Lola Pulido’s Life Story as Told by Alex Tizon in The Atlantic June Cover Story is Complicated — A Brief Insider’s Perspective


One 1982 September evening on the 4th floor of the co-ed Finley Hall Dormitory at Oregon State University, Leticia (“Ling”) Tizon stopped by our room because we were collecting money for some group outing.

Others were coming and going, but Ling stuck around, propped against the door frame for a good long while, engaging me in conversation. It was the beginning of a friendship that, while in hiatus for 25 years, was renewed via Facebook about 8 years ago.

She calls me “my old friend.”

It wasn’t long before I made a visit to her family’s home on the grounds of the Fairview Hospital in Salem, OR where Ling’s mom worked as a physician and had done so for nearly two decades. This was 1982, my first contact with the Tizon family. Her mother was surprisingly cordial to me from the beginning; talkative, smiling, engaging, nice. That never changed—she was simply always very kind and nice to me, smiling. Did I mention smiling? In the cover photo at the top, that’s Ling in the red dress, smiling.

She gets it from mom.

While I didn’t keep in touch, per se, I did call Ling’s mom from France one evening in 1991. She was overjoyed to hear from me and caught me up on the family. It was the last time I spoke with her.

This was my first familial experience with a completely different culture. My dad’s side of the family are direct immigrants too—from Germany, 1952 when he was 14—but this was literally the other side of the world and even in 1982, this young man from Reno, NV, hadn’t had much exposure to “foreign” cultures. I was fascinated and charmed.


The view Ling saw inside my dorm room. I’d designed and constructed a raised living room at window sill height that covered 2/3 of the room. We slept on mattresses on the floor, under the deck.

Several months earlier, I had done my Midshipman Cruise. It’s where in the summer of your junior-senior year in Navy ROTC, it’s off somewhere, half way across the world to experience a Navy ship for a month. My experience was in the Western Pacific and included port stops in Japan and Korea. I became intrigued with all things Asian and derivative, like Micronesian and Polynesian, etc.

At my first visit chez Tizon, Alex and Ling’s mom, Leticia, engaged me toward overviewing my background, what I was aiming for…all the normal things. For some strange reason, one explicit memory I have along with the visual—as she sat across the dining room table and to my right—was whether I’d ever had coconut ice cream.

I suppose I remember it because I’d never heard of such a thing. But the memory has been reinforced over more recent years since coconut is something us bloggers of things close to a paleo diet consider somewhat magical and special. So, mention of coconut in any context often calls up that memory and I like that.

Over the next two years, I visited many times; usually with Ling, but at least a couple of times on my own. I liked the family, there’s no other explanation.

I never saw anything even remotely close to the abuse of Lola described in Alex’s posthumous cover story in The Atlantic, June: My Family’s Slave — She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.


A quick candid shot in the dorm room at Finley Hall, fall of 1982, where I caught Ling not smiling.

But, when you read that truly epic story closely, it really begins in about 1943 in Tarlac province, Philippines, when Lola is 18, and it sets the entire stage for all of what is to become—with Alex’s and Ling’s grandfather, an army officer, enticing Lola to be the guardian of his 12-year-old daughter. The grandmother had died in childbirth. Lieutenant Tom was a single dad in 1943 in the Philippines. How tough could that be?

…Earlier today, I interviewed my old friend Ling by phone and my last question to her was: is there really a villain? She paused and named her grandfather, who killed himself in 1951, 12 years before she was born. Go to the source. But, if you go to the source, it’s the source of everything that comes later, good and bad. Perhaps he didn’t foresee that in about seven year’s time, he’d put an end to his own life.

By the time he exercised his own final option, the parents had been together for a year, and they began making kids. Ling was the 4th of five, and her birth in 1963 corresponds with the family’s immigration to America within months. In one perspective of context, Lola had already been integral to the family and everything for 21 years before they had set foot in America at LAX.

