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.