In the month of June, Pulitzer-prize winning writer Alex Tizon wrote the heart-wrenching story about the life of servitude and abuse Eudocia Pulido—called Lola in the article—faced appropriately titled "My Family's Slave."
It has gained plenty of mixed reviews since its release; there are people calling Tizon a hero for writing the piece whilst there are others calling him a villain, who abused and took advantage of Lola's situation just as much as the rest of his family did. At this point, the only aspect of the story that everyone agrees on is that Lola was a slave. She worked day and night with no pay, was trapped in a place that she was unhappy with, and was abused both physically and verbally, and there is no denying that she did not live the best life.
Since the release of this article, it has caught the eye of many Westerners. Many of them have criticized Tizon for not doing more for Lola.
They are mad at him for not calling her by her first name (which is something we Filipinos never do with our elders, as that is seen as disrespectful.) Many Westerners have also compared it constantly to the slavery of black people (which is obviously extremely different from the situation that Lola was in.) Filipinos have grown increasingly annoyed with the reactions the Westerners have given, and with the way that they have once again made the story all about them. They have described the entire situation as Americans taking a story and "westsplaining" it to appease to their views.
They don't take into consideration the way we Filipinos think, nor do they think of the values we share in our community. Lola was not only bound to the Tizon family because of the fact that she was not an American citizen, she was also bound to them because of her love for them, and because of shame.
With the only other adult in the household being Alex's mother, she knew that woman wouldn't be able to juggle working all the time with taking care of her kids and maintaining the house. At least with Lola, she didn't have to worry about the additional expense of giving her a salary. She can easily just tell Lola that she has given her food, clothes, shelter, and a life away from the province. What more could she want, right?
So as I write this, I ask myself: Are we any better than them, than the Tizon family, or the people defending the Tizon family's actions?
Filipinos are so heavy on the idea of "utang na loob" and of paying back what you owe. Every child is taught to grow up not owing anyone anything. Lola was a young girl who came from the province and was convinced that staying in the province would leave her stuck in a life of sickness and poverty, and that moving to the city to take care of someone else's family would be better than that.
A lot of us have normalized this idea of taking advantage of people in poverty to serve those that are not as unfortunate as them. We hire people that have no other place to go to cook and clean and do our laundry and take care of our children when we simply don't have the time to do so ourselves, and what do we do in return? We pay them less than they deserve and give them the smallest room in the house to sleep in. We feed them after we have eaten. We keep them around to do whatever we need them to do, whenever we need it. It definitely isn't as heavy as what the Tizon family did to Lola, and this obviously doesn't describe how every Filipino family treats their house help, but it's scary how that applies to a lot of us.
I am in no way condoning the way the Tizon family treated Lola. She was a young girl with nowhere to go and, in her mind, her best option to live a happy life was to leave everything and everyone she knew behind.
The Philippines is a third-world country and plenty of the population is affected by poverty, that's really just the sad reality of our situation. The Tizon family is also a victim of poverty in the sense that, even though they were able to graduate, the education they received wasn't enough for a good life abroad. They were struggling, too. Regardless of this, they greatly took advantage of Lola and of her situation. They made her feel less than what she truly was, and that is no way for anyone to live their life.
Let Lola's story be a lesson for all of us to treat everyone as our equal. Let her story guide us in giving our house help the proper love and care that they deserve. Let them be given the food, shelter, and payment that they deserve. Let them live life without regretting it.
Have thoughts on the story? Let's discuss in the comments below.