The Atlantic’s latest cover story, “My Family’s Slave,” has the Philippines talking.
An emotional first-hand account of modern-day slavery, the author Alex Tizon revealed how his family had kept a slave, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, affectionately known as Lola, for more than 50 years. When Tizon’s family moved from the Philippines to the US in the 1960s, they took Pulido, his mother’s childhood nanny—a gift from his maternal grandfather—with them.
It wasn’t until Tizon was 11 that he was aware of the status of this member of their household. Pulido ran the household but was not paid, was kept from going back to the Philippines, and suffered physical and emotional abuse from his parents.
It was the last story that Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize winner, worked on and was posthumously published after his death in March. In the editor’s note, Tizon’s wife said that “This was his ultimate story” and The Atlantic’s editor Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that “stories like Alex’s help us understand slavery’s awful persistence.”
But online reactions were not as positive.
Some people from the West criticized the piece for romanticizing slavery and said Tizon was just as guilty as his parents.
Filipinos, however, see the situation differently. The story was trending in the Philippines within hours of its posting online, and much of the reaction was in praise of Tizon.
The story struck a chord with the Filipino community, many of whom defended Tizon and insisted that understanding their history and culture was necessary to fully appreciate the story and the writer’s perspective.
While many Filipino maids are seen as second mothers and are attended to when they get old, slavery and its modern equivalent—underpaid domestic helpers—are deeply rooted in Philippine society. Today, employing household help is still the norm for many Filipino families. Many have “stay-in” maids like Pulido who cook, do laundry, and look after children in exchange for a small monthly salary. The minimum wage for domestic helpers in the Manila metro area is around $50 per month, much lower than the minimum wage for other jobs at about $260. Because most are not hired through established agencies, many families also pay less than the amount prescribed by the government.