Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Late Filipino/American author's deep, dark secret revealed.


LATE AUTHOR Alex Tizon revealed a family secret that he, his parents and his siblings kept hidden for over 50 years: His family had a slave.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tizon;s article , "My Family's Slave," was published posthumously in the June issue of The Atlantic, three months after he died.

In a country where extreme poverty presents little or zero options, it is not uncommon for a poor Filipino to become a household servant in exchange for meals and roof over their heads. Sometimes, a small salary comes along with the job; sometimes, not.

It is a practice rooted deep in Philippine culture that existed in the pre-Spanish colonial period. The Spanish, who dealt in the slave trade, institutionalized the practice. In time, these "servants" can become like members of the family, or, as in Tizon's case, treated like a household slave.
Alex Tizon
Tizon's heartbreaking story tells what happens when his family moved to the U.S. and brought their unpaid servant, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, with them. In Tizon's childhood, it was   her face he'd see first when he awoke and the last one he saw when he went to sleep.

As Tizon got older and learned the meaning of "slave." He realized the circumstances that brought "Lola" into his household, his conflicting feelings eventually led to estrangement with his parents over how they treated her. It might be difficult for non-Filipinos to understand how the family could keep their secret for so long.

I've known women like Tizon's "Lola" and understand how he, a beneficiary of a U.S. education and upbringing, still had to struggle to keep the secret from the rest of the world. "Slave" might be too harsh a word to describe the condition they live in and the economic and social mores that created this class of people. At the same time, "servant" is not an adequate word for that person.

Sometimes, once in the U.S. and exposed to American culture with its broad number of choices, these people manage to escape their host families and disappear in the nether world of what Filipinos call tago nang tago, TNT in Filipino shorthand, meaning "hiding and hiding." In contemporary American parlance, they become "undocumented immigrants."

In the end, Tizon brought Lola into his family as a true family member, as a lola (grandmother) with the respect, love and care that comes with that honorific title.

It's a moving piece, it demonstrates that with Tizon's death, the AAPI community -- indeed, all of America -- lost a voice that could touch even the most hardened heart.
READ Alex Tizon's articles in The Atlantic:

In a note accompanying the article Atlantic editor-in-chief by Jeffrey Goldberg writes:
The pulitzer prize–winning reporter Alex Tizon built an exemplary career by listening to certain types of people—forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories. Alex’s wife, Melissa Tizon, told me recently that her husband was always impatient with small talk, because he believed that all people had within them an epic story, and he wanted to hear those epic stories—and then help tell them to the world. “Somewhere in the tangle of the subject’s burden and the subject’s desire is your story,” he liked to say. 
... Alex offered us the chance to publish a story he had been waiting much of his life to tell, the remarkable tale of Lola, the woman who was his family’s secret slave in the Philippines, and who remained their slave when they moved to America.
Tizon's wife "Melissa told (Atlantic editor) Denise (Kersten Wills) and me that Alex wanted, more than anything else, to bring Lola's story to the world," Goldberg writes. "'This was his ultimate story,' Melissa said. 'He was trying to write it for five or six years. He struggled with it. But when he started writing it for The Atlantic, he stopped struggling. He wrote it with such ease.'"

"The eradication of all forms of slavery remains an unfinished goal of civilization, and of this magazine, and stories like Alex's help us understand slavery's awful persistence," writes Goldberg.

Tizon's article has created a bit of a firestorm on Twitter since the article was published online.

Filipinos in the Philippines and in the United States, however, had a very different point of view.

That just goes to show the different perspectives created by different cultures. That goes a long ways in explaining why Filipinos in the Philippines can so overwhelmingly support Rodrigo Duterte as their president, who is routinely criticized in the western press for the thousands of extra-judicial killings of alleged drug dealers.

We in the west, looking across the Pacific from our comfortable couches, reading our tablets and drinking wine, can't understand how terrible things can get; how dire, abject poverty and socio-cultural inequality can bring about an environment in which people accept the loss of due process rights, cheer the extra-judicial killings, bring a foul-mouthed, anti-American president to power and think nothing of taking advantage of the poor's hopeless plight. 

I'm not condoning what happened in Tizon's family or what's happening in the Philippines politically, but sometimes, before we start pointing fingers, we do need to walk in someone
else's shoes. We should also realize how easy it is to justify something you know is ultimately not right. 

In reading Tizon's article, one can almost feel the tension in his writing and how he must have struggled with this throughout his own life. At the very least, we should look at our own lives and how many times we turned away from a beggar, ignored the homeless sleeping in doorways or turn a deaf ear to the verbal slights against people of a different color; or turn a blind eye when we see an injustice being done because of  at an accent, a turban or the shape of the target's eyes.

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