By Florangel Rosario Braid
The late Alex Tizon, a Pulitzer awardee, wrote “My Family’s Slave” which was the latest cover story of Atlantic Monthly. He passed away at 57, before the story was published, so he never knew that his poignant narrative of his family’s maid of over six decades had shocked readers from all over the world.
One can see from mixed reactions on Facebook, among others, that Tizon’s story was interpreted in various ways. Some appreciated his truthful revelations of shocking details – that Lola, Eudocio Tomas Pulido, was given away in 1943 by Tizon’s grandfather to the family when she was 18, that she was brought with them to the United States where they resettled in 1964, that she was never paid, and further, was ill-treated. She was not even allowed to visit her family in Tarlac during the entire time until Tizon’s parents passed away much later when she was already in her eighties. Tizon documented the many details of how Lola had taken care of him and his other siblings while they were growing up. It had taken years for Tizon to finish writing the story which is understandable. He was torn by a dual loyalty – loyalty to his parents whose behavior he probably did not wish to expose for the world to see, and, loyalty to the reader. That as a journalist, his primary responsibility is to tell the truth. And the truth in his case, may have been too painful to reconstruct. But, he finally did, and to me, this deserves another award. Or perhaps a translation of this story into a documentary film or a movie.
Alex Tizon grew up in an environment where he saw various racial and ethnic groups given equal treatment in a supposedly democratic environment, and being sensitive, he soon perhaps realized that there was something wrong going on within the Tizon household. How his parents who were highly regarded in the various circles they had moved around with, could treat him and others belonging to the same socio-economic status differently from their treatment of Lola who would be scolded for the slightest mistake. The latter did all the housework from early dawn to late at night and often would be found sleeping among piles of laundry.
Those who blamed Tizon for not revealing what he had observed in his own household say that he should not have waited until the passing away of his parents. He should have taken action about this inhumane treatment early enough so that Lola could have been compensated for all the years of sacrifice while still young. For as we learn in the story, it was not until she was in her late seventies, when Alex took her under his care, sent her home for vacation, and given the comforts of life that she deserved. Even the obituary in the Seattle Times that he prepared for Lola when she passed away at 86, mentioned only details of a normal existence.
While the author did not reveal in so many words, the most significant lesson from this narrative is that it conveyed to us the real essence of human rights and social justice. That more important than treating every human being fairly such as providing equal opportunity and access to social and economic benefits, is treating every person with dignity. During all those years of growing up, Tizon said he never saw Lola treated as a real human being. She was a non-entity, a person without a face and name, someone that merely appears to serve – at the kitchen or table, or taking care of the kids, and never introduced to other people. He did albeit, try to make up for all the years by making amends during the last decade of her life. Furthermore, he shared us this moving narrative, the writing of which must have caused him considerable torment.
This brings to mind the need to revisit our Kasambahay Law which was an improved revision of older laws on domestics. R.A. 10361 signed into law by President Benigno Aquino Jr. in 2013, extends labor rights, benefits, and protection to an estimated 1.9 million domestic workers in the country. The Act provides protection of domestic workers against abuse, debt bondage, and the worst forms of child labor. It sets a minimum standard for wages and days of rest and other benefits for domestic workers. It extends social security and public health insurance to the sector and provides for quick response to abuses and accessible means to redress grievances. The Act adjusts the minimum wage for domestic workers . Which should perhaps be reviewed and readjusted to make it responsive to current economic trends. At that time it was P2500 for the NCR and P2000 for other cities and P1500 for municipalities. Domestic workers who have worked at least one month of service shall be covered by the Social Security System, PhilHealth, and will have a 13th month pay.
My email is Florangel.email@example.com
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