« We're Doomed? | Main | KIC 8462852 Is At It Again »

May 16, 2017


Definitely a horror story.

I'd say it's more than just a horror story. It's incredible for sure.

The author has passed and I can't decide if he's a hero or villain.

I'd definitely go with villain. But a lesser villain than some in the story.

I'm not inclined to judge anyone in this story. It's a beautiful portrayal of a life in a culture that I can't imagine. I wish that Lola had not been enslaved. But her life was worthwhile, and the author's witness and memorial is a gift to her.

Human history is so full of Lolas. We (in the U.S.) fought a civil war against slavery. We need to recognize it when its among us, but also begin honoring people who were enslaved.

The article is an attempt to honor Lola. It was a beautiful tribute from someone whose own experience seems to have been difficult to escape.

But her life was worthwhile.

I have to wonder if she would see it that way.

I have to wonder if she would see it that way.

We all have that problem, don't we?

I suspect that there are still diplomatic families in this country who have servants that could be described as slaves.

The author has passed and I can't decide if he's a hero or villain.

Hero is a strange word, but he's certainly not a villain. I think he did as much as any of us might wish to do, given the circumstances. And his account is an honest, generous and moving one.

Well, it's not really about the author, is it?

I think he did as much as any of us might wish to do, given the circumstances.

Any of us (certainly I) would wish to have been more effective in ameliorating Lola's situation earlier, before her "retirement". The author's mother was wilfully blind to the appalling thing she was perpetuating, but of course the "circumstances" include the fact that Lola was also very attached to said mother, and pushing it might have meant that she would have had to leave, to both their distress. Which just goes to show how incredibly difficult it is to rise above or see outside of the situation in which one has been born or grown up. The author had enough distance, conferred by his upbringing and education in the US to see what was happening, but felt (understandably but distressingly) that his hands were tied.

Shorter me: what Nigel said, and also what sapient said.

Shorter me: what Nigel said, and also what sapient said.


My mother had "servants" when she first came into this country. Thankfully, her "servants" manage to leave our household shortly after she entered the country. Reading this story made me realize what a narrow escape I had. I don't know what I would have done if I had grown up in that situation - I'm already having tense moments with my mother.

This story has happen many thousands of times over hundreds of years. Children growing up and facing the mind twist of having to deny the woman who mothered them because she is a nanny or a slave.

I thought the author tried to give Lola the chance to be herself and nake choices and well be free in her old age.

Since I have a strong interest in Philippine studies, and have lived in the Philippines, most of what I've seen on this has been from a Filipino perspective, which is quite interesting. Some of it is blowback from the self-righteous American assholes who seize the opportunity to look down on everyone involved in the story (except "Lola"), particularly the author, who is demonized. Had he listened to them (in advance - the account was published posthumously) he might never have written this, which does not strike me as a desirable outcome.

Most of the Filipinos don't go so far as to say "If it's Filipino, it's not slavery," but they do - rightly - question the monochromatic naming and blaming of "Slavery" that some of the critics indulge in. There is a whole class in the Philippines (as in most countries, but comparatively larger there) that has always had "helpers," who live in the house and do everything menial, but their relationships with these helpers vary widely, some as exploitative as this, others much more familial in feel.

I'm not sure how much any of you feel like wandering around Facebook in search of discussion, but here are a few links, I hope:




(this one has further links within it:


(nice insight on "Lola's" obituary, with Tizon not yet ready to come to terms with the reality of her situation)


(Message to non-Filipinos expressing concern)

I read the article several days ago. How a family can live in the United States and not know how awful it is to own a slave is beyond me. In reading a number of the comments, it is fascinating to see the nuance afforded to slaveowners who are people of color. I seem to recall discussions here back in the day about pre- Civil War slavery where the nuance I see here was decidedly absent.

How a family can live in the United States and not know how awful it is to own a slave is beyond me.

Who didn't know how awful it was? Who is being excused for knowing how awful it was and not doing anything about it? I don't think anyone is giving the mother, the father, or the other husband any sort of pass. By time the kids could do anything about it, what is it that they would do, beyond what the author did? Would it have been more helpful to Lola?