What I saw was that Lola was integral, the center of everything. The first time I went, there was home cooked Filipino food. And the second. And the third. And forth, fifth, sixth, and… There was always good food, none of the kids were fat. #winning. And Lola died perfectly lean, not being overweight a day in her life of 86 years. She cooked for herself and others. I never saw her eat anything but what she’d cooked herself.


“Slave” and “Master.” My last visit chez Tizon, October 1984, shortly before leaving to live and work in Japan for five years, and where I would visit the Philippines over 30 times in that span. My Ray-Bans were the party prop.

What I observed from the perspectives of Alex, Ling, and Ling’s younger sister Inday, is respect for all. For Lola, for mom, and even for the dad that had deserted them—visitation both ways was not uncommon. It was all pretty damn chill in 1982, 83, and 84. Ling expressed pride to me early on that her dad had a law degree and that her mom was a practicing physician. It was obvious in the household that her mother was the provider and had been for some long time, by then.

I was impressed and had an interest in her as a doctor and used to chat her up about it, and she’d explain various ways and means she would use to diagnose some condition.

Lola had a daily source of pride in cooking food for others. It was obvious to this insider-outsider that Lola loved doing it and the proof was in the clean dishes and plates unless she’d gone overboard and there were leftovers.

I doubt there was very much food waste in the household.

Lumpia, chicken adobo, pancit, and various other things. At the time, my own palate was just getting used to this “strange” fare, so those first three were my typical favorites of the offerings. One day, Lola was going to make a batch of pancit and I asked if I could watch and she lit up. She took me meticulously through every step of the process as I stood beside her at the stovetop. Of course, I didn’t write it down but I believe I remember that chicken stock was absolutely essential to the dish. (A few years back, Ling told me that MSG was her magic sauce.)


Yes, I make pancit sometimes. Thanks, Lola.

Alex’s cover story in The Atlantic describes how his mom could be jealous of Lola and her closeness to the kids. This was perhaps the chief thing Ling wanted to get across to me in my interview. Ling told me they often defended Lola against their parents. She witnessed the verbal abuse at times. “Why are you yelling at Lola?” she demanded to know, and understand.

I could see that, a bit, even at this much later time where all was chill, the kids were almost all successfully crafting their own lives, but Lola was the ever-present center of everything. But she was not the center in Leticia’s eyes.

“Lola was the caregiver, mom was the provider.”Ling Tizon Quillen

There’s what some call a viscous circle but I’m partial to calling it a positive feedback loop, where each input adds energy to the cycle and so minimally, it’s self-sustaining but can also go off the rails and blowup.

Emotional blowups tend to reset the cycle, so they can be healthy. But the cycle restarts.

I never knew the dad, only briefly met him once or twice. I think once was when he came down to Salem when I was there. The memory is blurry, but I think he did look me square in the eye and asked if I liked his daughter.


The author with mom, the “Slave” holder. Fall, 1984.

I knew Ivan—Leticia’s 2nd husband—more. While he wasn’t around a lot, it was obvious to me that he was the quintessential fish out of water in the household. Nobody understood the connection their mom had to him. I saw no effort on his part to learn anything or get along with a culture where he might have learned a lot.

What was mom thinking?

The only somewhat cool memory I have of him is the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, where I was there for a day and he was watching it as though a kid in a candy store, boisterously and vicariously emoting about everything regional.

That can be forgiven and even encouraged for a day or so. I get no sense whatsoever that he was anything but a parasite on the family, generally. At the same time, Leticia had been tossed aside with five children to raise with only Lola’s help and with only one of them prepared to do it on his own. Art, the senior sibling, had already set off by the time she hooked up with Ivan. It’s certainly a curiosity.

You can’t get there from here. I have long used this expression to critique various forms of 20/20 hindsight that seek to apply current standards of morality, law, and cultural practice to the past. In this case, we’re talking about applying 2017 standards in America to a Filipino single dad in 1943 Philippines and to his only child, Alex and Ling’s mom.

It’s undeniable that Lola suffered abuses. Slavery is a gross stretch.


Alex and Richard mess with his sisters, Ling and Inday. Fall, 1983.

