“My Family’s Slave” is a story familiar to a lot of Filipino families

The treatment of household help or katulong by Filipino families has been put under the international spotlight thanks to the essay “My Family’s Slave” written by the late Filipino-American award winning journalist Alex Tizon. His article was recently published by the American publication, The Atlantic two months after his death.

The late Alex Tizon: His story moved many people but he was seen to be complicit in the abuse of his Lola.

Many readers were moved to tears upon reading the story of Eudocia Tomas Pulido who the writer fondly calls “Lola”. My own problems became too trivial compared to the decades of torment Pulido experienced in the hands of her “masters”. The article was widely praised, but also drew some negative reactions. Some readers commended Tizon’s efforts to give Pulido the freedom she deserved in her twilight years, but some condemned the writer for what they claim was complicity to the continued enslavement of Pulido for years even after Tizon was mature enough to do something about her situation. Some say his actions were a bit too late.

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I can understand some Westerners who think Tizon was also partly to blame for Pulido’s predicament. At some point Tizon came across as contradicting himself in his article. While it appeared he felt sorry for Lola, the one who raised him and his siblings and the one who did all the chores in the house without getting compensated when his parents were juggling odd jobs and were building their careers in America where they migrated in the 1960s, he also benefited a lot in having her around. Meaning, he and his entire family were spared from doing the menial jobs at home at the expense of another human being. This is what is probably what Westerners can’t seem to fathom. Most Westerners have to do the chores themselves even while juggling jobs or building their careers and while caring for their children. What was so special about the Tizons that they had to be spared the same thing and maintain a slave when it is illegal to own one?

Some Westerners had a point when they asked why Tizon didn’t do anything when he was in his 20s or 30s to help Pulido escape the clutches of his cruel mother’s hands. Why did he wait until the passing of Pulido and when he was himself near death to write about how cruel his family treated her since the 1950s? Had he exposed the cruelty she experienced, she could have received compensation for her decades of not being paid and the perpetrators pay for their crimes.

In his article, Tizon came across to me like he was also scared of losing Pulido once he reported the situation to authorities since she played more of the mother to him than his own mother did. He also justified Pulido’s continued stay in their lives by assuming that Pulido would have lived in poverty in the Philippines anyway or suffered the same fate as her siblings – with a wretched existence. But certainly, Pulido’s fate – not having the freedom of choice or not even having the freedom to go out of the house and do as she pleased – was worse than a life of poverty itself.

Surprisingly, some Filipinos in the Philippines were offended by the way Westerners were quick to criticise Tizon’s seeming lack of action to give justice to Pulido. They insisted that Westerners did not have the right to judge since “this is a local narrative” Filipinos have to deal with. They came in defence of the age-old tradition of having a maid clean up after their masters. These Filipinos say Westerners do not understand the context with which Tizon was coming from. They said most Filipinos were raised not to question authority in the house. That may be true, but Tizon was an adult already when Pulido was still being maltreated by his mother.

Some Filipinos also cited that it was the Western colonisers who introduced the concept of slavery to Filipinos in the first place. This last defence shows a lack of accountability. It doesn’t matter if slavery was introduced by a foreign entity; what matters is that Filipinos should have, by now, recognised it is wrong and should have stopped the practice of treating their household help like a slave a long time ago. After all, Western civilization has already abolished slavery and consider it inhumane.  Filipinos can’t keep using that as an excuse for today’s bad behaviour.

A normal-looking family with a dark secret.
Eudocia ‘Lola’ Pulido (at right) with the Tizon family in 1965
(Photo courtesy Oregon Humanities)

One can’t help but feel that some Filipinos are not ready to face their demons. They see themselves as above doing household chores and would rather someone else do it for them – someone they can pay with less than minimum wage, zero benefits and should be on call 24 hours a day. A lot of Filipinos are not ready to give their household help the same employment benefits they get from their own employers. There are still a lot of household help who do not get sickness and social security benefits. Their employers take advantage of of their desperation.

Filipinos are indeed, full of contradictions. Most prefer their homes neat and tidy, but they don’t want to do the cleaning themselves.  They are used to someone else keeping things spotless for them. It is the reason why a lot of Filipinos think it is okay to toss garbage off indiscriminately when they are in public. They think someone else should do the cleaning up for them.

