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Month: May 2017

A Story of Slavery in Modern America – The Atlantic

A Story of Slavery in Modern America – The Atlantic

Source: A Story of Slavery in Modern America – The Atlantic

So, the front page story in the latest Atlantic is causing a stir on the Net. In the article, the author, Pulitzer prize winning writer Alex Tizon, shares an eloquent, painful story of the domestic worker who raised him and his siblings, who took care of the household, who cooked and cleaned for the family, and who never received a cent for her hard work. Tizon says that the woman, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, was given as a “gift” to his mother from her military-minded father. Tizon makes a point to mention several times that his mother did not want the gift, but could not refuse it. Tizon’s mother grudgingly accepted Pulido, (called Lola by the family), but hurled a lifetime of emotional abuse at her. When Tizon’s mother finally died, Tizon himself tried to “free” Lola in subtle ways. He offered her a stipend. He offered to teach her to drive. She never really became free, still doing the domestic chores because that’s what she always did, and she knew nothing different. When Lola passed away, Tizon traveled to the Philippines (something Lola was not allowed to do when Tizon’s mother was still alive) in order to deliver her ashes to what was left of Lola’s family.

The story struck a chord all over the place. Many wondered why Tizon never stood up for Lola against his mother. Many suggested that he was complicit in Lola’s suffering. But for me, it’s very hard not to view this story through a personal lens. I’m Filipino American. I have relatives in the Philippines whose households are run by servants. My mom once told me of a distant cousin of hers who has a huge house in Manila, and the family has a cook, a housekeeper, and a chauffeur. To me, a kid who grew up in the working-class Honolulu neighborhood of Kalihi, these stories sounded made up. No one except royalty could afford such extravagance. And it wasn’t until much later, until I started working myself, that I realized that perhaps these servants weren’t getting paid at all. But, should I question it? I’ve never met this cousin, or their family. I probably never will. Am I complicit in these people’s treatment because I did not question or speak up about it to other relatives who might be able to do something about it? And would talking about it help? Or would it be like talking to an older relative who holds racist views? You want them to become a better person, but are they too set in their ways to change?

It’s a hard thing, and a part of Filipino culture that often gets swept under the rug. Yes, there was slavery in pre-colonial Philippines. Yes, the “barbaric” nature of Filipinos was used as an excuse for Westerners (first the Spanish, and then the Americans) to take over and teach the savages some religion so they know not to enslave others. Still. among upper middle class and high class Filipinos, having servants is expected and encouraged. In a developing country like The Philippines, any kind of work that pays money (even if it doesn’t pay as much as some other jobs) is a blessing, and many become domestic workers, joining households, and becoming part of the family. It’s clear that Tizon loved Lola, and perhaps Lola loved him back, but does that excuse the way Lola was treated by the family?

There’s also the unique experience of Filipino immigrants, who tend to assimilate into American culture quite easily, thanks to working knowledge of English. It could be that Lola could not have found a support group outside of the family because in general, Filipinos don’t congregate together in urban hubs. There aren’t any Little Manilas anymore, even in cities with thriving Chinatowns. Filipinos tend to be very clannish, though. There’s a constant wave of birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and funerals that you’re expected to attend, even if you’re a distant relative. So, Filipinos congregate because of families, not shared culture. And there’s also the Asian idea of not allowing outsiders to know what goes on in your own family. There’s a great degree of shame in Filipino culture, a need to show that everything is fine, to keep up appearances even if your personal life is a mess.

And even now, many Filipinos travel abroad to become domestic workers. The bulk of the Philippines’ GNP is wrapped up in whatever money overseas workers send back home.  I’ve heard that the “in” thing now among young, well-to-do Western families is to have a Filipino nanny for their kids. One can only hope that these workers are treated better than Lola was. Filipinos all over the world work as caregivers, as nurses, as nannies, as domestic help. It’s because Filipinos will give up so much of ourselves because we believe that it’s expected. It’s in our culture to care too much. And you’re an evil person if you’re selfish. I’m a selfish person, and I don’t think I’m a very good Filipino, but that’s a hang up for another time.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I, perhaps, needed to get some of this stuff off my shoulders because it’s been weighing me down for the past day or so. My hope is that the controversy surrounding Lola’s story will only shed light on Filipino domestic workers everywhere.

One thing that bothered me about Tizon’s account, he had Lola cremated, presumably so that it would be easier to travel to the Philippines to deliver her body back to her village. Most Filipinos are Roman Catholic and do not believe in cremation. None of my dead relatives have been cremated. I wonder if being cremated was in accordance to Lola’s wishes.