Lola entered into this bargain at the age of 18. She could have opted for a convent, and instead of serving strangers and the house of God, she got to be the prime caregiver in her own family, The House of Tizon, for the rest of her life.

Being a nun instead would have been a gross underachievement, wouldn’t you say?

I asked Ling what her and the family’s general take on Alex’s article was—the final version after four drafts with The Atlantic editor. It was clear to me that the kids had zero standing or understanding in the early days. As they grew up, they knew Lola had choices and options because they presented them to her, encouraged her, but she always refused.

After the kids had gone, but before Leticia passed away in 1999, Lola got a job. She worked for twelve years in the Norpac Cannery in Salem, OR. It entitled her to social security and medicare. When Ling revealed that to me, I sighed. Too much of an omission, Alex, dude.

Ling tells me that she took great pride in a rather meager job. For once, she got to feel like she wasn’t only a servant, but a bargainer. Rather than exchange her toils for the love and adoration of the children she’d raised— but who’d had to go on to take up their own lives—she got to trade for dollars, dollars she could do with as she wished.

I understood why Alex chose the word slave, even though he clearly understood it was not technically the case. Even most people understand this when they say they’ve been “slaving away,” and various other forms. It’s slavery as a metaphor.

The problem with skirting the distinctive line between the literal and metaphorical is that when not a clear tongue-in-cheek, it serves to dilute the actual horror of real slavery. We see the same thing in other areas, where virtually all sex without forms of consent in triplicate, is rape. I don’t wish to push political buttons, but you get the idea.

Screen Shot 2011-12-02 at 10.01.57 AM

Ling and her dad who had left the family when she was 11. In his last days.

Don’t diminish what people who were bought and sold as capital machinery with the intention of turning a profit on their production were subject to.

Chattel slavery was an economic system for thousands of years around the world until it was superseded by machinery and skilled labor. But the business principles are the same. You buy a machine (human slave), account for the capital outlay or debt service, repair, maintenance, upkeep (food, shelter, medical bills), the cost of a skilled operator (middle massa management), and then calculate what it can produce, what you can sell the product for, and does it turn a financial profit?

This was simply not Lola’s experience. It was not about business. It was about scratching and eeeking out and survival and taking a risk few ever dare—leaving it all for a better opportunity, just like my grandparents did boarding the SS General Hershey with six children, Bremerhaven –> New York, 1952.

Like I’ve said already, I never saw anything like that characterization. What I only saw from 1982 – 1984 when Lola was 40 years in, was a highly honored cornerstone.

Alex used “slave,” I think, for journalistic effect, precisely because people draw zero distinction. There is no nuance or context whatsoever, and what he showed is, there is.

Had he wrote something like “perpetual dependent” it would not have had the punch, even though it’s more accurate. Lola was a dependent her whole life, just a notch above the kids she raised. The wrong against her was that the dependency was encouraged rather than discouraged by the parents struggling to balance what would have been unbalanceable without her.

Everyone gets to judge however they wish, of course, but at least this is an offering by Alex that I believe is journalism of the highest form. It’s an epic story and thereby, people might get some insight into how complex life can be.

Imagine if children of actual slaveholders in America’s south—the early 1800s—wrote of how they were torn between the parents who bore and provided for them and the slaves who raised and cared for them.


Find The Lola

That picture above is the result of three choices.

  1. Mr. Tizon deciding to toss caution to the wind in 1964 and come to America with nothing but a wife, four children (soon to be five) and a committed family helper.
  2. Mrs. Tizon determined to be a physician in America and it would take more than 10 years more to do so.
  3. Lola Pulido, who while reluctant and scared as possible, decided to step on the flight, Manila –> Los Angeles.

Take one single element out, you don’t get a picture of Ling and Rodney’s wedding in 2008. surrounded by a Tizon hive.

You don’t get to that without a million choices along your chosen path, most of them for the better in the understanding at the time.