Frankly, I can understand that someone who inherited lifelong slaves in the Antebellum South might not know what to do with them even if opposed to slavery. If you just set them free, where do they go? What happens to them? Does someone else enslave them and treat them horribly?

The worst villains were the ones who instigated, normalized, and perpetuated the institution of slavery.

But we have slave-owners on our money, so there's your nuance.

yeah, but liberals, amirite?

I'll confirm Dr. Ngo's experience in the Philippines, and it is reiterated throughout much of the third world.

Even those who we would view as the poorest families* have at least one female servant sweeping the bare packed earth in front of their barrio homes and serving as nannies.

They sleep on a mat in the corner, but so do many of the families in the barrios.

Despite the strict Catholic culture, some "escape" to the cities to sell their bodies. The former U.S. Navel base at Subic and the Air Force Base in central Luzon were at the time like a Fellini film meets Ensign Pulver.

In Manila there are joints on Mabini Street where young (some below age), vulnerable but hardened women are corralled in glass-enclosed aquarium-like rooms for the male tourists to ogle and choose from.

Pretty close to the American Embassy. But the Aussie men were the most ridiculously and verbally abusive. Sorry, mates.

I could have hired a dozen servants while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer on my exorbitant salary of $95 a month, but except for a labendera (she became a good friend and I paid her several times the going rate; her husband was my landlord's carpenter and I hired him as well to help me build a table and a bookshelf) to beat my laundry with a paddle on a rock by the river, I chose not to.

Anything else would have been embarrassing. But I could have lived like Colonel Kurtz and pretty much gotten away with it.

The worst, and exceptional in the sense of being a one-off rarity), behavior I heard secondhand was the asshole "volunteer" who early on married (he must have married her, because cohabitating was so unthinkable that even American volunteers who chose to do so weren't believed by their Filipino counterparts; you were referred to as husband and wife regardless) a young Filipina in the barrio and fathered a baby with her and then when his tour was up, he lit out without telling her.

A further unfortunate exploitative item is the number of Filipinos and Filipinas who migrate or who are lured to Middle Eastern countries to do menial work. True, many of them earn more money there, and they send much of it back to their families.

Filipinos man much of the ocean-going merchant fleets in the world and do back-breaking work.

They too send most of their earnings back to their loved ones while living at slave levels themselves.

Much of the stuff we buy from abroad is produced and schlepped to and fro in what we would consider slave conditions, though at the same time, labor tends to organize and reject the corrupt no-regulatory schemes sought by the usual suspects the world over.

Tom Delay and Dick Armey got a peek at the conditions in the Marianas and pronounced it a friction-free paradisical petting zoo for the labor-extraction industries, so given their heads, they would be happy to obliterate worker and workplace conditions here as well, they being slaves of a sort to ideology.

There is nuance and then there is nuance.

*Another feature of machismo male Filipino culture, despite the place being a weird combination of matriarchal Malay and Spanish influences with American highlights, is the practice of men having regular mistresses, even among poor families. Divorce is nearly impossible.

People can get use to and justify any sort of behavior in this nuanced world.

On top of it all, there is a vibrant transsexual culture in the Philippines.

The young women are nearly all beautiful and wicked smart, even the ones who are men underneath it all. Many of the salon hairdressers, even in outlying areas, are gorgeous transvestites.

Naval, not navel, but if that's what a sailor is looking for in port, that can be had too.

Also, mostly del Pilar Street, not Mabini.

Look, don't touch. Maybe rescue the girls.

Diplomatic officials of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are the most notorious slaveholders in Western countries (plus the worst offenders against traffic* laws by orders of magnitude). Diplomatic immunity seemingly excites the worst instincts in them.

*not sex or drug trafficing. Intolerable behaviour while driving cars.

Part of that may simply be habit, nothing to do with diplomatic immunity.

There are places which vigorously enforce traffic laws. There are others which are more casual about them. But in my experience, Saudi Arabia simply has none. It's not that, for example, lane markings are mostly ignored; it's that they are purely decorative.

If all your driving experience at home involves no legal constraints at all, that's how you will drive everywhere.

