Notes on My Family’s Slave, by Alex Tizon 

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Read My Family’s Slave, the story of Eudocia Pulido or Lola Eudocia here

What’s sickening is that Lola’s story is not uncommon. Some are still abused and overworked and underpaid to this day. And some, though paid wages and treated better than Lola was, there is still the general thinking and treatment of kasambahays/katulongs: of lesser value. 

I had yayas up until I was six years old. They were my caretakers and playmates, but clearly, I had the same problematic mindset with the way I threw around “mukhang yaya” and “yaya lang naman” carelessly in elementary school. With household help, yayas, kasambahay/katulong mostly coming from a lower social class, it was the proof of my privilege running amok at a young age. We were by no means rich, but like Tizon said in the article, it was the rich owning the lowly, and the lowly owning the lowliest. And with that ownership came a sense of superiority. 

When I was nine years old, my mother took in a cousin of mine from Las Piñas to live with us since she was a single parent. She went because, as I remember, at nineteen, she had no job and had nothing to do: she came from a poor family and had quit her education pretty early on. My mother taught her how to cook and instructed her look after me. I remember that my mother arranged for her to go back to school, under the ALS program or Alternative Learning System, so that she can get a job right after. I thought she was another yaya, and sometimes I threw tantrums when she didn’t do everything that I said. I assumed she was because how she came to live with us mirrored how some katulong/kasambahays come into that line of work: someone from your family, maybe a distant cousin, to be hired as a katulong for money and better treatment as opposed to being hired by strangers. My mother scolded me by saying that I had no right to disrespect her the way I did, especially when she looked after me. She cleaned the house because it was hers, too – anybody who lives in one has the duty to clean their living spaces, something that my mother said I had to learn. I apologized, but I was ashamed and subdued for days before I could talk to my cousin again. Now, I’m nearing seventeen and my cousin, Ate Kian, is living on her own and has been for around two years. She’s had a stable job for longer. 

That experience was the first wake-up call; the fact that I felt like I was entitled to order her around because I presumed her to be household help (even if she was family) and therefore indebted to us, indebted to me like the stuck-up princess I was. Thankfully, I grew up. I realized the difference between my treatment of family and household help; a difference that’s sickening, to be honest. I still cringe remembering laughing at our neighbors’ kasambahay and exchanging insults about how clothes only look fitting for one. I was confused and enraged by the existence of a “Yaya’s Meal” in Balesin, or the fact that a hotel specifically didn’t allow them in their swimming pools, especially if they swim and put their heads underwater. It was as if they weren’t people.

There are now laws that protect them, and many are striving to better their situation. What we need now is to confront how they are looked down as people, and how that easily gives way to their abuse. 

We should know better. 

Another thing I want to discuss is the response to the article in the US. 

There are issues surrounding Eudocia being called “Lola”. People think that it’s her slave name. Many don’t know that it’s not her real first name. They say that it dehumanizes her and takes away her identity.

When told that “Lola” is an honorific, that it is part of the Filipino culture to address your elders with familial ties even when you aren’t family (manong, manang, tito, tita, etc.), the discussion got even more confused. 

“Filipinos are condoning slavery. They didn’t respect her with “lola”, she was beaten and abused!” 

Nobody is condoning slavery. “Lola” means grandmother; it is used to respect those older than you. 

“She was called lola by the time she was 18 and it’s not her slave name?” 

No. I believe that the article was in the point of view of Alex Tizon. Lola Eudocia was 18 when given to the then 12-year-old mother of Alex. By the time she was called Lola with Alex and his siblings around, she was elderly. 

It’s not a slave name. 

Tell them to read and research.

“But people are out here thinking it’s her real name! It erases her identity.” 

Then they probably didn’t read the article thoroughly. Her name was stated in full. She was referred to as Lola given that she was elderly, and to be honest, I can’t imagine any Filipino calling her by her first name unless it’s people her age. It’s disrespectful – and yes that can be contested given how she was treated, but the custom is too deeply ingrained to be taken away from a Filipino family. 

Under the Filipino context that they are using “Lola” to refer to Lola Eudocia, it doesn’t dehumanize her at all. Tell them her name all you can, but there is nothing wrong with Lola. Nothing. And for Filipinos to point that out because it is a Filipino narrative that used that Filipino word under a Filipino context – nothing wrong with that either. 

“The author didn’t note what Lola meant in the story.” 

Well, research what it means, given that you are reading a piece that reflects a whole other culture. 

“But it’s for other-cultural consumption. It happened in the US. It was published in a US publication.” 

And the article itself is written by someone from another culture, about a woman from that said culture, with customs and nuances from that culture. 

No one is stopping you from responding to the article, but once it includes the narrative’s Filipino language dynamics and you try to fit it into yours, with your own context, under your own culture – that’s the problem. It wipes away the Filipino voice entirely.

It happened in the US, and maybe we should use that detail to see the fact that one of the main reasons why people like Lola Eudocia exist and are abused is because of the US, too. Given the Filipino history, and how Spain, the US, and Japan exploited us and abused us and contributed to the class struggles we face nowadays. The same class struggles that make people choose to be katulongs and kasambahays, with the risk of integrating to a family that will trap and abuse. The same class struggles that contributes to the existence of human trafficking in the Philippines with the US a top contributor. The same class struggles that contributes to the existence of OFWs; of which too many are beaten and enslaved and sent back home dead or traumatized. It adds a whole other layer to the story, doesn’t it? A slave enslaved by slaves in the country that enslaved each and every one of them.

■ 

However, I feel no sympathy for Alex Tizon. There was much that he could have done but never did. He wrote beautifully, but the sickening and heartbreaking life that Lola led broke through all of it. 

It was vile. That much we can agree on. 

Featured image courtesy of Alex Tizon and his family.

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