Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Your Responses to Lola’s Story
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Reader discussions, reflections, and personal stories related to Alex Tizon’s June 2017 cover story “My Family’s Slave.” See all responses to the essay here.

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Survivors Respond to ‘My Family’s Slave’

As numerous readers have written, one of the most moving aspects of “My Family’s Slave” is that Alex Tizon was able to honor Eudocia Tomas Pulido, whom he knew as Lola, by telling her story—while one of the tragedies is that Pulido was never able to tell it herself. My colleague Vann writes:

Tizon doesn’t know her desires, fears, attachments, or even very much about her own story. He attempts to learn these things, but doesn’t get very far, and we never learn whether the failure is due simply to Pulido’s reticence or to the fact that years of servitude had minimized her story even in her own mind.

After reading Alex’s essay and some of the criticism on social media, this reader wrote to us with the subject line, “On Eudocia, from someone who went through it”:

For half my childhood, I was indentured. I was born in Canada, went to school in this country, and it still happened to me. I’m incredibly thankful that I got to grow out of it, but trauma hurts the most in its resonance.

Listening to those claiming to seek justice for Eudocia has felt like a scab opening over and over again. Please, do not take actions on behalf of indentured and enslaved people without consulting them. Do not seek reparations for us without asking. Those in the disability rights movement say, “Nothing about us, without us.” I think this mindset applies to those of us who have gone through forced servitude. We don’t want what you think is best for ourselves.

For my own situation, finding peace and healing after escaping took precedent over any vengeance or confrontation. I would have hated to become a hashtag.

Several other readers also wrote in to say that Eudocia’s experiences reminded them of their own—including Juliet, whose mother came from Tarlac, the same province in the Philippines where Eudocia was born:

I may have accidentally found this article for a reason. I myself was a slave given to live with family members I didn’t even know. I had to wake up in a hard cold cement area under the stairway. Like a cold dog, I’d be woken up with harsh words and a kick on the rib cage jolting my teenage body.  Sad to find out Lola didn’t get an education. I persevered to go to school at night when I was done with all my housework.

I ran away when things got worse and taught myself in a lot of ways to survive. But I don’t feel completely free. It becomes a codependency—it’s hard to explain, but it’s there, a learned trait. Part of life as a slave is interweaving survival and seeking freedom. You never know what freedom is because you have become immune.

Another reader writes:

This essay has brought me to tears as it reminded me of my childhood.

Eudocia "Lola" Tomas Pulido in 1976 Courtesy of Alex Tizon and His Family

In response to Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave,” Richard Buck writes:

I am stunned by Alex’s story. Alex sat at a desk right beside mine for six months when we were both reporters at The Seattle Times. He was immensely talented and well-liked as well as respected.

When I learned his story would be on the cover of the magazine I was proud. Now, my feelings are mixed.

On the one hand, Alex was a dogged reporter, a talented writer, a friendly colleague. He certainly did a good job writing this story. I am sorry for the loss of a good journalist who was my co-worker.

But on the other hand, I’m embarrassed (I wonder: Why does any of this rub off on me?) that he did not do much more, much sooner to improve her life. Knowing what he did, why did he allow his mother to continue to “own” this woman? And why did he want The Seattle Times to publish an obituary after Lola’s death that failed to recognize the most significant fact of her life?

Several other readers also pointed out that obituary, in which Alex had described Lola to a reporter as a devoted grandmother figure who devoted her life to “cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations [and] asked for nothing in return.” The newspaper’s response to The Atlantic’s story is here.

Of the hundreds of emails we’ve received in response to Alex’s essay, nearly all express being moved by the story. Katrina Langford calls it a masterpiece: “I can only imagine how difficult this journey was to make as a writer.” Frank Daniels calls it “an amazing article, by an amazing and compassionate man.” Ruby Moon calls it a love letter: “It touched me to the point that it made me cry.” Many describe intense emotional reactions: tears, shaking hands, sweaty palms, and an inability to stop reading. They write about reading and weeping at work, in class, or in the middle of the night, as if Lola and Alex had entered their lives. From Magdalena Chudzinska:

I’ve just read the article “My Family’s Slave” by Alex Tizon. I cannot thank him, but I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to read such a beautiful story. I’ve been reading it for three days, during my little pauses at work. Couldn’t have finished it at one blow, because was always starting to cry and my team was asking me if everything was fine. I’m puzzled and cracked inside after this story … but that’s good.

These responses point to the resonance of Alex’s personal narrative: His perspective makes the story of Lola all the more vivid, because of—not in spite of—its flaws and his guilt.

However, Rob Byron, another reader, points out the limits of that point of view:

Jeffrey Goldberg hedges in his editor’s note by saying Alex Tizon’s piece is “the sort of journalism The Atlantic has practiced since its inception.” Respectfully, I would ask Mr. Goldberg to prove it. It’s straight memoir, soup to nuts, and the editorial decision to print it without any further reporting to prop it up seems dubious. Readers are left with too many questions: Was the point to raise awareness about the plight of unpaid or underpaid domestic workers in the U.S.? Was it to exorcise family guilt?

A friend of mine who’s a respected editor and colleague had this to say: “Hopefully some talented journalist will pick up the thread and report from [Lola’s] hometown about the slave system still in place there or dig deeper into slavery in the U.S. I’d like to see that journalism.”

So would I.

We’ll be publishing several articles to follow Alex’s essay, situating his story in a broader cultural and economic context. The first, by Ai-jen Poo, discusses the persistence of modern-day slavery in the U.S. We’ll also be publishing the personal stories of readers like Claudia, who experienced conditions similar to those Lola did. If you would like to share your story, please email hello@theatlantic.com; let us know where you’re writing from, and whether you’d like to remain anonymous.

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: hello@theatlantic.com.