Some of these Filipinos – most of them members of the elite – are offended by criticism Philippine society is receiving from the West due to Tizon’s article because their way of life is threatened. Their lifestyle is at stake. It is a status symbol to employ a lot of household help or maids in the Philippines. Highlighting the appalling working and living conditions of the household help in the Philippines can mean someone might force them to improve the situation through legislation. After all, the stuff that Tizon mentioned in his essay is still happening to a lot of household help now – lack of decent sleeping quarters, insufficient food supply, and verbal and physical abuse, among other things.  As long as there are Filipinos who think they are above their employees, they will continue to treat the latter with little respect.

It might have been late for Pulido, but at least Tizon helped start a dialogue in Philippine society on how conditions suffered the by household help or maids should change. Filipinos should start treating the very people who take care of their most valuable assets – their homes and their children – as equals. Only then can a real egalitarian society be achieved in the Philippines.

17 Replies to ““My Family’s Slave” is a story familiar to a lot of Filipino families”

  1. Yes, it was the Spanish colonizers, who introduced the “katulong or kasambahay” in our way of life…

    Indios, like us have no other way, but to be treated that way; when we were hired for that kind of job. Twenty four hours a day on call job; no Saturday or Sunday off; no overtime pay; physical and verbal abuse come with the job. No health benefit. No hope of promotion…Very low pay…

    This is the reason the Filipinos are all over the world working as servants, maids, or some kind of slave household help. Filipinos accept this, as part of the job.

    Our leaders, do not care; as long as these Filipinos remit some parts of their earnings to the Philippines…and it floats the Philippine economy…there are no complaints or whimper. They don’t know that these money, these OFWs are remitting, are the : blood , sweat and tears, of Filipino servants overseas, who work and are treated, a little less than slaves…

    All OFW, like us, must be Outraged , by this treatments of our fellow OFW !

    1. No one has a monopoly on the truth. All ideas should be respected, even those we think are stupid. Our thinking processes should evolve so humanity can evolve. Not all blacks are right, just like not all whites are right. Not all blacks are wrong, just like not all whites are wrong. Just because you don’t agree with West doesn’t mean he is wrong. He actually has a strong point because the reason why African Americans are free today is because of the African Americans who fought for freedom and the white folks who helped them get it. All West is saying is, they could have fought earlier, like maybe 350 years earlier or something.
      Of course it is easy to say it now in hindsight, but West is trying to promote the idea that African Americans cannot play victim forever especially since the US government has made concessions to promote equal opportunity for all regardless of colour. It’s all up to each individual now to make something of his life. Everyone in America whether black, white, yellow or brown can do whatever they want to succeed.
      As a Filipino, I can relate with West’s views on slavery. I feel that way about millions of Filipinos today. Filipinos also have a history of being enslaved by their colonisers. The Spaniards occupied the Philippines for 300 years and treated Filipinos like second-class citizens. The fact that the name Philippines came from King Philip II of Spain means Filipinos can’t escape our former masters and will be reminded of their “generosity” in putting one name to the 7,000 islands they “discovered”.
      To this day, a lot of Filipinos still wear mental shackles and are still willing to be slaves to people who take advantage of them. We may be free from our former colonisers, but Filipinos still choose to be slaves to members of the Philippine oligarchy. Some of these “elite” were descendants of Spanish settlers and their native allies. A lot of Filipino voters today vote for the same bozos over and over even when it’s quite obvious public funds are being syphoned into the politicians’ personal pockets.

      The Philippines’ modern-day slaves have minds imprisoned by their oligarchs.
      A classic example of this are the supporters of the Liberal Party. They idolise members of the political party particularly land owners like the Aquinos and the Roxases. They think they are

  2. I wonder what will happen with the proceeds (revenues) of the book sales? Maybe it can be donated to the Pulido-family. Still a day late and a dollar short but its better than nothing.

  3. The writer didn’t help “Lola” because he didn’t care. The reason there are servants in the Philippines is because of the laziness of Filipinos. There is a lack of work ethic and working hard is a foreign concept to many. This, among other reasons, is why Filipinos grow up and live with their parents and mooch, because they are used to others doing things for them. They have no ambition.

    This woman, “Lola”, was a slave. Filipinos really cannot complain about colonialism when many of them treat their own people like garbage. The social ladder exists in society, and is no different than other countries. Employing a domestic servant is a status thing. There are many Filipinos who work as servants overseas, and are treated like garbage. This is a product of desperation due to poverty and a country that cannot create jobs. The solution? Stop having babies!

    The Servant mentality is there and, due to the shit culture, Filipino women are raised with even more of a servant mentality. This is why I have noticed a large % of foreign males who marry Filipinas want a woman who will serve them like a slave. These Americanos I have met are losers and no Americano woman would put up with them. Filipinas, with their conditioned low self-esteem, will.

