Open Thread – Life purchased at the price of chains

Via wrenchwench at Little Green Footballs, this particularly fine article by Alex Tizon is probably one that should be read in private if you don’t want to be reduced to a blubbering mess at work like me.

The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.

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.

54 replies
  1. 1
    Raphael Kearns says:

    Fortunately, I read this in my bedroom. Lots of tissues are required!

  2. 2
    efgoldman says:

    Jeebus F Christ

  3. 3
    bluehill says:

    Gutted. Shows the badness and goodness in people. It’s a struggle that will never end.

  4. 4
    rikyrah says:

    lamh pointed it out this morning. Very powerful 😥😥😥

  5. 5
    oldster says:

    Yeah, absolutely worth the time it takes to read it.

    I know it’s all about immigrant Filipinos, but it’s also exactly the role for women that the white Christianist Republicans want to apply to women all over the world. Shut up, be powerless, raise the kids, get back in the kitchen. Unless you’re a special woman like Phyllis Schlafly or Maggie Thatcher, and then you can be a slave-owner, too.

  6. 6
    Seth Owen says:

    Extremely moving story. Best read alone with box of tissues.

  7. 7
    lamh36 says:

    I tweeted bout this today…the story is …wow…just wow..

  8. 8
    MoxieM says:

    Yes, bone-shakingly sad, but for me not surprising. Ex-H grew up in Jakarta, and, many commonalities across SE Asian Island cultures in hierarchies of poverty and maltreatment. His family was expat, so no slaves, but the “servant” sitch always made me deeply uncomfortable. When I raised this, my former MIL (raised dirt poor on the LES, where her family fled from Russian pogroms) said, “well, our servants have servants,” with a shrug. There’s an echo of that in this essay. Exploitation at a level we just don’t much stare in the face, knowingly, in the USA, these days. Although it surely does happen. Love and hate is almost easier to understand than love and exploitation, like this.

  9. 9
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    that piece has a terrible beauty

  10. 10
    guachi says:

    The kind of long-form writing that makes magazines like The Atlantic worth subscribing to and keeping around.

    It’s a great story that’s well-written and surprisingly easy to relate to. Thanks for sharing.

  11. 11
    Ruviana says:

    And Alex Tizon died of natural causes I think earlier this year right about the time Atlantic decided to publish this story. He was 57.

  12. 12


    Unless you’re a special woman like Phyllis Schlafly or Maggie Thatcher, and then you can be a slave-owner, too.

    Which shows why they’re so afraid of homosexuality and especially gay marriage. Their ideas about marriage are built around sexual inequality: men are supposed to dominate and women be dominated. It’s impossible to adapt that vision of marriage to same sex couples because there’s no rule for who is owns whom. If you can have a marriage where the two partners are inherently equal because they’re the same sex, it says you can have an equal marriage where the partners are opposite sexes. That’s why they think marriage equality threatens “traditional” marriage.

  13. 13
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Roger Moore: You know that’s an angle I hadn’t thought of, really. There does seem to be this need to establish a clear hierarchy; and possibly why they are willing to accept homosexual men who are clear subordinates, because they can slot them into the same space that women are supposed to occupy. Normal or Dominant (especially female) homosexuals drive them absolutely crazy, seemingly more than usual.

  14. 14
    Central Planning says:

    Since it’s an open thread – I just got back from voting on the school budget. This year the budget is a 7% increase, and if passed, property owners would lose their NYS STAR tax rebate which would make my school taxes go up about 20%.

    I overheard one of the election people saying that the school budget normally gets around 2000 voters, and when I was there they had over 5000 voters.

    I think I voted for the Ds; none of the candidates listed which party they were. I did find one guy who I believe was an R, so I made sure I didn’t vote for him (as well as my wife). Not sure what two oldest kids did.

    We’ll know results soon – polls close at 9pm.

  15. 15

    @Roger Moore: Fundies just hate the idea that some one somewhere is having more fun than they are. That’s behind most fundamentalist dogma.

  16. 16
    Jeffro says:

    Thanks for pointing us to this heart-wrenching article, Sarah.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as a film someday and I hope it reaches even more people that way.

