The Enslaved Woman they Called Lola

Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s 2011 obituary in the Seattle Times is now a curious artifact of the cruelest irony. Six years before Alex Tizon wrote about Pulido in The Atlantic as “a slave in my family’s household,” he urged the Times, where he had previously worked, to write a tribute to her life. The task fell to Susan Kelleher, who based the obituary on Tizon’s recollection and saw in his account “remarkable aspects to her life that I thought would be worth sharing.” That account, which painted Pulido as a free woman, was of course a lie. But the foundation of the most beautiful of lies is often the ugliest of truths.“A devotion so rare that even those closest to her still struggle to comprehend it” is how Kelleher described the woman the family called “Lola” in that obituary.Alex Tizon’s struggle for comprehension did not end with Pulido’s death. Rather, it’s clear from his recent Atlantic story that even in revealing the depths of his lie, Tizon was still grappling to understand it.

Near the end of his story, Tizon describes his efforts to liberate Pulido after his mother’s death and atone for the pain she endured while raising him. He gives her a $200 weekly “allowance,” helps her travel back to their native Philippines, and attempts to steer her away from a life of domestic servitude. But Tizon’s well-intended efforts to unbreak Pulido are mostly thwarted by her inability to stop cooking, cleaning, and caring. “She didn’t know any other way to be,” Tizon laments.The sad truth is that he could never fully release her, try as he might. Although my ability to understand the Filipino katulong structure that Tizon describes is clouded by my own cultural and familial context of American slavery, one thing is clear to me about all systems of bondage: Emancipation is a process. Enslaved people are not so much set free as they are made free, a long and hard process of reconciliation and reparation that can span years, if not generations, if not centuries. Power, wealth, and labor transferred from one person to another are not so easily reconciled, and most often simply aren’t.

Read more at The Atlantic