Monday, May 22, 2017


After Alex Tizon’s article "My Family’s Slave" as regards Eudocia Tomas Pulido 
(The Atlantic, June 2017)

Lola on the cover of The Atlantic

There’s an aspect of American identity that pre/as-sumes moral superiority. It is written in Manifest Destiny, the taming of the heathen. Manifest. Destiny.

In 1943 she would have married a man she did not want to live on a pig farm, birth and raise his children who would too work on the pig farm. Or maybe her children would leave the Philippines to be a nanny abroad. Would her husband twice her age die an early death, forcing her to raise them on her own? Or maybe her own children would rise above their station creating a life abroad, then send for her so she can help raise their children. Or. Maybe.

My grandmother is Lola’s age. She married the farmer, my grandfather. She was 17 when she had my father, the year Lola was given as a gift by Lieutenant Tom. The Japanese were taking over their country. Families wanted to marry off their daughters to keep them from being claimed by the Japanese army. Some of those women were called Comfort Women, held in brothels for the exclusive use of the military, sex slaves. She. Was.

Katulong: a helper. a maid. a nanny. a cook. a slave.

Americans are raised to believe there is hope when there are no choices. A bootstrap mentality that lays blame for failure on the individual lacking moral fortitude. If there’s a will, there’s a way. The nature of good and bad is relative. It is better to live a burdened life of choice, than no choice at all. Free. Will.

Sige na, Lola’s family told her, live inside the compound than outside. What is freedom when there is nothing to eat. Sige. Na.

Bathala na. This is God’s will.

There are words that do not translate. Well. At all.

"Akala ko nakalimutan na niya ako. But he still remembers me. Sa tagal-tagal ko na, na nawala ako sa kanila, kilala pa rin pala nila ako sa kanilang buhay.” Lilly Piccio, Prince William’s former nanny. He. Remembers.

They are not her children from her womb. They are the children God has given her to raise. Remembering her is the only way she knows they loved her. Loved. Her.

She is not the mother. She was never the mother. Not all mothers are Hallmark cards. It does not mean she didn’t love them as if they were her own. As. If.

We always make a stop at the Lady of Manaog and pray for blessings. There is a reverence to Mary as the vessel for God that runs deep. To be chosen to be the Mother is the highest honor. Chosen. Mother.

Tulong: to help.

Whenever we visited the Philippines there was a buzz of people in the house, cleaning folding, cooking. Don’t dare pick up a broom to help. It was their job, not ours. Why are there so many people, we’d ask. They need the money was the reply. Need. Money.

Utang ng loob. This is not a simple monetary transaction satisfied by a paid invoice. Every interaction, every resource used is itemized including the house, the food, the breathing space, the wasted food thrown away, the fast food container that could be reused if washed. This is the price. The calculated value of one’s worth. Utang. Loob.

Lola saves items thrown in the garbage: yogurt containers, paper towels, forgotten art projects. There is still value left. What is your value if no one needs you? Value. Left.

If they need the money, why can’t we just give it to them? There is no pride nor dignity in getting something for free. Thieves are treated worse than murderers. A killer might have a good reason to kill. A thief? They are lazy and worthless. Pride. Dignity.

To be a Filipina, is to sacrifice. 

She became his mistress because she needed the money. He is Stateside and earns dollars. Have his children and he will pay. And you will have food because you will care for his children. There is a debt. Nothing is free. Nothing.

OFWs are heroes. They are worth 29.6 Billion Pesos, nearly 10% of the Gross Domestic Product for the Philippines. To be poor is to fail. Heroes. Fail.

You might get raped going abroad but at least you are making dollars. Here, you get nothing. At. Least.

Be grateful. You live in America. Be grateful. You are only beaten. Be grateful. You have a roof over your head. Be grateful. You are not dead. Be. Grateful.

How dare he, the guilty master, amo. Amo means master means boss means to tame means to domesticate. In Spanish, amo means "I love." Master. I love.

Americans believe all stories have endings. Happy endings. Uncomplicated endings. With answers. Endings. Answers.

She needs the money. We are trying to help. The helpers.

We have a Filipino katulong. Her friends told her don’t work for Filipinos, they’re too cheap. She told them we’re ok because we’re American-Filipinos. Filipinos have a depreciated sense of worth. American. Filipino.

If they had never come to America, would any of us have ever known? Would the rage have ever surfaced? The guilt, our guilt, the morality, our morality, the shame, our shame. Would it have gnawed at him? At us? Is this his penance, contrition, confession? Is he seeking to be absolved to be forgiven? Hiya. 

Those words make me sick. That I wrote about slavery as a love story. We rarely write about those women. I saw the obituary as an opportunity to acknowledge and honor those sacrifices. Saccharine sentiments. Examine my own lack of knowledge. Allowed questions to go unasked. One that relies on people in grief to tell the story. He lied to me.* Saccharine. Sentiments.

Immigrants learn there is a moral purity that must be upheld to stay in this country. We are only visitors. Do not speak to be any less than the perfect American. Do not deny your American relations anything less than the American Dream, the Model Minority, from you. Any. Less.

Where is Lola’s voice? Words are not the only way to speak. There is power in withholding the story. Remember me in beauty. To be stoic, like Mother Mary. Remember. Me.

We are all told stories. We all tell stories. Even when no one hears. Even when they are unwritten. Even. When.

Do not speak of it again. It is the past. To remember is to wound yourself again. It is how we survive. It is how we survived. Speak. Again.

Do not feel sorry for me. I do not need your pity. Do. Not.

To be in the conversation at all, is to be privileged. To. Be.

We are all complicit. All. Complicit.


The article and everyone's response to it evoked a myriad of emotions on a daily basis as I consumed every thought piece that passed my FB feed. In writing it I realized I'd been collecting words about the katulong relationships for some time but also wanted to acknowledge my Filipino American view that both sees yet doesn't sit well with either perspective, how in our rush to be righteous, to condemn, we avoid our own contributions to the entire dynamic. Which is why I begin with the line about moral superiority to temper my own knee jerk presumptions and American ideals around choice that aren't alway present or available in a Philippine context.

While Lola is the victim, she is not without dignity nor pride. And while she is not heard from, it doesn't mean she's not present. And yes it's the master's perspective but there is some truth. Can they really love each other? Yes. Messy, fraught with conflict and guilt, and possibly Stockholm syndrome. Yes slavery is a love story. 

Michelle Bautista is the author of Kali's Blade and book designer for Meritage Press and Philippine American Literary House. Born and raised in Oakland, CA, she lives a multifaceted life with her husband and daughter.

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