One last kicker. Lola, in Tagalog, means “grandmother”. She was, for all intents and purposes, considered family.

And you don’t pay family.

But you’re not supposed to treat family like the Tizons treated Lola, either.



Random Thoughts from a Rando – Pt. 3

Random Thoughts from a Rando – Pt. 3

  • I finally finished up the new season of MST3K, and overall I greatly enjoyed it. It was wonderful being able to experience the goofiness of bizarre movies I’d never seek out on my own mixed in with the riffing. I only have a few qualms with the jokes. Too many Andrew Dice Clay references (he wasn’t funny when he was popular and he ain’t funny now), a couple of ableist jokes which I thought were in bad taste, but overall, I’m quite pleased with the outcome. It can only get better, right? I’m hoping they’ll be able to get another season, if only to resolve the cliffhanger from the finale.
  • We’re getting the first spate of honest to goodness heat where I live and my head is not enjoying it at all. Heat is a migraine trigger for me so I was in the throes of one of the worst headaches imaginable for the past day or so. I’m just grateful that I can just take painkillers in order to stave off the worst of it, but there’s still a kind of nagging pain that lingers no matter what I do. I don’t have the insurance necessary to get the proper drugs, and I don’t get completely debilitating migraines that often (knock on wood) so even when I do get them, I’m still more or less able to function like a normal human being. It’s only when the heat comes all at once, after months and months of cold and mild weather that I get the migraines. It’s going to be awful for the next few heat waves, until I’m used to them. I mean, I’m still gonna be miserable, but I’ll be used to the feeling of being miserable. And I’ll be able to eat frozen treats with wild abandon until September.
  • I watched the first episode of American Gods, and as a huge fan of the book, I was grateful to see that the TV adaptation was….I’m not going to say accurate because there are details which have been changed, but I’d say that it’s faithful to the spirit of the novel. Bryan Fuller already owns my soul for being the mastermind behind Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. It’s that kind of dreamy, off-kilter takes on mortality that I’ve come to expect from his shows, and American Gods is no different. His shows always have been a celebration of life and especially of death, so I was pretty certain his version of American Gods would do Gaiman proud. And it did. I’m pleased with what I saw. And hot damn, am I happy that they actually portrayed Audrey as a three-dimensional character instead of just a stone cold angry harpy. I mean, her feelings were justified in the book too, but since the book is from Shadow’s POV, she just came off as ragey. In the show, she’s ragey still, sure, but her anger feels more justified. She was cheated on and wanted vengeance and I felt more sympathy for her here than in the book. It felt truer to her character, at the very least.
  • Also, Better Call Saul continues apace as being one of my favorite shows ever, and a more than worthy successor to Breaking Bad. This week’s episode wasn’t entirely focused on Jimmy but on the growing friction between Gus Fring (who I’m so grateful is able to be a character in this prequel) and Hector Salamanca, with Mike in the middle, pondering whom to offer his loyalty to. Well, we know who he goes with but it’s fascinating to see how that relationship began. I’m wondering more and more whether it was Mike who put Hector in that wheelchair, after Gus tells Mike that the reason he stopped him from killing Hector was because “a bullet to the head would be far too humane”. Meanwhile, I still hate Chuck and can’t wait for whatever Jimmy and Kim have up their sleeve to take him down. They’ve already mentioned that the tape couldn’t be used as evidence anyway, though I’m wondering if a bar hearing, as Chuck said, would be more lenient as to what sort of evidence gets put in? I don’t know. But I just want Chuck to fail and Jimmy to succeed, and even though I know Jimmy is quite irredeemable at the end of Breaking Bad, I feel sorry for Jimmy because Chuck doesn’t see him as anything more than a chimp with a gun. Chuck is trying to protect Jimmy from himself, but Jimmy can take care of himself, and Chuck doesn’t see that. Ugh, so good.
  • And I’d just like to say that I’m so grateful that the Writers Guild negotiated a new contract with the production studios so that we’ll have excellent TV and movies for the next four years because God knows we’re gonna need all the distractions
  • Finally, I decided to sign up for a new subscription crate. Back in the day, there was a sub box called Ramen Crate which was supposed to send you a collection of dried ramen packages every month, and it actually only went on for a few months before the company folded, I assume, because no one subscribed to it except for me. Cut to me a few years later, and finding out about Japan Crate, which is a Japanese food based subscription service which has a monthly ramen box called Umai Crate. I want that crate. I want a box of tasty ramen sent to my mailbox every month. This is my dream, ya’ll, and I’m gonna live it. Hopefully this isn’t going to die off like the other subscription box, and it’s honestly the one thing I’m looking forward to this entire month.