Update 5/22/17: In People Magazine, Sisters of Late Writer Raised by Family’s Secret Slave Feel ‘Angry and Guilty’ About Their Past: ‘We Felt Powerless’

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Maggie on May 18, 2017 at 16:46

    Very interesting to hear an outsider perspective. Agreed that her job at Del Monte is a glaring omission. I had many of the same thoughts when reading the original article regarding the choices made – by all parties – that perpetuated the cycle, as there were several obvious moments when Lola could have left (and many of us, with 2017 Western perspectives, would likely choose to do so if put in that position), but she didn’t.

    Sidenote: My mother is from Guam, and her mother from Saipan. I’ll be damned if the photos of elderly Lola didn’t look like my maternal grandmother. And interestingly, that 1982 photo of not-smiling Ling is a dead ringer for my mother back in her 80s college days, right down to the permed hair. Wonder when that look is going to cycle back into style, ha.

  2. thhq on May 18, 2017 at 18:35

    I walk by the NROTC quonset every time I go to a Beaver baseball game. They’re remarkable this year. Drizzle and all.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2017 at 19:22

      Is Finley Hall across the street still co-ed?

      That shit seriously changed my life. Not just Ling.

  3. linkdrop on May 18, 2017 at 20:55

    Do you know if the cannery Lola worked at was the same Del Monte one in Salem that closed down in January 1981?

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2017 at 22:04

      Pretty sure not, since she didn’t go to work until many years after that.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2017 at 08:47

      Hey linkdrop, you were right. Inday rang into Ling to Inform her it was Norpac Cannery, not Del Monte.

      Thanks for the fact check. Much appreciated.

  4. Hugh on May 18, 2017 at 21:37

    I normally turn my nose up to The Atlantic as being the bottom-feeder of the so-called brain magazines, and the beginning of the article set off a few alarm bells.

    But Alex’s voice and huge heart jumped off the page and as the article wore on it ever widened and deepened and by the end had me crying.

    And I appreciate the nuance and outsider perspective from this post. From where I’m sitting it honors the whole family, Lola included.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2017 at 22:07

      Thank you Hugh. Your comment has been forwarded to the appropriate parties.

      They need a little love.

  5. Ian Weeks on May 19, 2017 at 18:22

    Many thanks for that, Richard. I missed the original article, but read it after this post, then read the post again. The two perspectives together add depth, and show that nothing is as straightforward as you think it is, that human feelings transcend simple explanations, and that no-one can explain a life, not even the one who is living it. I can’t find anyone to hate in this story – all were players in something bigger than themselves (as we all are).

  6. Natasha on May 19, 2017 at 22:43

    My goodness Richard! I read it yesterday. A powerful story. How marvelous that you know this tale, from the inside. It does let a little of the air out, to know she had a job late in life. But I’m really glad to hear that she did. It means she got to grow as a person, make decisions and have autonomy. Then to see your group pictures, and pictures of the beautiful family she raised, not just the journey to her memorial plot, brings honor to how Lola spent her life.

    The “slave” article gave me much to reflect on. Myself, I’m a descendant of American slave owners (Missouri pre Civil war). I’m also mixed raced, my grandfather was an Asian and white mix. By culture, I work and live amomg immigrants, specially Chinese and Filipino. So from this broad range of perspectives, I totally see how this could have happen. When your status in life changes, everythng changes. Decisions are made, which have long reaching results. It seems like they all did the best they could at the time.

    Thank you Richard! The story was not so black and white. Very interesting.

  7. margarets on May 20, 2017 at 10:05

    Good lord you’re a terrible writer and thinker. This is just a trainwreck of an article.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 20:44

      Yea, I get that all the time, since November of 2003 when the blog started, 4,500 posts ago. In fact, most of the 120,000 comments on those posts echo you.

      But I just plug away, writing badly so the folks who come here have an alternative to good writing, like Dr. Seuss, for example.

    • Tajno Ruino on May 22, 2017 at 23:00

      Could you elaborate on what was wrong with the article and thinking?

  8. Jeanie on May 20, 2017 at 18:59

    I loved the article, and read your perspective afterwards. Alex’s words drew me in immediately. Once I started it, I had to finish. I’m so sorry that you lost your friend, and Ling’s brother. Lives crisscross in so many ways. This is one reason I prefer non-fiction to fiction.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 20, 2017 at 21:59


      Thanks a lot. I’ve forwarded your kind understanding to the family, along with other understandings above.

