In the June issue of The Atlantic, the cover story was written by a Filipino-American journalist, Alex Tizon. The piece, about the domestic helper his family brought to the States from the Philippines, has proven to be quite controversial.
Tizon titled the article “My Family’s Slave,” as the domestic, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, served the family for years with little to no pay. A distant relation of the Tizons, she was mistreated by the matriarch but loved and respected by the children of the family who called her Lola.
Westerners are horrified by the prospect of having a live-in servant slaving away for little more than food and shelter, but those of us who know just how dire it is for the poor of the Philippines understand why someone would make the choice to work for a family like the Tizons.
Pulido’s family lived in a small hut with a dirt floor. She was to be married to a man much older than her who she did not love. In a country that does not allow divorce or abortion, Pulido was facing a lifetime of poverty where she would likely have given birth to several children who would never have enough food to eat. If her husband beat her or failed to provide for the family, she would still be forced to stay.
Pulido had very little education. She could not read or write. She was not skilled in any trade; she came from a family of rice farmers. In the West, people do not tend to see such obstacles as insurmountable. In the Philippines, however, they are crippling.
How many of us have seen barefoot children on the street begging for coins or scraps of food? These children are everywhere. They are at the cemetery, scraping dripped candle wax off of tombstones to sell for a few pesos. They are waiting outside church doors, hoping that Christian charity extends beyond the collection basket. They are getting by day by day, trapped in an endless cycle of poverty.
In the West, children dream of become doctors or lawyers or astronauts. In the Philippines, many children simply dream of having enough food to eat.
Pulido’s story is not just one of abuse; her situation is just another symptom of the poverty so many face in the Philippines. Her story is sad, but it is also a story of survival. Those who are truly moved by her plight should focus on helping the millions of people in the Philippines (and around the world who are living in similar circumstances.)
It is not enough to condemn unjust actions. We must actively work to create a better world in which no one has to choose between slavery and starvation.