“My Family’s Slave” is a personal story written by Filipino Alex Tizon who died last March 1, 2017, and who grew up in America when he migrated with his family. He was four years old at the time. He left behind a moving and conscience-searing true story about his “yaya” or family’s “katulong,” the woman who cared for him and worked her whole life for his family unpaid. Some would praise her devotion and sacrifice, Alex said it was slavery.
He wrote in The Atlantic about this village girl from Tarlac, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, 18 years old and given as a gift to his mother by his grandfather as a house help. He was a patriarchic well-off landowning grandfather. Eudocia was a docile, submissive village girl intimidated by the powerful man and with a vague sense that her family owed something to the old man and she had a “debt of gratitude” to repay it with her whole life in servitude, That is a strong “utang-na-loob,” or “debt of gratitude” that has to be satisfied and prevents a person from quitting. But it is dishonorable when the person is exploited over it.
Eudocia Tomas Pulido worked without recompense of any kind in the house of the Tizons in Tarlac. She would take beatings from the grandfather in place of her mistress. She was scolded and blamed even for resting when she was sick. When the family moved to America in the 1960s she was brought along as a “ family helper,” free unpaid labor. Alex wrote, “She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.”
The Tizons were considered in America as a model family, good Catholics, but as we now know, with a fragmented, unreflecting hypocritical form of “Christianity.” There are millions of upright true honest Filipino families that would never do such a thing or exploit anyone but others sadly do it. Such people today are living a contradictory illusion of being Christian. Like many, they think that killing suspects without evidence or due process is a good and right action. Their conscience apparently does not bother them one bit.
The article by Alex Tizon is doing the rounds on social media and is challenging and troubling the conscience of many a family who have had similar “utusans” (those who follow orders) or “katulongs” (helpers) or “kasambahay” (domestics), many of whom would have been like Eudocia, and dare we say it, as did Alex, isang alipin, a slave. How many more helpers are held “captive” in “bonded unpaid labor,” kept in the house, denied freedom, marriage, a family, pay and a home of their own.
Eudocia was property, given as a “slave” and owned by the family for them to do with her as they liked. Her few requests in her lifetime were denied. When the mother of Alex died (the father had deserted the family), Alex took her in, paid her US $200 a week and gave her her own room and all her needs and a free human life. He took her on a visit to her family in Tarlac after he got her migrant legal status properly established. But she knew no one and went back to the US with Alex.
This story uncovers the culture of exploitation in various forms of domestic slavery that is rampant in our society. The injustice of such lives of servitude is never considered. It is accepted as a cultural right of a dominant family over the weaker. It reflects a status-conscious society where possessions and wealth determine one’s standing and value. It shows how easily the poor, hungry, unemployed and uneducated can be easily exploited by those above them.
The poor are generally considered by the rich as of lesser value as humans and unworthy to improve their lives. It is a challenge to the kind of Catholic Church teaching which critics have said is too sacramental, theologically abstract, impractical and unrelated to daily life. Teaching the people the strong values of compassion, justice, human dignity, and freedom and taking an active principled stand for them is rare and these values are at the heart and meaning of Christian life. Without living them daily with commitment, we are just church-going Catholics.
So with human exploitation entrenched in parts of the culture, let us not be shocked to learn that over a hundred thousand young teenage girls are coerced, tricked, groomed and lured into the Philippine sex industry every year. They are recruited by the promise of good jobs then they are cheated and exploited. It is the same old cruel story. Local officials give permits to the sex bars as a common practice so they approve and support the sex-for-sale industry and the human trafficking and exploitation.
Another kind of slavery is that imposed on many children, some as young as 10 and 12. They are sexually abused live on the Internet in cyber-sex dens. High paying customers in rich countries view their images. The law says the Internet Server Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication corporations must filter and block the child pornography and cybersex images. But they choose not to do so and some in the National Telecommunications (NTC) appears to be in collusion with them. This is a culture where the powerful say what the law is and is not.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA - a nonprofit dedicated to protecting vulnerable children.