2 AM Thoughts: On Alex Tizon, Lola’s Story, and the Filipino culture*

I don’t post political and serious issues in this blog, but after reading My Family’s Slave two days ago, I found myself thinking about it so much that even when I was doing other things, my head is still filled with thoughts about the article. I have so many things I want to say, and I figure, I would just use this blog to express myself out. This is probably one of the few times I’m gonna be posting about this type of subject, so bear with me.

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The Tizons, with Lola Eudocia on the righthand corner, smiling to the camera. (c) The Atlantic

Around two days ago, The Atlantic has published a posthumous article written by the late Filipino-American author and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Alex Tizon about Lola’s Story—a story about his family keeping a dirty secret of having a slave for more than five decades.

After finishing reading the article few hours after it was published, I found myself conflicted with different emotions. I found myself angry at the Tizons for the way they maltreated Lola Eudocia; I was literally in tears while reading the whole article. I was also mad at Alex for so many reasons, but ironically, after I finished reading, I also found myself in awe as to how brutally honest Alex Tizon was in writing the article.

When it came to Lola, I was downright heartbroken. When it came to the parents, I was angry. But, when it came to Alex Tizon, I was lost, not knowing whether to give him a thumbs up or a smack in the face. It really took me a while to really understand my emotions before I was able to finally sleep that night.

The fact that I wanted to give him a smack in the face was pretty easy to absorb. It was slavery. And slavery will always be something that should not be condoned. It is disgusting, immoral, and inhumane.

For the other emotion, I had to really ask myself. I hated the fact that he wasn’t able to stand up against his mother when he found out at 11 that Lola was their slave, but for some reason, I understood how hard it was for him. I hated the fact that he was already 40 when he finally freed Lola, but for some reason, I was also in awe as to how he was able to finally find the courage to do it, however late it was.

Was I a disgusting human being for thinking that way? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one conflicted; most Filipinos were. Are Filipinos disgusting people for thinking that way?

After carefully, thinking about it,  this is what I realized: you see, the Philippines is a very conservative Catholic country. We were taught from the very start how important family is. No matter what. Family comes first. As a Filipino and as Asian, we have strong filial ties. ‘You have to obey your parents’, ‘Make your family proud’, Don’t do something that will bring dishonor to your family.’ Your identity is always interconnected to your family’s identity. It’s never just you.

 In addition to that, the Philippines was colonized for four centuries by the Spaniards, the Americans,and the Japanese. Being a Filipino, I believe, this has always had a negative impact on the Filipino culture. We learned to believe we are inferior, that we have such a small voice to be heard by others. We learned to become subservient–obeying other people without questioning them. All culture have flaws, and in the Filipino culture, this is one of the major flaws that we have.

Now, back to Alex Tizon and the FIlipinos’ conflicting attitude towards him. After finding out about the family’s secret at 11, Alex felt guilty, but he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to stand up for Lola, but that meant standing up against his own mother. And being a FIlipino who was born in a subservient culture that values filial ties so much, it was hard for him to choose where to side. Now, if you’re not Filipino, you might think: What’s so hard with choosing between an exploited slave who loves you and a monstrous slave owner-mother who doesn’t even care about you? But, believe it or not, that is something that not only Alex Tizon has struggled with. There are many instances of Filipinos who find it hard to stand up against their own abusive parents or other family members(e.g., parents pimping their own children for drugs or money, etc.—yes, this isn’t slavery, but you get my point). Because in the Filipino culture, going against your own family is considered taboo, no matter what the circumstances are.

This is the truth about the cultural flaw Filipinos has always struggled with. And that is exactly what I was in awe about in Alex Tizon’s article. By writing that story, he was not only able to stand up against his own parents, but also against his own culture’s flaw. By making the article, he was able to expose not only the TIzons’–including his–dirty, disgusting side, but also that side of the Filipino culture. As I said, every culture has its flaw, and now that Tizon has exposed that of the FIlipinos, it’s about time we start correcting them.

The million-dollar question is, does this make slavery less of a problem knowing that cultural context? DEFINITELY NOT. But seeing it in a proper context makes judgment about this topic better. Many non-Filipinos are saying we are defending Tizon when they are asked to know the cultural context. But, I don’t think he needed someone to defend him when he wrote the article. He didn’t want someone to defend him. When I read the article, I heard someone who hated himself for not doing anything even when he knew the right thing to do. I heard someone who was so caught up with the cultural struggle that even though he knew he was supposed to help Lola at 11 and not at 40, he was only able to find courage at the latter part of his life, because by then, her mother has already passed, and it was ‘culturally’ easier for him to decide. I heard someone who, through this article, was telling the world:

  ‘There are so many Alex Tizons in the world who struggle with this, and many Lola Eudocias who suffer slavery, and the last thing we need is for another Alex Tizon and another Lola Eudocia to be together in another household. This story is something I was not proud of, and something that should not happen again.”

*This is just my personal reflection about the issue. If you agree with me, thank you. If not, I understand.
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