My parents expected Lola to be as devoted to us kids as she was to them. While she looked after us, my parents went to school and earned advanced degrees, joining the ranks of so many others with fancy diplomas but no jobs. Then the big break: Dad was offered a job in Foreign Affairs as a commercial analyst. The salary would be meager, but the position was in America—a place he and Mom had grown up dreaming of, where everything they hoped for could come true. Dad was allowed to bring his family and one domestic. Figuring they would both have to work, my parents needed Lola to care for the kids and the house.
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It was like that. Seven years later, in 1950, mom married my father and moved to manila, bringing Lola along. Lieutenant Tom had long been haunted by demons, and in 1951 he silenced them with.32caliber slug to his temple. Mom almost never talked about. She had his temperament—moody, imperial, secretly fragile—and she took his lessons to heart, among them the proper way to be a provincial matrona : you must embrace your role as the giver of commands. You write must keep those beneath you in their place at all times, for their own good and the good of the household. They might cry and complain, but their souls will thank you. They will love you for helping them be what God intended. Lola at age 27 with Arthur, the authors older brother, before coming to the. My brother Arthur was born in 1951. I came next, followed by three more siblings in rapid succession.
Tom, furious, ordered her to stand at the table. Mom cowered with Lola in a corner. Then, in a quivering voice, she told her father that Lola would take her punishment. Lola looked at Mom pleadingly, then without a word walked to the dining table and held on to the edge. Tom raised the belt and delivered 12 lashes, punctuating each one with a word. Lola made no sound. My mother, in recounting this story late in her life, delighted in the outrageousness of it, her tone seeming to say, can you believe i did that? When I brought it biography up with Lola, she asked to hear Moms version. She listened intently, eyes lowered, and afterward she looked at me with sadness and said simply, yes.
I dont want her, my mother said, knowing she had no choice. Lieutenant Tom went off to fight the japanese, leaving Mom behind with Lola in his creaky house in the provinces. Lola fed, groomed, and dressed my mother. When they walked to the market, lola held an umbrella to shield her from the sun. At night, when Lolas other tasks were done—feeding the dogs, sweeping the floors, folding the laundry that she had washed by hand in the camiling river—she sat at the edge of my mothers bed and fanned her to sleep. Lola pulido (shown on the left at age 18) came from a poor family in a rural part of the Philippines. The authors grandfather gave her to his daughter as a gift. One day during the war lieutenant Tom came home and caught my mother in a lie—something to do with a boy she wasnt supposed to talk.
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Took control of the islands in 1898. Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (helpers) or kasambahays (domestics as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep. Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property. In the spring of 1943, with the islands under Japanese occupation, he brought home a girl from a village down the road. She short was a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers.
The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable. Her parents wanted her to marry a pig farmer twice her age, and she was desperately unhappy but had nowhere. Tom approached her with an offer: She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter, who had just turned. Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life. She is my gift to you, lieutenant Tom told my mother.
Doods and I were headed to the place where lolas story began, up north in the central plains: Tarlac province. The home of a cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion, my grandfather. The family stories paint lieutenant Tom as a formidable man given to eccentricity and dark moods, who had lots of land but little money and kept mistresses in separate houses on his property. His wife died giving birth to their only child, my mother. She was raised by a series of utusans, or people who take commands. Slavery has a long history on the islands.
Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection. Related Stories, when the Spanish arrived, in the 1500s, they enslaved islanders and later brought African and Indian slaves. The Spanish Crown eventually began phasing out slavery at home and in its colonies, but parts of the Philippines were so far-flung that authorities couldnt keep a close eye. Traditions persisted under different guises, even after the.
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At baggage claim in Manila, i unzipped my suitcase to make sure lolas ashes were still there. Outside, i inhaled the familiar smell: a thick blend of exhaust and british waste, of ocean and sweet fruit and sweat. Early the next morning I found a driver, an affable middle-aged man who went by the nickname doods, and we hit the road in his truck, weaving through traffic. The scene always stunned. The sheer number of cars and motorcycles and jeepneys. The people weaving between them and moving on the sidewalks in great brown rivers. The street vendors in bare feet trotting alongside cars, hawking cigarettes and cough drops and sacks of boiled peanuts. The child beggars pressing their faces against the windows.
she was in the middle of folding. Listen to the audio version of this article: to our American neighbors, we were model immigrants, a poster family. They told. My father had a law degree, my mother was on her way to becoming a doctor, and my siblings and I got good grades and always said please and thank you. We never talked about Lola. Our secret went to the core of who we were and, at least for us kids, who we wanted. After my mother died of leukemia, in 1999, lola came to live with me in a small town north of seattle. I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream. And then I had a slave.
Related Stories, her name was Eudocia tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with. No other review word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly.
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(Chinese basahin ang artikulong ito sa tagalog (Tagalog alex tizon passed away in March. He was a pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and the author of Big Little man: In search of my asian Self. For more about Alex, please see this editors note. The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to manila. From there i would travel by car to a rural village. When like i arrived, i would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my familys household.