Her Name Was Eudocia Tomas Pulido
Thoughts and feelings from a Filipino-American woman in response to Alex Tizon’s essay My Family’s Slave.
I was scrolling through my feed when the headline caught my attention. The title, the photo and the name of the author alone got my head reeling, reluctantly making connections to my Filipino culture. For some reason, I was afraid of it turning out to be a Filipino family.
Click. And then it was a Filipino family. My heart sank. That alone made things feel uncomfortable. Haunting, even. I deliberately didn't read it for a whole day and a half since first seeing the headline (and in internet time that’s like, an eternity). It was a longer essay and there was obviously no TL;DR so I listened to the audio version. Which was somewhat comical hearing the story from a white voice. Anyway, I digress or something like that. Here are my initial, jumbled, unedited (maybe even unformed) reactions:
Why was I even scared to read the article?
- Maybe it’s because I feel an intrinsic sense of connection to any Filipino I encounter. So immediately I personalized the experience. A family owning a slave? Bottom line—that’s wrong. It’s also feels like seeing your own family in an glaring spotlight to be judged and criticizing them. Which, in my Filipino culture, is a big no-no. Or maybe it was the proximity to a fellow Filipino in the Seattle area that felt literally close to home.
- Maybe it was because I didn’t want to hear a dark, twisted story about the common “hired help” we have in our Filipino culture. Our culture has yayas (nannies), drivers, utusans, katulongs. My own mother was an Overseas Filipino Worker, hired and exported under the title “domestic servant” to a family in Italy during the 70s. My own family in the Philippines has “hired help” in the house like cooking for big parties. Work for hire is literally everywhere.
- Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to open up this can of worms, to marinate in yet another ugly, complicated, drawn-out effect of our colonial and feudal history as a people. The Spanish monarch violently colonized our islands for nearly 500 years. Spain owned slaves. And then when they didn’t want us anymore, they passed us off to the United States in 1898. The US definitely owned slaves. And the way slavery has evolved in disguise is particularly problematic.
How was I reacting to what I’m reading?
- There’s this Filipino pride you get when you find out someone is Filipino and maybe you’re related (that famous brown person who’s very talented might end up being your cousin). But there’s also this Filipino anxiety you get when you find out someone is Filipino and maybe you’re related (that cute person you’re attracted to might end up being your cousin). The Filipino anxiety set in for me at the part of the essay when Tizon travels to the Lola’s hometown, neighboring the provinces where both my parents are from, getting a ride from someone with the same nickname as my own uncle. Again, I was personalizing the experience.
- How could something so beautifully written be about something so ugly? The first wave of shares were accompanied with words like extraordinary, incredible, heart-wrenching, powerful, or stunning. I kept thinking about how the name Lola (grandmother) was always so endearing but now it felt tarnished. I kept thinking about feeling conflicted between form and essence. Am I reading a writer’s remorseful retrospection or a slave master’s manipulative recount? Do Filipinos really do this? Did my family ever do this? Again, I was personalizing the experience.
- I don’t sit well with the flattened narrative of Filipino women being docile, devoted, loyal, caring, nurturing, loving people who want nothing more than to take care of you. Yes, there are many Filipino women that work as nurses, caregivers, nannies, mothers. Yes, those occupations take care of people. But they are also human beings, with thoughts and feelings and contradictions and—all i’m saying is it’s not enough to be simplified into portraying Filipino women as simple people with simple thoughts and all we want to do is put others before ourselves and our own needs. To be selfless is to be noble but to be forced to be selfless is accepting a role for survival, just like my mother. Again, I was personalizing the experience.
- What are we supposed to do with this story? Demand reparations for Lola? Absolve Tizon of his sins? Publish a cover story with thousands of re-shares and encourage a continued discussion? What does justice look like?
- I don’t know. All I know is that a Filipino person is going to digest this story in a very different way than any other non-Filipino person. And any non-Filipino person is of course entitled to their opinion, but they definitely have no authority to tell any Filipino person how to feel or think about it, or swoop in and play savior. People of color, including Filipinos, get grouped together like we’re all one and representative of each other and responsible for each other's actions. Shit, I even did it to myself, personalizing the story before I even read it. But the answer is not to separate or distance myself from the problem, but rather examine my role within this bigger picture. (After all, white people can defend racism by saying slavery is in the past and they never owned a slave. But that hasn't seemed to work out very well has it.)
- Maybe context can help us understand Lola's story—without condoning it? The Philippines largest export is literally it’s people. 6000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every single day to work, well over half of which are women. This is not a phenomenon in a vacuum; it’s origins stem from a very twisted Labor Export Policy first implemented in the 70s. Lola’s complex story can only be understood in the historical context of Spanish colonialism, US imperialism and the current socio-political climate in the Philippines. We can all learn more about this very nuanced culture of Filipino workers, especially women, and need reliable community organizations like Gabriela USA, Migrante International, and the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns that engage in grassroots work to advocate for the rights and welfare of Filipino people in the US and worldwide.
I’m not in the extreme anger camp of “How dare his family do that and he stay complicit.” Lola will never benefit from an endless blame game. I’m also not in the extreme sad camp of “This is so painfully tragic.” Lola will never know that thousands of people are grieving her. I’m not in the extreme defense camp either. I do not condone human trafficking in any sense and cannot justify the story, author, Filipino culture, or journalism. At the end of the story, I am conflicted. But one thing I am sure of is my curiosity to know what Lola’s side of the story could have been and all others just like her—how do we make space for those voices to share their own stories?
If you or someone you know needs help, there are local organizations like API Chaya that can provide resources for women and children in need.