  17. 17
    Aleta says:

    From the NYer, by Kate Daloz

    As a child, I knew only that my grandmother had died when my mom was still a baby. The one time I asked what had happened to her, a bolt of panic flashed across my mother’s face. “A household accident,” was all she said.

    I was twelve years old when she finally told me the truth. Some friends and I had got into a long after-school discussion about abortion, prompted by the gruesome posters that a protester had staked in front of the Planned Parenthood in our Vermont town. I had already begun reading my mother’s Ms. magazines cover to cover, but this was the first time I’d encountered a pro-life position. When I hopped into my mom’s car after school, I was buzzing with new ideas. I had almost finished repeating one friend’s pro-life argument when I saw the look on Mom’s face. That’s when she told me: the “household accident” that had killed her mother had, in fact, been a self-induced abortion.

    Her hands were tight on the steering wheel as she spoke. I realized later that it wasn’t the topic of abortion itself that made her so uneasy—she was a nurse and a Roe-era feminist who usually responded straightforwardly to even the most embarrassing health questions. Rather, her anguish arose from sharing a truth that she’d been brought up believing was too terrible to speak.

    Sitting beside her in the passenger seat, I struggled to absorb the meaning of what she’d told me. I had only just grasped what abortion was a few hours earlier, and was still trying on this new pro-life idea. “O.K.,” I said, “but what about the uncle or aunt I never had?” Mom whipped toward me, face taut with a rage and fear that I somehow understood had nothing to do with me. “What about the mother I never had?” she said.

  18. 18

    My CNN news alert app just said “ANALYSIS: Why the Trump administration may not survive the Comey memo.”

  19. 19
    Ruckus says:

    This is one reason it’s also so easy to call dumpf a bigot. In his mind the only people ahead of him in the food chain are those who are richer and will loan him money. His ego is the size of all outdoors and with no earthly reason to be larger than 1/100,000,000,000 as big.

  20. 20

    I’m looking at a story on Raw Story saying Trump plans to give a speech on Islam while he’s in Saudi Arabia. Supposedly it will include a reference to the Disney movie “Alladin.”

    Can this be real?

  21. 21
    BlueDWarrior says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: Given what has happened in just the last 2 weeks, it probably is.

  22. 22

    @Iowa Old Lady: @BlueDWarrior: sure, why not. Fuck it. We’ll do it live.

  23. 23
    lollipopguild says:

    There are times when words fail you and all you can do is cry. On another current topic- Gee I wonder what all the people in Israel who supported trump think of him now?

  24. 24
    Mnemosyne says:

    I don’t think I can handle it today, but I’ll need to read it, if only for research. In the novel I’m working on, the mother of the main character’s half brother was a slave. I’ve been curious about the potential push-pull within the family, especially since it was 1790s-ish Philadelphia where the children of slaves were born free because they were doing a gradual abolition, but there were still a fair number of people held in slavery.

  25. 25

    @Iowa Old Lady: For the love of God, Allah, Ishwar, Ceiling Cat, can’t anyone stop this train wreck in slow motion?

  26. 26
    dmsilev says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: I doubt it, simply because the concept of Trump writing a speech even one week ahead of time seems fishy to me.

  27. 27
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Iowa Old Lady:

    Supposedly it will include a reference to the Disney movie “Alladin.”

    Wait, what? Because believe it or not, that may impact my work life.

  28. 28
    Ceci n est pas mon nym says:

    @Central Planning: I voted this evening in our tiny PA borough and had the sense that turnout was unusually high as well. There were lines. There are never lines there. And for party-line primaries, in an odd-numbered year!

    Makes me feel cautiously good about 2018. At least about turnout.

  29. 29

    @Mnemosyne: All I can say is brace yourself.

  30. 30
    Ruckus says:


    “What about the mother I never had?”

    I can understand her bitterness.
    I had an aunt who passed away about 2 yrs after her 6 month old son died and she had had another child. That daughter never really knew her mom, she was less than a year old when mom passed. Dad did raise 3 kids great kids, who were a bit older when mom died, but I don’t think there was a lot he could do for the youngest girl. He wasn’t and couldn’t be her mom no matter how great he was.

  31. 31
    TenguPhule says:

    @Iowa Old Lady:

    I’m looking at a story on Raw Story saying Trump plans to give a speech on Islam while he’s in Saudi Arabia. Supposedly it will include a reference to the Disney movie “Alladin.”