It takes a few generations to internalize a new technology like motor vehicles. In China, where a lot of people are driving the first car their family has ever owned, they drive as though they own the road and no one else is on it.

In the US, people behave better on the roads than when I was a kid.

@CharlesWT -- yes. And they beep their horns incessantly to prove it.

Peter Hessler's essay "Country Driving" in the book of the same name almost made me die laughing. I read it not long after I'd spent a month in China visiting my son. Hessler even explains the beeping!

At least in Berlin, Germany, the Saudi traffic behaviour is not related to lack of experience but indeed to the immunity. The police really hates these guys who behave like Christopher Lee in A Tale of Two Cities. One gets the impression they are actually proud to be known as digestive rear exits.
This extends even to lowly employees at the embassies who falsely claim to be diplomats when they once again are caught having caused casualties on the streets and get sent home before they can be held accountable.

JanieM, sounds like an interesting book from the Audible segment.

if it makes mck feel any better, i'm happy to say that the situation seemed pretty messed up to me.

I get the cultural difference thing, but I'm sufficiently a product of my western upbringing to say that treating humans as property is messed up.

thats a point of view that is, over the grand scope of human history, kind of an anomaly. point noted and granted.

but lola got the seriously short end of the stick.

I also recognize the bonds of affection and loyalty that can spring up in situations like that. It's still messed up.

we have our own history, some if it not all that ancient, so I'm not saying all this to judge filipinos, or the author of the piece.

just saying it's possible to recognize and acknowledge all if the human nuance and complexity, and still say that it's wrong.

just saying it's possible to recognize and acknowledge all if the human nuance and complexity, and still say that it's wrong.

which was the point.

then maybe mck has less of a complaint than he seems to think he has.


If you haven't read that already...It's very interesting.

I don't like humans much. As a species we seem to have an over developed capacity for self-serving rationalizations. Even in very close proximity to others, it is so easy for many people to just not have any empathy. Or worse, be cruel.

then maybe mck has less of a complaint than he seems to think he has.

I didn't respond to McKinney, because his comment seemed to have more to do with "people here" having at some point in the past excused "people of color" as opposed to white southerners (hypocrisy patrol, in other words). I don't remember whatever it is that he might have been talking about, so didn't feel the need to try to figure it out.

Slavery is wrong. The author's parents obviously accepted it as part of their culture, and seemed blind to the cruelty of it because they were so entrenched in that [cruel and wrong] aspect of their upbringing. The author became enlightened, but at somewhat of a loss to figure out what to do. So he tried to be humane, and tried to enlighten us - which he did with his very moving narrative.

Thanks to wonkie, Edward Ball attempted something similar. The deep scars of our culture are hard to eradicate, which is what calling out "white privilege" is all about. It's not that people who have "white privilege" are bad people; it's just that they have a certain blindness to how our culture has treated them versus people who are not white.

In the end, it's not about blaming people who we can't change so much as figuring out how to have a more egalitarian world now. Part of that process is understanding what exploitation is, honoring people who have endured exploitation, and imagining what their lives might have been if they had been treated fairly. Then resolving to treat people fairly.

Thank you count @ 10:29AM

and also sapient @ 9:17PM


There is a great deal of difference as between one family importing despicable culteral practices into our freedom loving (cough) country and a social and economic order built on systematic slavery that started a war against the USA to expand that system.

But nuance. Whatever.

my old man was born in rural-ish GA in 1920. when I was a kid we'd go visit and it was basically like that book "the help". I have cousins who were basically raised by black women who had children of their own at home. my aunts ran them, the help, freaking ragged and generally treated them like the servant underclass they assumed they were.

on one occasion, I went with my father and uncle to bring a barrel of produce from my uncles garden to an old black guy who used to share crop for my grandfather. "I knew you wouldn't forget me", the old guy said, and they didnt. but it's likely that he was one if the guys my grandfather used to defraud every year by cooking the books at the end of the year.

how do I know about that? my old man told me about it after he'd had a couple of pops one night.

crap like this is as common as dirt among humans. we're capable of really beautiful stuff, and the most horrible stuff you can imagine.

