In words prettier than most of us will ever write, late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Tizon confesses to an atrocity uglier than most of us could ever fathom: His parents owned a slave — and when they died, he inherited her.
“My Family’s Slave,” Tizon’s widely circulated and effusively praised cover story for the June issue of the Atlantic, purports to tell that slave’s story. She was born Eudocia Tomas Pulido. Pulido’s family, Tizon writes, was too poor to provide a decent life for her. He illustrates her family’s squalor by conjuring dirt floors in her family’s hut.
When Tizon’s grandfather, the cigar-smoking family patriarch, tricks Pulido into trading her freedom for the food and shelter he could provide, they no longer call her Eudocia. Instead, they rename her Lola.
Lola is a name the story never quite contextualizes within Philippine culture and our emphasis on family. In Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, “lola” means “grandmother.” Lolas are the backbones of so many traditional Philippine households. It is a name that evokes immediate reverence. Lolas are our second moms. They work. They take care of us when we are sick, even when they are sick themselves. They cook for us — and every child knows their lola cooks better than anyone else does. They never seem to sleep. The name “Lola” likely traces its roots to “dolor,” the Spanish word denoting pain — but Lola, a diminutive of Dolores, connotes the strength that suffering builds.
To call a slave “Lola” and to treat her not only as less than kin but less than human is a malicious perversion of everything that honorific stands for. It is all suffering, no strength. In Pulido’s case, the name shackled her to the domestic duties of a grandmother within the traditional Philippine household, all while affording her none of the respect a grandmother would receive from a family that loved her. Read more (Opinion)