My Family’s Slave: Alex Tizon’s final story

The story that shook the diaspora

By Ted Alcuitas

He never intended to write his final story but fate has brought Pulitzer Prize- winning Alex Tizon’s pen to an end.

His searing account of how his family harboured a woman – Eudocia Tomas Pulido, endearingly called ‘Lola’ for 56 years as a ‘secret slave’ has not only generated a storm of controversy but praise as well.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/06/lolas-story/524490/

The Seattle-based Tizon died a day before The Atlantic was to inform him that they will publish his story ‘My Family’s Slave’, in the June issue. He died on March 24 of natural causes at his home in Eugene, Oregon. He was 57.

This was his second story for The Atlantic. In April 2016, “In the Land of the Missing Persons” came out. The magazine described it as a “beautifully rendered story about ordinary people who mysteriously disappeared in the Alaska wilderness”.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/in-the-land-of-missing-persons/471477/

“This was his ultimate story, “ his wife, Melissa told The Atlantic’s editors shortly after the publication of ‘My Family’s Slave’.

“He was trying to write it for four or five years. He struggled with it, “ but when he started writing it for The Atlantic, “he stopped struggling, he wrote with ease,” Melissa revealed.

Tizon wrote about the ordeal of a young village girl brought to the U. S. against her will.

Lola Eudocia was ‘gifted’ to her mother by her grandfather- a stern, imperial master who would take no for an answer. Lieutenant Tom, as Tizon called his grandfather, “approached her with an offer: She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter (Tizon’s mother), who had just turned 12.”

‘Lola’, docile to a fault, stayed with his mother until she got married, had a family and finally decided to make the leap to the promised land of America. She reluctantly agreed to come with them, “convinced that she would pay her an ‘allowance’ when they “got on their feet,” according to Tizon.

Lola Pulido (shown on the left at age 18) came from a poor family in a rural part of the Philippines. The author’s grandfather “gave” her to his daughter as a gift.

“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, “ writes Tizon.

Growing up observing how Lola was being treated by her parents tormented Tizon and his siblings. It was not until the late 70’ when Lola was in her 50s that Tizon finally confronted her mother for keeping Lola as a ’slave’. That confrontation drove a wedge between mother and son.

“The fight only fed Mom’s fear that Lola had stolen the kids from her, and she made Lola pay for it. Mom drove her harder. Tormented her by saying, “I hope you’re happy now that your kids hate me.”

Yet, despite all these,Eudocia stayed with them to the very end, spurning efforts to ‘liberate’ her, stoic in her decision to come back ‘home’.

 

Home was in America, the only place she had known for 56 years and the family she had cared for and called her own.

Pictures of her spending time with the Tizon family and a deeply moving video made by one of Tizon’s daughters, Maria Tizon-Huskey, belie the hard life that she suffered.

Such was the intensity of the responses to Tizon’s article that a colleague, Glen Nelson, called The Seattle Times so-called apology
“…drivel, …so offensive and inexcusable.”

Shortly after the publication of ‘My Family’s Slave’, the paper told its readers that they were ‘misled’ by Tizon who did not reveal that Eudocia was a ‘slave’ when he was interviewed for an obituary during her death in 2011.

 

Nelson called The Seattle Times, a “rag’” and “ racially ignorant they wrote that a brown man “whitewashed” the life of a brown woman. “

The reaction did not stop there.

Just a few days ago (May 22) a writer from the Philippines said she was ‘not moved’ by Tizon’s article. Anthropologist Andrea Malaya M. Ragragio, writing in Davao Today.com argued:

“Without the historical deepening into how the conditions for slavery developed and the political consciousness as to how these are maintained, then his piece may have been liberating for him, but it is not liberative for people like Lola Eudocia, neither in the past nor into the future.”

L: Lola and the author in 2008. R: The author with Lola’s sister Gregoria.

How I ‘discovered’ Alex Tizon
My own introduction to Alex Tizon happened when I accidentally noticed his book – ‘Big Little Man,: in Search of My Asian Self’ on the shelves of the ‘ethnic section’ at Portland’s Powell Books.

My wife and I were spending a weekend there during this year’s Presidents’ Day in February and I was looking for Carlos Bulosan’s ‘America is in the Heart’.

Tributes pour in for Alex Tizon

I tried to call him before I returned to Vancouver but somehow my cell phone didn’t work and thought of calling him again after finishing his book.

I even recommended to the board of Asian Canadian Writers Workshop which publishes the literary magazine Ricepaper, that we should have him as a speaker in our next gala awards evening.

And then the news of his death on March 24.

His death is not only a loss for his family but also to the large Filipino diaspora all over the world whose stories of struggle have yet to be written.

Hopefully, my fascination with him and his writings will not end with his death.