    Can this be real?

    Seems Legit.

  32. 32
    TenguPhule says:

    @schrodingers_cat: No. This has been another edition of SATSQ.

  33. 33

    @Major Major Major Major: I’ve noticed that the “I” word is being mentioned more often. Granted, it’s by Dems, but these Dems are saying Republicans are starting to come around.

    Maybe his giving classified information to Russia will prove to have been the turning point. Perhaps Rs are starting to see (finally) that Trump is too unstable to defend, and they’ll be okay with throwing him over the side.

    I’m just worried that it’ll happen so fast that it’ll blow right past Pence without catching him in it — I’m sure he’s just as compromised as Trump is.

  34. 34
    Kryptik says:

    Sweet Christ.

    I need to share this with my parents. I wonder about their take, since the author of the piece was their contemporary in many ways, even if they’re Visayan, rather than Manilan.

  35. 35
    Felanius Kootea says:

    The story absolutely made me cry when I read it this morning.

  36. 36
    mai naem mobile says:

    Wow, what a story. Lots of kleenex.

  37. 37
    sherparick says:

    I read the story in theAtlantic before I saw the link. What makes especially poignant is that the author, Alex Tizon, passed away from a heart attack in his sleep just two months ago. This was both a confession and a love story.

  38. 38
    Batten Down the Hatches says:

    Read the whole thing in one go, thought it was an amazing and complicated and beautifully-written story.

    And then almost immediately ran into Someone On Twitter (jshahryar) talking about how the author was a piece of shit who whitewashed his mother, and his own slave-owning, and that the Atlantic was a piece of shit for running this story. Right about the time Someone On Twitter said that “slave-owners are monsters; every good thing they ever did is completely erased by their act of willfully taking away another another human’s freedom” I realized that this probably makes me a POS for thinking that maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that, and that it was time to get off the internet for a few minutes.

    I love being a liberal, but I hate the fact that no matter what I think or do, someone will be along in 10 minutes to tell me that I’m terrible. /venting

  39. 39
    Lizzy L says:

    Extraordinary story. A hard read. I read it a few hours ago, it’s haunting.

  40. 40
    West of the Cascades says:

    This gutted me – it took most of the afternoon to read it, couldn’t read it in one sitting, it was just too painful. I knew the author many years ago when we worked together in a fish cannery in Alaska (although we lost contact a long time ago), and had not realized Alex had passed away earlier this year. So sad to lose his voice and his insights. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and guilt and sadness he had to work through to write this piece.

  41. 41
    the Conster, la Citoyenne says:

    Another Hidden Figure. That movie is everything, because there are millions of stories out there to tell like this one.

    Lucy Parsons is another one.

  42. 42
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Raphael Kearns: Crying hard. Such a touching story.

  43. 43
    James K. Polk, Esq. says:

    This was on NPR this morning too:

    Warning: NPR story contains the enraging statement “People will hear that word slave and project a lot onto that. I mean, it’s such an inflammatory word.”

    I nearly threw up when I heard the host say this…

  44. 44
    Sab says:

    This article was beyond disturbing. I am sure there are many upperclass southern families that would read it it with major emotional/moral twinges/shocks. Lots of them online. Curious to see the comments.

  45. 45
    ruemara says:

    @Batten Down the Hatches: I find holding someone in bondage terrible. I find failing to provide medical care terrible. I find lying about pay, not providing even a decent bed, using them as an outlet for anger and frustration and denying them the chance to say goodbye to their parents, terrible. People thinking the parents are sacks of shit, not terrible. No matter the communal bonds between his mother and their slave, this was a horrible thing. It is complicated, all actors in this play are human, but make no mistake, this was monstrous.

  46. 46
    Mnemosyne says:


    It was monstrous. And you’re the kid who grew up in this family that was based on a monstrous crime, and you realize when you’re an adult that your parents made you complicit in their crime, so now how do you deal with the retrospective shame and guilt of having been raised by your parents’ slave? To just say, as the person Batten was paraphrasing did, everyone in that family is evil and the author discussing the complexity of his feelings about it automatically whitewashes the crime seems to be missing the point of the author’s public confession of his family’s monstrosity.