I don't wave this stuff away, because it's as close to me, personally, as my own family history. it's not something from a textbook. it's my old man, and his old man, and my aunts uncles and cousins.

neither do I point fingers at the south, because I live near boston, and we have our own history, extending up to right now.

I don't really judge tizon, neither do I cut him any slack. he's no different than people in my own family, probably better than some of them. but the way his family treated lol was fubar.

people are complicated.

what I will point out about our own national history us that, at the time of emancipation, black humans were one of the largest accumulations of capital goods in the nation. maybe the largest. and treated as such. bought, sold, insured, used as collateral, tender for the payment of debts.

it was not a quaint if regrettable folkway, it was a major industry, profit center, and source and store of wealth.

I read it a few times. My reaction was that his mom knew how wrong it was and much of what she did was a mixture of justification straight out of the old south (how would she get by without me) and anger aimed outward at Lola probably driven by loathing herself. Neither husband thought much more of the mother than they did of Lola, adding another of the three bars in her prison, the third being the kids blame clarifying the wrong she already knew.

From one of the first lines where she recognized she couldn't turn Lola down she was a victim just less than Lola, maybe more, because Lola didn't hate herself.

For Lola, since her status changed from whatever cultural place in society she had to slave the minute she arrived in the US. But worse than slave she became a prisoner in solitary with only the jailers to interact with. That she could give love to the children, and the mom, shows the resiliency of human beings in their need to love.

A really amazing story.

we're capable of really beautiful stuff, and the most horrible stuff you can imagine.

Yeah, humans are a magnificent, despicable lot.

More than a few slaves were, as Red Fox use to say, "Light, bright and almost white."

I suspect that, after emancipation, many of those who could, passed for white. Heck, I may even be a decedent of one or more of them.

More likely a descendant than a decedent, I'd surmise.

Yes, maybe a great-grandparent or further back.

Allways check spellcheck.

23andMe is almost cheap enough that I'm willing to find out what's lurking in the genes.


Thanks so much for posting this. I was starting to put together material for my own post, about the article's reception by white and black Americans vs. among Filipinos.

What I saw (mostly on Twitter) was a very strong rejection of Tizon coming from both black and white Americans, arguing that his attempts at redress were so weak as to make him almost as despicable as his parents.

They also made the connection that Tizon's mother worked at Fairview Training Center, a facility where patients were regularly abused.

Some of these people were trying to organize an effort to have Lola's family sue Tizon's for reparations.

But then I started to see comments from Filiponos & Filipino-Americans, who said, "This is our story, and Tizon told it well. Don't tell us how to feel or act, we need to work this out ourselves." Absolutely none of them defend the way Lola was treated, but they argue that different kinds of slavery need different kinds of correction and redress.

Ha T Nguyen:

Any more you feel able to tell about your family's story would be appreciated. If you want to write a front-page post under a pseud, we could arrange that, too.

And whoops, I see my comment overlapped with dr ngo's.

I'll disagree on one point. dr ngo said:

their relationships with these helpers vary widely, some as exploitative as this, others much more familial in feel

What Tizon describes sounds *quite* familial to me, but like an abusive, dysfunctional family. Unpaid, inescapable emotional caretaking is the lot of *many* women without it being "slavery" as we usually think of it.

This is our story, and Tizon told it well

I would not be surprised if Filipinos found lectures from us on the topic of human rights to be somewhat lacking in self awareness.


Yes, and they've also pointed out that a major force keeping Lola in captivity was (justified) fear of the INS. Even if the adult children had wanted to report their parents for slavery, what would have happened to Lola? She would have been deported, possibly to be taken in by her family -- who couldn't afford to keep her in the first place -- possibly set adrift.

What Tizon describes sounds *quite* familial to me, but like an abusive, dysfunctional family. Unpaid, inescapable emotional caretaking is the lot of *many* women without it being "slavery" as we usually think of it.

This thought never occurred to me. I'm gobsmacked, like I was struck with a 2x4.

This thought never occurred to me. I'm gobsmacked, like I was struck with a 2x4.

Wow hsh, it sounded so obviously true to me that I didn't even think to comment on it.

This thought never occurred to me. I'm gobsmacked, like I was struck with a 2x4.

