Honouring the slave who raised him

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Due to an unfortunate health problem, Pulitzer prize–winning reporter Alex Tizon died three months before “My Family’s Slave,” his incredible tale about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, appeared on the cover of the June issue of the Atlantic Magazine.

We called her Lola,” wrote Tizon. “She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. 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.”

Had he lived to tour and answer questions about his experience, Tizon might have prompted an even bigger discussion about modern slavery in North American than his article set off.

A Story of Mutual Dependence and Love

“My Family’s Slave” details Tizon’s complicated relationship with his nanny and household maid. Initially, Lola was trapped due to decisions made by his mother and grandfather. After Alex became responsible for Lola, he tried to free her, but by then, she didn’t have anywhere else to go. He paid to send her back home to the Philippines, but she returned to his household soon after saying she no longer fit in with the few people still alive in her hometown.

It’s hard not to wonder how many similar situations exist across North America.

When he came to us with the enthralling, vexing story of his immigrant family and its terrible secret, we recognized that this was the sort of journalism The Atlantic has practiced since its inception,” wrote editor Jeffrey Goldberg, in a companion article to the piece. “The magazine was founded in 1857 by a group of New England abolitionists eager to advance the cause of universal freedom. When I first read a draft of Alex’s piece, I imagined that the founders—people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe—would not have believed that 154 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, humans would still be enslaving other humans, in America and across the planet. The eradication of all forms of slavery remains an unfinished goal of civilization, and of this magazine, and stories like Alex’s help us understand slavery’s awful persistence.”

A structure that weaves through time and place

Tizon’s story follows a complicated structure that weaves four storylines together. One storyline follows the author’s journey as he carries Lola’s ashes to her birthplace outside of Manilla, told in the order in which it took place in narrative fashion, complete with flashbacks to previous visits to the region. A second storyline outlines the history of slavery as an institution from modern times dating back to some time prior to the 1500s. Another storyline highlights the history of the Tarlac Province and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The main storyline connects each of the other three by describing Lola’s service to Tizon’s family, highlighting key moments of connection, cruelty and turmoil.

We landed in Los Angeles on May 12, 1964, all our belongings in cardboard boxes tied with rope. Lola had been with my mother for 21 years by then. In many ways, she was more of a parent to me than either my mother or my father. Hers was the first face I saw in the morning and the last one I saw at night. As a baby, I uttered Lola’s name (which I first pronounced “Oh-ah”) long before I learned to say “Mom” or “Dad.” As a toddler, I refused to go to sleep unless Lola was holding me, or at least nearby.”

Classic Feature Style

Like most of the stories in The Atlantic, “my family’s slave” represents exquisite long-form journalism. No errors appear in the text and each sentence flows easily from the one it follows.

I highly recommend My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon , The Atlantic, May 15, 2017,  accessed April 2, 2018.

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