Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cecilia Brainard's Reaction to Alex Tizon's "A Slave in My Family"

The confessional/memoir "My Family's Slave" by Filipino American writer Alex Tizon has caused a great stir, one might even say uproar, since it first appeared in The Atlantic earlier this week. The piece was published posthumously because Tizon died last March.

Here's the link to the article:

The piece is about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, a Filipina who Tizon says had been given to his mother as a slave. Eudocia received beatings in place of the mother; she was not paid; she was abused both in the Philippines and in the US where Alex's parents brought her.

Readers have been moved and shocked by this modern-day slavery. click here:

Pasadena Lit fest
 l-r: Boni Alvarez, Chris Santiago, Cecilia Brainard, Angela Penaredondo, and moderator Noel Alumit.

I was in a panel of Filipino American writers recently and Alex Tizon's article came up.  The five writers did not seem as moved as the readers quoted by The Atlantic above. Some panelists used the word "sensationalism" to describe the work. Three writers wanted more accountability from the writer and his family for what happened to Eudocia. I was one of those who called the work sensationalist and who blamed the family. Let me elaborate further.

To understand my frame of reference, let me explain that I grew up in a household with servants.  Labor is cheap in the Philippines; unfortunately there are very many poor people. There is great income inequality in the Philippines. I recall mothers bringing their teenage sons or daughters to our house hoping they would find work there.

In a way this echoes what happened to Eudocia Tomas Pulido who came from a poor family and who was "acquired" by Tizon's grandfather. The grandfather then "gave" Eudocia to Tizon's mother to serve her and to even accept beatings on her behalf. Thus Eudocia's harsh life began with this family and ended when she was in her eighties.

We did not do that in my family. My family was fair with servants; we paid them; they were free to leave if they wished. I recall my mother sending several helpers to schools so they would learn a trade. I knew many other families who did not maltreat their servants as the Tizon family apparently did.

Tizon's article did not make me feel sympathic toward the writer and his family. In fact, the confessional annoyed me greatly. These people took advantage of a vulnerable human being.

As far as Tizon is concerned, and while I feel squeamish about critiquing a dead writer's so-called opus, I feel the writer chose words and an angle to hype-up the story. The word "slave" is loaded, for example, but this is how he tagged poor Eudocia Tomas Pulido.  Right there, he dehumanized her. He did not refer to her as his second grandmother, even he called her "Lola" which means "grandmother." Further, the piece has a maudlin tone, which makes me feel manipulated.

The article focuses on the abuse this woman received. At some point in his life, Pulitzer-prize winner, Tizon, was no longer a child and was in a position to help Eudocia.  It seems he didn't do this until his mother died and Eudocia moved in with him and his family.This segment of the story focuses on Eudocia's blooming, when she learns how to read, and grows a garden -- but too late because she was then an old woman.

I do not mean to sound unfeeling. I am questioning Tizon's sensational style of writing; or perhaps I should question The Atlantic's desire to publish a "saleable" story.

Based on what I read, the emotion I feel is Anger: anger towards the family members who did not give this woman love nor respect; and anger towards a system where only a small percent of the population holds the country's wealth.


Check this discussion on #KababayanToday:

#KababayanToday - Watch Giselle Tongi interivew Writers Noel Alumit and Cecilia Brainard about Alex Tizon's "A Slave in My Family

FaceBook Comments from my FB friends;

Adrienne Rodriguez It is sad that a great number of Filipinos have to leave the country to support their families and it is more sad their countrymen treat them like slaves. These are the exceptions . Cecilia , thank you for writing the blog.

May 20 at 8:45pm
Rose Marie Fructuoso I saw a lot of this at the World Bank and IMF. Not just Filipinos treating other Filipinos badly but other nationalities doing the same to Filipinos and their own nationals. They took advantage of them because they were granted G5 visas to bring them into the US.

May 20 at 9:40pmEdited
Melissa Rae Sipin-Gabon Thank you for this, Cecilia. I have been reading your "When the Rainbow Goddess Wept" and have been extremely moved by your writing. Maraming salamat po.

May 20 at 10:46pm
Cecilia Brainard Hi Melissa Rae Sipin-Gabon, thank you very much for your kind comment.

May 20 at 11:40pm
Adrienne Rodriguez "Thank you. The writer of this blog parallels my response to Tizon's article. However, I would go one step further and admit that the Caste system is very alive, though not admitted, in the pinoy culture. No matter how good and generous one is to the maids and other household help that in current legal terms here are referred to as Kasambahay, no matter if there are laws of minimum wage and social security and Philhealth requirements for kasambahays, my question is still how come these people have to become KASAMBAHAY either here or DOMESTIC helpers abroad, often times to support their families or to save for further education? There needs to be a purge of pinoy culture. We need to get out of 500 years of colonial mentality."Glio Celiaberg

Yesterday at 1:28am
Victoria Deen Sison I always hear comments that it's hard to get good domestic help now and my answer is we should be happy that our young girls have more options now. I lost my very good helper cuz I could not compete with salary factory gave her. There are more young girls now who really want to finish high school and then work as sales girls. Education can break cycle of poverty. I send children of my driver to college and his eldest girl is now a teacher and her boyfriend is bank employee. They have broken free from poverty and now are middle class. We who have remained here should accept that the olden days of our parents when we had 5 6 or 7 maids that those days are gone. The sad story Tizon wrote should make us realize that we can do our little share to help young Filipinas have a better life.

10 hrs
Cecilia Brainard HI, Baby Victoria Deen Sison, it floors me that these people treated this woman like a slave and even called her a "slave" in his writing. How dehumanizing. Like you I and my family feel is it our obligation to help them. And too bad if "good help" is hard to find. You either pay more or get washing machines and appliances to help do the work. This is happening more and more in Manila, where I hear my friends talking about lacking help.

From Tillic Lorayes: I just read your blog entry on Alex Tizon's story. I felt the same thing as you - anger. And maudlin is the right word for the way the article was written. But in addition to the article itself, what angered me was so much commentary saying that is is part of our culture - a means of dissipating the responsibility of the Tizons for a crime solely theirs.

Cecilia's Reply:  You are correct; he did not accept responsibility but blamed the culture. The Atlantic rewarded him for this and in fact is capitalizing on the notoriety of the article. That poor woman was used to the hilt. Tizon even had the temerity to ask her if she had had sex, as if she were a mere subject for observation. There was no genuine love nor respect for that woman at all.

Tags: #slave #AlexTizon #PhilippineAmerican

Read also
     Patricio Abinales responds to Alex Tizon's "Slave in My Family." 

    Not Moved by (Alex Tizon's "A Slave in My Family"

1 comment:

Ann in CA said...

A friend shared this article with me. I saw it as a tragic commentary on the way evil can happen in the face of silence. Evil does not need to come like Hitler with bombs and torture and invasion. Evil can happen in silence which is acquiesce. Vote, make noise, embrace whatever freedom you have and stand against evil. Always and in every way. That's what I got from this article.