Wow hsh, it sounded so obviously true to me that I didn't even think to comment on it.

That's why I was gobsmacked. It was one of those "Duh!" moments. Why didn't I make that connection myself?

It was the first of two moments of that sort I had today.

The second was from seeing the Solution to last week’s Riddler Express on 538. (Scroll down a bit to find it.) It's so damned obvious in hindsight (then again, how couldn't it be?), but I couldn't figure it out myself, at least not with a somewhat moderate effort on my part.

Yes hsh, I got that. My wow was really at what I therefore gathered might be (if widespread) a pure gender difference.

To return somewhat to the original subject of the post, Atlantic has another article on the subject of slavery in America today.

Sorry, a comment that is probably not long enough, but want to put it down before the thread drifts again.

Dr ngo, Count, thanks for the additional information. Despite loving travel and foreign countries, I have never been very keen on going to the Phillippines. Part of it is that (I thought) I don't think it very interesting going to a foreign country where they speak English, making an exception for the UK because I have relatives there, but I don't have the same feeling about going to Canada. Also, all of the people I would be interacting with would probably speak Tagalog as well as 2 or 3 varieties of the local dialect. I have met a lot of pinay here in Japan, a large number come for the mizu shobai trade and they are warm and friendly, but something has just never clicked with the culture for me. so I wonder now if the kind of relationships that the Count talks about were something I intuited.

So a question, dr ngo, is what you describe general across all SE Asia? My experience in Thai and Vietnam, and I've shied away from going to Laos and Cambodia, in part because (and this plugs into the count's observations) the differential in the value of money is so great, you can become blinded.

My brother, while in the Navy, was stationed in the Phillippines and married a Filipino. When he retired, he wouldn't stay in California and she wouldn't come to Texas. So they split and he brought their three sons with him to Texas. I guess they missed their mother. Two of them married women ~10 years older than themselves.

LJ: Is this general across all SEAsia? I would venture yes, in that such relationships of servitude are part of "traditional" society throughout the region (making allowance for local variations), BUT I'm not sure they are as widespread and well-implanted in most other SEAsian societies, with the possible exception of Thailand.

My reasoning - and I'm proceeding here on the basis of a kind of crude logic, rather than actual evidence - is that the kind of unthinking relationship between masters and servants/slaves is something that tends to evolve over generations, as it did (I believe) with various European aristocracies. In every society the powerful will attempt to exploit the powerless, but where class structures have been tossed and tumbled around by revolutions and the like, the ruling class will presumably be somewhat more conscious of what they are doing, unlike an entrenched aristocracy/gentry which is likely to assume that it is just the Natural Order Of Things. And the Filipino elite is remarkable for its resilience and adaptability - I can identify one provincial family that prospered in the Spanish period, in the Philippine-American War, in the American period, in the Japanese Occupation, and in the postwar era of independence, for example.

But this is, as I said, essentially speculative, especially when it comes to comparisons with other SEAsian countries. I would suspect that in those that have had a communist revolution (VN, Laos, Cambodia) there is somewhat less of this unthinking servitude, but that's just a guess.

As for Doctor Science's stricture on my use of "familial," I plead guilty to sloppy thinking and writing on this point. Of course the "slavery" of "Lola" was familial, in a (typically?) dysfunctional way. Should have recognized that.

I was using the more common stereotype of a functional/supportive family - but I suppose you knew that - thinking of some Filipino families who have in fact sent their "helpers" through school (including college), to the point that they eventually qualified for outside careers and had to be replaced in the household. Others are treated more like - and may in fact be - maiden aunts or distant cousins who, in the great tradition of families everywhere, are provided with food and shelter in return for perpetually making themselves useful in whatever way the patrons see fit.

[FWIW, when we lived in Hong Kong we also had a series of Filipina helpers, and the first of them wound up migrating to Canada, finding employment in the care of seniors, and eventually taking out Canadian citizenship! But that's rather beside the point, both because we're Westerners (thus not part of the Filipino tradition) and because imported domestic help in Hong Kong is STRICTLY regulated by the government, including wage levels far higher than comparable work in the Philippines. (We kept hearing of Filipina schoolteachers and nurses who gave up their jobs to come to HK so they could send more money back home.)]

