with it, or put it in weird banks. One of my relatives, for example, has her money split in ten banks across the city, because she distrusted them. How would Tizon know where it was? Did he even look? Or did he assume because there was no one to mourn, there was no one to inherit?
posted by corb at 8:56 AM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Once you throw away someone else's rights, how do you justify your own?
I asked that question (holy hell!) fourteen years ago, but I never did get a answer. Maybe that's why this thread is mostly an exercise in frustration for me. I'm African American, with a family legacy that, like many African Americans, gets suspiciously sketchy when you try to go past the late nineteenth century, but apparently I'm not qualified to point out that slavery has been outlawed in the United States because that's... oppressor talk? I am just not feeling the "cultural relativism" angle here.

And I read dozens of the links you all offered up! For example, the Vicente Rafael article asserts that it wasn't chattel slavery, but a sort of "debt obligation" specific to Filipin@ culture. He speculates that this was the sort of "domestic service" that she agreed to enter, incurring a "debt whose costs are steep." Three sentences later he points out that this presumed agreement "of course, did not happen." Basically, it reads to me like "your blues peculiar institution ain't like mine," which, as other African American posters throughout this thread have pointed out, makes for a REALLY unconvincing argument for people with generations of experience with the legacy of slavery. Uh, and a couple of the testimonials from people who went through the "enslaved" end of the deal turned victim-blamey in a way that I am not willing to sign off on.

I apologize for the lateness of this post. I've been mulling over this topic on and off for the past month, and I still haven't completely disentangled my feelings about the subject well enough to respond as I'd like. (The Atlantic built up a whole raft of articles around it in the ensuing weeks, too.) There's a lingering issue or two that I'm still wondering about, though:

As others in this thread have noted, it seems like many posters here defending the situation are writing from the perspective of the enslavers, not the enslaved-- like the "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" quote. Booker T. Washington, a man who was actually born into slavery, said that "You can't hold a man down without staying down with him." Would you all agree with that statement? I've been taking it as a given, but I'm not sure everyone else in here is. Hard experience has taught African Americans how important it is to advocate for natural rights. We already know what happens when someone pegs your value to cash or brute force, and the terrible effects that such a belief has on everyone involved. Abraham Lincoln could mouth the words "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master," but African Americans live with the history and legacy of slavery in ways that it seems like lots of other people don't often contemplate.

(My eyes are the "wrong color" for a black person, for instance, but it's not super-obvious, so once every few years or so I'll be in mid-conversation with someone I've known long-term and they'll stop and do a little double-take and then I have to make a quick decision about how tactfully I will guide them away from the verbal minefield that they ALWAYS insist on stomping into-- "Well, apparently white people raped their way into my family from both sides, since both of my parents have brown eyes and I can trace my family tree back to the end of slavery." [*awkward silence*] When a comment makes a cleaner-than-reality distinction between "descendents [sic] of white slavery" and the rest of us, it drags us in the direction of that minefield yet again, you know!)

And now I'm drifting, because this whole topic is very sensitive and very fraught! The defenses of slavery in this thread really do sound very much like the American "mammy trope! Did you know that Frederick Douglass recounts in his autobiography that the most wretched enslaved women he'd ever seen were maidservants in the city of Baltimore, who had to fight pigs in the streets for scraps of food? You do realize that the standard mode of slavery was much more commonly individuals or small groups of enslaved people than the common ""plantation" image that most people take as the norm? If Rodrigo Duterte is no great respecter of human rights, and Donald Trump seems okay with repeating some of the worst decisions of U.S. history, why would you even be trying to argue against the idea that all people are created equal?!?

I... just don't get it. And now I'm out of time! Metafilter just doesn't do slavery well.
posted by tyro urge at 4:47 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


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