I read an incredibly heart-wrenching story in the Atlantic yesterday about the life of a modern-day slave, Eudocia Tomas Pulido. The front-page article was written by, of all people, the son of the family who “owned” her, Alex Tizon. (I have included the link to the article here.) Eudocia or Lola, as she was called (Lola means “grandmother” in Filipino), was a Filipina who worked unpaid as a domestic helper and nanny for a family of seven in the USA, living with them for 56 years. She endured constant physical and emotional abuse, was expected to work nearly nonstop, and was treated less humanely than a neglected pet dog. It was difficult not to cry when reading her story, especially during passages such as this:
He summed up Lola’s reality: Wasn’t paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters. (Her designated place to sleep in each house we lived in was always whatever was left—a couch or storage area or corner in my sisters’ bedroom. She often slept among piles of laundry.)(Alex Tizon, link)
It is clear that the author carried a heavy burden of shame and guilt in his heart for being complicit in this evil. After his mother’s death, Tizon housed Lola and treated her as a member of his family, which indeed she was, to her final years. This article struck me as his attempt to make amends for what they had done to Lola. He subsequently died of natural causes in March of this year.
Lola’s story has ignited a furor, and rightly so, at the cruelty of the family who oppressed her and at modern slavery as a whole. It is deeply enraging that this kind of thing still happens in this day and age—that slavery is still occurring in places all over the world. And it seems the problem will continue as long as the terrible conditions of inequality, poverty and complacency that sustain it remain.
a giant gaping vacuum
What is also deeply enraging is the amount of racist and xenophobic rhetoric the article has fueled and continues to fuel. It feels like people are thrashing about in their anger, searching for a clear and easily identifiable target: the whole Asian race, or non-western cultures, or all Filipinos, and so on. “Let’s ban them all,” and “they’ll never understand our ways” and the like. It is something akin to the aftermath of a terrorist attack where people are yearning for an easy target and quick to label a whole race, religion or country as being “against us”. This is a modern-day phenomenon that feeds populist parties, it also very clearly and starkly shows a giant gaping vacuum in ways of thinking when confronted with culture clashes and complex modern problems. A vacuum that nationalists are quick to fill-in with their rhetoric. But it’s time that we stop falling for these same old reactionary traps that our ancestors used to justify their wrong-doings. It’s time we look for new ways of thinking and new solutions to these problems. Yesterday, for the first time, I decided to write a public comment at end of the article, here is my published response in full:
this would not make you better than her oppressors
Although I never write in comments sections, this story has moved me to share my thoughts, especially as I read the angry comments being posted with broad generalizations about “Asians or certain cultures not having the same values as the west” or that “letting in more immigrants from these countries will lead to a moral decay” and the like. To the people who wrote such comments or are tempted to write them: You are angered by Lola’s story, this proves that you are a compassionate human being, your heart is in the right place. But please, before you dehumanize an entire race or country and culture, please consider the fact that this would not make you better than her oppressors, they too had their reasoning for treating Lola as inferior to them. They dehumanized someone who lived with them — and you would be doing the same thing to an entire group by calling all Filipinos or Asians or certain cultures inferior. No one should be judged as an inferior based on a generalization or assumption. You can be against slavery, against abuse, against oppression without having to attach a certain race or a culture to the bad deed. Why don’t we all defend the ideals of freedom, kindness, democracy and equality without making them the exclusive ownership of any “superior” race, culture or nation? Let’s treat everyone with respect, protect the vulnerable and not continue the vicious cycle of hate. Let’s keep Lola’s memory alive.
Why don’t we all defend the ideals of freedom, kindness, democracy and equality without making them the exclusive ownership of any “superior” race, culture or nation?
It is difficult not to shed tears reading Lola’s story, my heart aches for her and for others like her who suffer in silence. What makes this story even more poignant and so important is the beauty of Lola’s soul: She was a kind and loving person despite the crudeness of those around her—despite the absolute repulsiveness of her enslavement and dehumanization. She did not reciprocate the hate and abuse she constantly received, even when she had every reason to and could easily have done so with the children or when Mr. Tizon’s mother was sick. Lola is an example to humanity.
This post is dedicated to Lola and to the people, who like her, suffer in silence. You are of value. No one has the right to assign you your worth.
Let’s stop assigning people their worth and their roles based on assumption. Let’s end that cruel and deadly dance of superiority and inferiority here and now.
Let’s end that cruel and deadly dance of superiority and inferiority here and now.
Text and photos (taken of Plaza de Espana, Torre de Madrid) by M.P. Baecker