I think I may have seen something very like this, and it passed before my eyes with some discomfort, but not enough to push me to action. I had no clear path to exert any influence, but I’m troubled by the fact that acting didn’t even occur to me to try to do something.
I’m sobered by what we see, and what we choose not to see — myself included.
The story, written by the late journalist Alex Tizon, is about a Filipina woman who lived with his family for 50 years. Lola was not, under the circumstances described in the article, an employee. She was an indentured servant, a slave.
The woman I saw was also Filipina. She was living with a family here in the United States. I don’t think she was physically mistreated, but she slept in a tiny closet, on a pad of blankets. She did all of the work in the household. I don’t know if she was paid, or if she had the option of going home if she had wanted to. I never asked my friend, who brought her here, about this tiny woman who did so much work. But I remember my shock in seeing the woman emerge from her closet, and I know my friend saw the shock on my face, and I recall her saying to me, “She’s fine in there. She’d be uncomfortable if she had more space; it’s not what she grew up with.”
This is a long article, but well worth reading. I think it will grab you just as it did me. Here is the beginning of the story Alex Tizon had to tell:
“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.”