    1. “Filipinos really cannot complain about colonialism when many of them treat their own people like garbage. The social ladder exists in society, and is no different than other countries. Employing a domestic servant is a status thing. ”


      In addition, Filipinos cannot arbitrarily complain about the West, when it comments on their internal affairs, but at the same time use the West’s comments as an authority when it suits them (e.g., EJKs). It makes them look hypocritical.

  4. This reminds me of stories I’ve heard about my wife’s bitch aunt. She hires poor family members and other locals as house help, promises they’ll get their pay after a few years of loyal service, then decides she’d rather dismiss them without paying, because she can somehow get away with that. Supposedly untouchable because she charitably pays for people’s medical treatments from time to time.

  5. In a country of very religious people, slavery is alive. This is the Don and Donya mentality we got from watching those cinderella movies. Filipinos pretend to root for the api but we dream of becoming the senyora, attitude and all.

  6. Why does my wife need a live in maid that is a relative that we do not pay? I got married to a Filipina and this was the first thing that she wanted to do, have a relative work as a maid for us for free. We had a big argument. We have no kids and I really thought it was wrong to not pay a person for working. I was really surprised when I talked about this at my University here in the Philippines, nearly everyone agreed with my wife and told me that it is the best way to take care of poor family members. I was shocked. My wife and I finally came to agreement that made everyone mad, if we get an live in maid. We will pay her fair wages and she will have two days off a week. My wife has now decided to do all the household chores with me rather than have me pay for a maid.

  7. and it’s not surprising why the housewife is always tagged with “lang” just a housewife, just a maid, I think Pinoys have a strong negativity towards in household chores. it’s not equal to work to them. that’s why too many children can’t do any chores right now and many Pinoy husbands are so allergic to help their wives in household works, it diminished their masculinity..lol… continuous dysfunctionality

    1. Probably just one of the multiple stories that occurred in that time period. If one is to be shocked at the current stories today of Filipino domestic helpers being maltreated and not being compensated by their foreigner masters – then it isn’t really quite a stretch to imagine that a rich Filipino family would also do the same. Some sob story indeed, but not really that quite different from probably the other untold stories which have yet to be known. Ask any rich expatriate Filipino family of this particular time period and you might not really be that surprised if one kept one or two of these “household slaves” for their own benefit.

      And one thing, slavery didn’t get introduced to us by the Westerners – proto-Filipino society already had slaves. The names “aliping saguiguilid and aliping namamahay” should come to mind. The Moros even launched slavery expeditions of their own called: pangangayaw – preferably taking Visayans and other tribes into forced capture and possibility later on being sold to other persons.

  8. Since I joined GRP, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of the Failippines democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country — not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society — cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.

  9. In my day, middle income families need maids for household support from both parent’s needing to work to support the necessities, children’s education and medical expenses. Some families with the “Spaniard” mentality or the ” Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality do abuse the help coz of their limited common sense. Heck they are maids/help because of limited education. Advantage for the help is money for their childs education, free living arrangements and food. It’s a win-win situation for them and for the families so they will take the abuse rather than go homeless, hungry and jobless.

    1. @Moonboomer So why don’t equivalent Western families with two working parents “need maids for household support”? Why do they get by fine with a washing machine, dishwasher and cereal breakfasts that kids can make themselves (rather than insisting on rice every single meal)?

      1. Dave,
        in my neck of the woods, the biggest group that have someone doing the household chores are couples who both work (also known as DINK). Couples who both work more than 8 hours per day dont want to lose time on doing chores. So they hire someone. The second biggest group will only hire a ‘baby sitter’ when the couple wants to paint the city blue (going out to a theater without a ‘crying’ baby). And mind you, we will NOT let her or him live in our house. We still want to have our privacy and so does he or she.
        We dont need a stranger to ‘raise’ our kid(s). Kids will go to day care (when they are younger than 4 years old). From the age of 4 they will attend Kindergarden school.

  10. As far as I know, slavery was not introduced by foreigners into the Philippines. It was already existing in pre-Hispanic Philippines. I have Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino by William Henry Scott, and it mentioned the “alipin sa gigilid,” which was a person who became an indentured servant in order to pay a debt. This is one of those things that show us Filipino culture itself can be blamed for the faults and abuses that we have as a people.

    1. This is an interesting point. I have read that the Philippines was very different prior to the arrival of the Spanish; however, finding an authentic, politically incorrect history is not easy. Even if the Spanish introduced some bad elements into Philippine society, Filipinos have the ability to recognize these things and do away with them.

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