  9. Leiha on May 21, 2017 at 01:54

    Lola came to the US because she was lied to. She wasn’t reluctant. She didn’t want to come but the family said that they would start paying her and she could send money home. Not only did they not pay her, they never let her go home, even when her parents we dying.

    Lola’s choice as a child was to work taking care of a young girl or go marry an old man. She had no idea she was supposed to take care of this girl for the rest of her life.

    Just because you didn’t see her sleeping on a pile of laundry or crying herself to sleep or getting berated, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. A beloved slave, is still a slave. As the article stated, the family went out of their way to make it look normal to have Lola there cooking for them.

    I know the family must be hurting because while I read this, I thought about the adult children who knew it was wrong and did nothing. Families are complex and there is no black and white but she was a slave and they knew it. Just because she wasn’t locked up in shackles doesn’t mean she wasn’t a slave. She was in a foreign country illegally and had been so isolated from everyone that she had no friends and no family other than the one she toiled for. She was loved by the children but for the better part of her life she was treated like a servant by the parents, except she was never paid. I know that you are trying to defend the family and make sure people know that there was more to the story than what we read but in doing that, don’t diminish what Lola went thru. She may have known the love of the kids that weren’t hers but there’s a reason she never had her own. She was never allowed her own life. She never had sex so there was never an option to have her own child.

    Was she happy? I’m sure at times she was. She didn’t know any other way of living. But that doesn’t make what was done to her right.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 21, 2017 at 15:38


      First, thank you for a reasonable argument. Indeed, it’s complex. I feel you prefer the black and white cause easier to judge.

      You’re not in the comments of The Atlantic here, though. You are the 104,519th commenter her. Welcome.

      “Lola came to the US because she was lied to. She wasn’t reluctant. She didn’t want to come.”

      Your first three sentences. This is called a ‘begging the question’ fallacy. Look it up.

      Welcome, but do better next time because I do only smart people here. And I sense you are, but we all make mistakes.

  10. linkdrop on May 21, 2017 at 03:04

    I am upset to hear of the internal tension this has brought. I hope Mrs N. is ok. She is a good woman.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 21, 2017 at 12:22

      Don’t worry about it. It was understandable, but there are sometimes where things come up that one can’t not do.

      We spent a good while on the phone this morning.

  11. Frank on May 21, 2017 at 07:31

    I read the story before seeing your post here and realizing you have a connection with the family.

    What I gathered from the touching article (among other things), was that over time, actually quite a bit of time, things got somewhat better for Lola in terms of treatment and responsibilities, so it sounds like the worst of it may have occurred before your acquaintence with the family. (?)

    The article also brought to mind the status of freed slaves in America after the Emancipation Proclamation. The stories are told that while their legal status had changed, many freed slaves chose to remain with their enslavers.

    The only explanation I can conjure is : what do you do when lack of options is all you’ve ever known?

    May Lola and those who loved her, be at peace.

  12. KP on May 21, 2017 at 10:12

    I just wanted to know whether all these years you know what lola meant? And whether that has informed your view of the kids’ relationship with her? Because most Americans seem to think its her name, going so far as capitalizing it. Even the way you called her Lola Pulido sounds odd to my Filipino ears since we normally call lolas by their first name, like my own lola I call lola Carmen. And the nuance of using this term for this woman seems to be lost for most Americans. And to call her lola then refer to her surname sort of reinforces that divide, I guess. For that formality of using her surname when calling her lola (not to mention the awkwardness in Filipino languag3 ane culture because we dont usually call lolos or lolas by their surname but rather their first name) kind of takes away the supposed intimacy of the family with her.
    Also, the definition of slave notwithstanding, how about the family supposedly not having paid lola proper wages and not allowing her to go on leaves or breaks? What do you call that? Because despite lola’s demonstrated dependency or choice not to leave, I just cannot for the life of me imagine how else to define her situation as servant of the household who hasnt been paid what she was promised. Only until Or did Alex Tizon leave out details about this too? This is what he wrote: “He summed up Lola’s reality: Wasn’t paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters.”