  47. 47
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    My son linked to this on Facebook. Read it earlier. powerfully moving

  48. 48
    Currants says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: yes: Excellent description.

  49. 49
    Currants says:

    @the Conster, la Citoyenne: yes–of the Lucy Parsons Project (In a UU basement in Quincy MA, maybe?)

    I love tha t movie (Hidden Figures). Have seen it 5 times, and ordered a copy to edit so I can show my 3 & 4 yr old granddaughters clips. (Eventually the whole but they haven’t seen ANYmovies yet, unless you count the bucket truck music video.)

  50. 50
    Tyro says:

    Please read this obituary of Lola. Lizon was covering up his parents’ role in human trafficking and enslavement even after they died.

    Partially, I guess, this is a lesson in how slavery makes sinners of us all by making the entire family complicit.

    “How would you have acted during slavery?” is a question that unfortunately for Lizon, he knows the answer to, and it’s not a good one. Remember that he didn’t take command of Lola’s care until he was 40… and never bothered to report the situation to the authorities.

    Lola was beaten into submission to the point where she didn’t even know how to live outside of servitude.

  51. 51
    Tyro says:

    And as someone pointed out, once Lizon’s mother died, Lola wasn’t owed a salary, like Lizon gave her. Lola was owed reparations in the form of Lizon’s mother’s estate

  52. 52
    sharl says:

    I’m seeing so many fascinating responses to this story. The responses from Filipino-Americans and Korean-Americans are particularly interesting to me, as some of those respondents relate their own family stories. People are still sorting out their feelings about this account, and what is the “right” response to the story.

    These early discussions are breaking down in several ways, including: traditional family systems vs. modern social structures; and (relatedly) a long-time feminist aspect of the role of women in families. On that feminist aspect, some comparisons are being made between traditional (say, American pre-70s) family roles for women and the role played by Lola (“the functional Mom”) vs. her master/overseer, “the biological Mom”.

    One point of general agreement is that a straight, binary comparison to American slavery is too facile; reality is far more complex, and the modern example of abuses of the State Department-“managed” au pair program was cited as belonging on the spectrum of labor abuse of this type.

    Thanks for linking this SP&T. It is sparking some much-needed discussion on a topic that usually lurks in the shadows.

  53. 53
    rb says:

    “public confession”

    Posthumous, so he gets little credit for that.

    Also her name wasn’t Lola not matter how cutesy it makes everybody feel to keep calling her by the name her slaveowners slapped onto her.

  54. 54
    sharl says:

    While I remember, and before the one week commenting window slams shut, in a comment to a subsequent post Monala provided further information following the Atlantic piece.

    Upon reading Alex Tizon’s posthumously published account in the Atlantic, the author of the original Seattle Times obituary for Eudocia Tomas Pulido (“Lola”) responded to all the new information she learned there; information that wasn’t told to her originally. Here’s how that starts:

    Six years ago, I was assigned to write an obituary about a local woman who seemed to have lived an extraordinary life of devotion to family.

    Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s life was, indeed, extraordinary, but not in the way it was presented in the pages of The Seattle Times.

    Tuesday night, I read with horror and growing anger Alex Tizon’s account in The Atlantic magazine of Ms. Pulido’s life with three generations of his family, and his journey to come to terms with it.

    Many of the details were familiar, as Tizon had shared them with me during a long interview following the death of a woman he knew as “Lola,” an honorific title in her native Tagalog that Tizon took to mean “grandmother.”

    In retrospect, the obituary reads as a whitewash for a fundamental truth known only to Tizon and his family: Ms. Pulido was a slave.

    Even typing those words makes me sick, as does knowing, as I do now, that I wrote about slavery as a love story.

    Here’s how it happened…

    Just thought this should be included here for posterity. At the time of this posting, there are still vigorous exchanges taking place, at least on Twitter. Hopefully those discussions will be a good thing, especially whatever is going on in the Philippines. From Adrian Chen yesterday:

    Adrian Chen‏ @AdrianChen 20 hours ago

    “My Family’s Slave” is now trending in the Philippines, where it’s lunch time. I’m going to share a few interesting threads from Filipinos:

    And Chen did share those threads.

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