A Modern Day Slave

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.”


6 thoughts on “A Modern Day Slave

  1. It’s horrifying when you look back at it, at the normalcy of it all. I’m Filipino and my grandparents had one and I don’t know now if she was paid financially or if room and board was all the pay she got. She lived in back of my grandmother’s house, in the area we called the “dirty kitchen” and her bed, just slats on four legs and a pillow, was situated in the farthest corner, over the sewage canal. My aunts took care of her in her final years.

  2. for Liz: I think you nailed it when you spoke of the normalcy of it — that’s what I’m asking myself in retrospect. Why did I allow it to be normal that my friend had a servant living in a closet, sleeping on a pile of blankets?

  3. We’re discussing it right now with my cousins via chat. Such a practice was more prevalent in my grandparents’ generation than my mom’s and definitely more than ours because we were taught to be self-sufficient by then – influence from the West via movies and books. Still, Tizon was complicit in the practice by waiting so long to do anything out of loyalty to blood family.

  4. for Liz: The final image in the article of his Lola’s family clutching the bag of her ashes and weeping was heartbreaking.

  5. Yes, it is. And rereading the article now, his assumption that no one cared enough for her as his reason for not returning her ashes sooner is infuriating. I hate that we never get to hear this story about her from her at all but through someone else who could have done something to help her a long time ago.

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