    • Richard Nikoley on May 21, 2017 at 12:29

      “I just wanted to know whether all these years you know what lola meant?”

      To whom? Me? Well, that’s in the post.

      Thanks for the intricate lesson on prenoms and sirnames. Got it!

    • TR on May 21, 2017 at 21:17

      Thank you so much for this article! The perspective of someone who has some distance from a situation is obviously inferior in an important sense–you simply did not witness as much–but in other ways that very distance is an asset. This goes especially when the firsthand witness is an author and the medium is the very complicated one of **memoir**.

      Tizon is utterly, utterly brilliant, and I was very moved by his last piece; but with more time came questions. These only deepened after I read his earlier book-length memoir, **Big Little Man**. In between lengthy passages about his (perfectly normal) penis, we see Dickensian portraits of his impoverished youth. Now, Tizon is the Stanford-educated son of the Philippines’s ruling class, two educated people who arrived in this country and became professionals here as well. Their interim struggles as they worked tirelessly to build a new life from nothing is something that is not at all uncommon (indeed, quite **typical** especially for Asians and Eastern Europeans) among immigrants to this country but is always fascinating (especially to me, an immigrant myself). I bet a lot of his Stanford friends didn’t know this son of a doctor and lawyer and grandson of a colonel, raised by a live-in servant, had gone through some tough times!

      That’s why I was a bit disappointed that **Little Big Man**, while excellent in what it set out to do, didn’t really have the ambition to shed real light on his family’s fascinating story. It came across more as a patchwork of vignettes serving other points he was trying to make. How I wish he’d recruited his considerable journalistic prowess to tell the story–the full, real, awesome story–of his mom and the family this hardworking woman raised as she successfully pursued the American dream!

      And where, of course, was Lola hiding in much of that memoir? We now have a good inkling of just how “memoirish,” as opposed to autobiographical, it was! How do we know how to take all the vivid tales of hardship and all the other wild details? Already we are seeing the ill effects of Tizon’s playing loose with Lola’s status; **Slate** has just run a ridiculous piece in which the notion of “slavery” is expanded still further, into a “continuum of servitude” that includes the free, paid domestic work that many Filipinos (and others) use to lift their families out of the unimaginably squalid conditions they grew up in.

      And even after the present piece, Lola herself remains very much a mystery–her obvious psychological dependence largely unexplored; her later-life job (to me, the most interesting part) shamelessly omitted because it did not fit the narrative; her relatives reduced to players in a cathartic coda and never humanized with some glaringly obvious questions the author might have asked. Even the political conditions that might really have helped enable Lola’s much-hyped unfree servitude, such as the aspects of immigration law that may have facilitated it, remain unexplored. (Perhaps we should be thankful that Tizon’s piece avoided political commentary, but on the other hand that ship really sailed as soon as he chose to give her that inescapably political status of **slavery**.)

      Anyway, too long already, but again from this Tizon fan thanks for the piece! It’s an excellent complement to his; Lola’s story will never be completely told (as is the case with us all) but you have just made it slightly closer to it. Everyone interested in this fascinating woman should read both pieces.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 10:42

      Thanks for the effort and worthy perspective, TR

  13. Leiha on May 22, 2017 at 06:08

    Richard, if you’re going to brag about how much smarter you are than me, it helps if you don’t have a couple of typos in your comment to me. I was very respectful in my disagreement with you and yet you want to infer that I’m not as smart as you because I disagree. Yes, you do make mistakes.

    As quoted from The Atlantic:
    Dad was allowed to bring his family and one domestic. Figuring they would both have to work, my parents needed Lola to care for the kids and the house. My mother informed Lola, and to her great irritation, Lola didn’t immediately acquiesce. Years later Lola told me she was terrified. “It was too far,” she said. “Maybe your Mom and Dad won’t let me go home.” In the end what convinced Lola was my father’s promise that things would be different in America. He told her that as soon as he and Mom got on their feet, they’d give her an “allowance.” Lola could send money to her parents, to all her relations in the village. Her parents lived in a hut with a dirt floor. Lola could build them a concrete house, could change their lives forever. Imagine….

