This week, we published Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave,” about the woman he knew as Lola: Eudocia Tomas Pulido, who was enslaved and treated cruelly by his family, and who raised him and whom he loved.
It’s a deeply complicated personal narrative, and the response from readers has been overwhelming. Scores of your emails and comments have expressed being deeply moved by the piece—“feeling sadness, anger, frustration, hope, and relief,” as one reader, Naziat Adnan, put it. At the same time, many others have criticized Alex, who died in March, and The Atlantic’s treatment of the story as an excuse for slaveowners. One reader wrote: “The author aided and abetted in slavery. His pathetic efforts to ease her situation in the last few years of her life were not enough.”
The Filipino magazine Scout published a response to the backlash, noting that “a lot of the international outrage is coming from a place where they don’t fully understand the culture the story is set in. ” (The article was soon revised “to reinforce the fact that the author and Scout don’t condone the Filipino culture of indentured/forced servitude in any way.”)
For my part, I found the story haunting, both for its painful subject matter and by coincidence: I’m half-Filipina, and grew up in the Pacific Northwest where Alex did, so that I could picture the places and landscapes he mentions in the background of Lola’s story. Though he doesn’t explain it in the article, Lola is the Tagalog honorific for “grandmother.” As a child, I didn’t realize this; I thought Lola was simply my grandmother’s name.
We’ll be publishing a number of responses to “My Family’s Slave” in the next few weeks, outlining the economic, cultural, and historical context for Alex and Lola’s personal story. We’ll also be publishing your own personal stories in Notes. From Claudia:
I wept so much while reading Lola’s story because in a way it reminds me of my life. I was also brought to this country when I was a child, lived with my uncle and aunt, and was responsible for taking care of their three kids, cleaning, cooking, and working in their stores (laundromat/salon/pharmacy) for free. This went on for years, except I was lucky enough to go to school.
I was not allowed to discuss the goings-on at the house with anyone. Once, I made the mistake of sharing what was going on at home to my school counselor. The counselor called my uncle to try to setup a time to discuss with them what I told them. When I got home, I got a beating that I never dared to mention it to anyone.
I was luckier than Lola because I was able to leave while in my 20s. I am so sad that Lola never got to live her life, get married or have kids. Thank you for taking care of her and making sure that her last few years, she was free. May her soul rest in peace.
If Lola’s situation resonates with you, or if you have another response to the article to share, please tell us your story: firstname.lastname@example.org.