Thoughts on Reading ‘My Family’s Slave’

Some thoughts on reading Mr. Alex Tizon’s ‘My Family’s Slave‘.

At my age I remember the concept of ‘giving’ children away to other people as either ‘gifts’, as a way to pay debt or as a means of saving children from difficult or impossible lives. I do not consider this uniquely Filipino. I see it as a last resort way out of poverty and therefore would imagine this to happen even today in similarly impoverished situations.

I am convinced that many my age and older have first hand knowledge of similar events in the past or even until now. There are many families I am aware of that are living with so called ‘relatives’ that live in the same house and play with or take care of their children depending on their age but do not enjoy the same privileges. They have limited education, sleep in far worse conditions, and I suspect some may not receive wages. They however work tirelessly night and day for the benefit of the family.

This somehow ‘works out’ however, because while their situations are far from ideal it is understood that whatever it is they are escaping from is far worse. It may have been to avoid an unwanted marriage like in Lola’s case, but often it is to avoid a life of crippling poverty.
The most disturbing part of Mr. Tizon’s article however isn’t necessarily hiding Lola, but his parent’s cruelty and indifference. While her situation is not uncommon, their inhumanity is to me.

Call me naive but that abuse is generally looked down upon in society even at that early time, and eventually gets exposed and dealt with by relatives of either the employer or ‘slave’. The fact Lola is abroad severely limited her options making her case so much more heartbreaking. If they had not left the country Lola may have found a way to get a message to her relatives if not gotten up and hiked back to her province altogether. I’ve seen this happen myself and as I read this it made me wish Lola had the same opportunity.

The other noticeable part of the article is the author’s decision to write about his family in an objectionable light. This to me, is very ‘un – Filipino’ which is to say we live in a society where it is unpopular to speak of your parents in any way other than with halos of heavenly light engulfing their names. Most of my friends will speak quite candidly about the ridiculously discriminatory, borderline evil behavior their parents might have said or done. But publishing it for the world to read is still strictly taboo.

I have many issues with my own departed mother many of which still bother me to this day. Some of the arguments we had and the things she did remind me a lot about the author’s own quarrels with his mother, whose oblique view of the world and old fashioned insensitivity affected issues that eventually tore up our family and bring up unwanted memories of exasperation, despair and anger.

To even write or begin to write about that issue is overwhelming, the emotions of which would bear down and cripple me. I therefore credit Mr. Tizon’s complete objectivity as the same reason why he is a far higher caliber of writer than I can ever hope to be. He writes with great heart and only heart. You notice nothing else. Not the brilliant structure, not the clever way of going back and forth between decades, not the way he shifts your imagination to times and places at his liking.

He can certainly look at the past through the tint of rose colored glasses or treat memories of close relatives with kid gloves the way many of my generation are likely and expected to do. Rather he writes with sincerity and honesty because that is how his heart speaks, and only that way can any work of art become special and great.

This is the article that many of my generation need to read and ponder because many of us have memories of similar situations. Mind you however, the best way to enjoy this article is with the same amount of honesty and objectivity as the authors’. Anything less will make you just as complicit, cruel and insensitive as his parents.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Reading ‘My Family’s Slave’

  1. I disagree that Mr. Tizon wrote about his family in an “objectionable light” and with “complete objectivity”. He was not at all objective about his family (his mother in particular), his own complicity, or Lola’s plight. For instance he said his mother “tended to underdogs” at the Fairview Training Center, ignoring or choosing not to mention the facility’s history of patient abuse and mistreatment, including during the time Mr. Tizon’s mother was employed there. He definitely was not hard enough on his mother, himself, and his siblings, in presenting what happened in an “objectionable light”. The truth of the matter is, his parents committed a crime and their children, in their adulthood, were accessories to it. None of the children did anything, even when they knew better, for fear of sending their parents to jail. They did not help “free” Lola. They were perfectly fine with Lola taking care of their mother in her sickness, fully knowing the cruelties their mother imposed on her.

    The story can hardly be objective when it only presents one point of view, Mr. Tizon’s. Even what little insight we have into Lola is filtered through Tizon’s perspective, her words are often in response to questions from the son of her “slave owner” who can hardly be called an impartial observer. Not that I expected him to be objective and impartial, given the complexities of the situation he was in. But to call him so is a overreaching and, frankly, a disservice to the real Lola we will never know.

  2. Well of course the story can only come from one point of view. It is written by Mr. Tizon and he can only write from his own experience.

    Anyway we read the same article and are affected by it depending on our own experiences, and while the author is a generation older than me and therefore had more knowledge of the 70s and 80s I can empathize somewhat. Here are a few important facts that the author would have probably wanted readers to understand first of all.

    If there is anything I wish the article did it is to mention that the situations Lola found herself in are extremely common occurrences in the Philippines and that if I were to guess around 70% of the time it works to their advantage. They are given shelter and food and many even enjoy a good education provided the host family is willing and able to provide it. The nuance that is completely missed by not mentioning this is that the service they provide is one borne of gratitude for allowing them to live there and to partake of a family’s resources. Often in any communication they have with their real families they are reminded of this and are told to do their best to be of service. This explains the great sacrifices many like Lola do to show appreciation to the host families.

    This is a BIG difference from the concept of slavery in the 1700s – 1800s in America, which is more of a forced nature and integrated violence as a standard means of control. And this is the reason why I found the cruelty of Tizon’s parents as unusual because from my own experiences it is not the norm and is often counter productive. Mind you it is not to say it doesn’t happen. Local tabloids and cheap radio dramas feast on stories of emotional and sexual abuse by heads of families on household help all the time. However this served to make society aware to how easily people in Lola’s state can be abused and so many are quick to condemn these.

    I do agree that his parents should have been arrested for hiding Lola and abusing her. And yes, Mr. Tizon and his siblings were complicit. I do empathize with the contradictions he may have gone through because as I mentioned, opposing your parents is unheard of in our society especially in his generation.

    As per the Fairview issue I will need to read up on that and so cannot offer an opinion.

  3. “Do you know anybody treated the way she’s treated?,” Arthur said. “Who lives the way she lives?” He summed up Lola’s reality: Wasn’t paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters. (Her designated place to sleep in each house we lived in was always whatever was left—a couch or storage area or corner in my sisters’ bedroom. She often slept among piles of laundry.)

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