One final (for now) comment on McKT's remark:

How a family can live in the United States and not know how awful it is to own a slave is beyond me.

My presumption is that they never thought of her as a "slave," and were surprised and insulted when this label was attached.

Words matter, sometimes. If I may veer off-topic for a moment, half a century ago, when I was young, the term "rape" was far more narrowly defined, both socially and legally, than it is today (thanks to feminism and other developments). Many men and boys engaged in aggressive sexual behavior that they may have realized was a little on the shady side, but certainly was not "rape" as they understood the term, and they would have been shocked to be considered "rapists" in any sense of the word.

They should have known better; so should the Tizons. But it is not "beyond me" that they didn't.

thanks dr ngo. I have a feeling (or perhaps just a hope?) that this is not so present in Vietnam. A lot of ink has been spilled ridiculing communism demanding that people refer to each other as comrades and dealing with terms of address etc. but when you read about situations like this, I can see how that kind of language change can break down these kind of relationships. I studied Thai for 3 years and read about a lot of these sorts of situation, especially in rural areas, but I have no idea if it remains pervasive or not.

Do either Japan or Korea have traditions of this kind of household slavery?

I've been trying to get clear info on Korea's history of nobi slavery, but there's only a little so far in English (I'm reading this now). The info I've seen about Korea focuses on male labor, agricultural or in e.g. salt mines. What's the tradition & practice of unfree female household labor?

Another Filipino perspective: "We are all Tizons"


i read the essay by chance recently and a few days later noted the criticisms it was receiving. i'd never read the author before, but i found the writing to be fairly brilliant, especially in terms of how one constructs a confession essay.
I noted too he says he did confront the family about her servitude, more than once. how would someone challenge such deeply learned behaviors?
Ultimately, I encouraged others to read the essay, not to wave it in folks faces, but as a piece worth reading and pondering.
(ps, i confess i have lurked here for years. but this is a first time comment. always good reading here.)

It would be less vexing if lurkers would de-lurk only to write crappy commments, but that never seems to happen.

Maybe each of the regulars could have a designated pinch de-lurker.

Or threads for de-lurkers only.

We have the nicest lurkers.
Own it.

Hi doc,
I have to confess almost total ignorance about Korean history and culture. There are a lot of reasons for that, affective barriers and the fact that my information, filtered through Japanese sources, tends to ignore any Korean linkages.

For Japanese slavery, I don't know of any tradition of Japanese household slavery, and I know there was some interesting interactions between Japan and the early European powers, particularly Portugal, in terms of slavery. Portuguese bought and took Japanese slaves and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified the country after the Sengoku period, outlawed slavery. He was also the person who basically de-armed the population after the Sengogku period, allowing only samurai to carry a sword, so it wasn't an empty proclamation. Supposedly, Hideyoshi was disgusted by Portuguese taking Japanese to be slaves, he outlawed it, but interestingly enough, this is never indicated as a reason for the closing of Japan, it's always presented as a fear of Christianity. I wonder if the slave trade was taken as proof that the West was full of rank barbarians and Japan would be better off closing the country. In this light, one can see Hideyoshi as having a lot of Napoleonic traits.

When we talk about Korean antecedents, the ban on slavery gets interesting. There were a lot of prisoners of war who were brought to Japan and basically forced to transfer their technological expertise to the Japanese. One of the famous places for pottery in Japan, whose name I forget (Hagi?) was essentially a box canyon so the prisoners of war who were put to work could not leave. Similar technological transfers, including paper making and sword making, probably occurred, but Japanese scrupulously avoid talking about this or even doing research. The current emperor, in one of his speeches in 2001, mentioned the fact that the imperial bloodline is from Korea, and the reaction was one of silence. The article reports that officials have made the imperial tombs off limits because of the speech, but that is not correct, no one has ever been permitted to conduct direct archeological research on those tombs.

total agreement with hsh about our lurkers and maybe midweek, we can have a de-lurk thread for all of you.

The Atlantic had an article re the comments, for anyone interested: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2017/05/survivor-responses/527772/

The comments to this entry are closed.