    …Lola never got that allowance. She asked my parents about it in a roundabout way a couple of years into our life in America. Her mother had fallen ill (with what I would later learn was dysentery), and her family couldn’t afford the medicine she needed. “Pwede ba?” she said to my parents. Is it possible? Mom let out a sigh. “How could you even ask?,” Dad responded in Tagalog. “You see how hard up we are. Don’t you have any shame?”
    She came to the states because she was given false promises. As I said in my original comment, the world isn’t black and white (yet you say I see things in black and white because I don’t agree with you). Yes, there have apparently been things left out of the original article but the fact that she worked as a servant for the family, was physically and verbally abused and not paid does make her a slave. Just because she was loved by the kids doesn’t change that fact. Mammies were also loved by the children who they raised.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 08:19

      Uh, enslaving someone by force is what makes someone a slave. False promises not delivered upon is fraud or breach of contract. Verbal abuse might constitute assault, depending.

      In no measure was she ever an actual slave.

  14. Jo on May 22, 2017 at 06:16

    thank you for adding more context to this story.. for my peace of mind.. would you be able to confirm if Lola was somehow given salary before she worked in the cannery.. and when she worked in the cannery, if she could have spent a vacation in the philippines if she wanted to?

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 10:51

      Hi Jo. As to the first part, not sure. I doubt she was penniless the entire time, but no formal pay arrangement I’m aware of.

      As to the second part, I’m sure she could have. She was making money. I believe the efforts to get her legal immigration status rectified began in 1986. Not sure when she would have received the green card (making her legal), but she became a citizen in late 90s. Ling told me she came and went as she pleased once she had the job over 12 year’s time, so it would have been possible. Of course, Alex did arrange for her to go back for a couple of months I think, a few years before her death. She chose to return to the US.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 12:24

      Jo, I received the following from one of the family members.

      “Thank you, Jo, for your question about whether Lola was able to take vacations to the Philippines.  The answer is yes  – one of my brothers and his family were missionaries in the Philippines for nearly 10 years in the 80’s and 90’s.   Lola did travel back to the Philippines at least a few times during that period, where she was able to spend a month or so visiting her family, and my missionary brother.  “

  15. Tim Kennedy on May 22, 2017 at 13:02

    Thanks for sharing your personal observations, and stories of your friendship, Richard. I’ve been thinking about this story since I first read it. That’s how well written it was. You certainly tell a balanced side to the tale of Lola, and your stories provide some comfort, showing that Lola’s life wasn’t quite as bleak as it was initially portrayed.

  16. Jo on May 22, 2017 at 20:52

    Thank you so much for the response! The story/article was so disturbing when I read it.. now after reading the response here, I think I can sleep better now :)

  17. Lynn on May 23, 2017 at 22:33

    Richard, I sent a version of this comment by email, but I think it might not have reached you:

    I am a long time reader and very occasional commenter on your blog, and a fellow SF Bay resident, congrats on getting out to the Sierra full time.

    Reading your comments and feedback from the rest of the Tizon family, I wonder if Alex knew he was near the end of his life. It is interesting that his account conveys finality, while those from surviving family members (and you), contain considerably more ambiguity.

    I think it is a feature of human behavior that we bond with those we care for, and with those that care for us. This is even more the case between women and children, as any one who has cared for a newborn knows. That is clearly a factor here. How can a woman care for generations of children and not become invested in them, without regard to the terms of her employment?

    I find it disturbing that her outside employment later in life is considered a signal of freedom! Wage slavery in a cannery vs. unpaid domestic labor?

    The real reason I am writing you this email is that the history of slavery in America is really just as complicated, and more so, by simple fact of the number of participants, as Lola’s story. We know that a great many slaves were treated as simple economic units, but also that many were treasured members of households, and chose to remain with their “masters” after emancipation, probably quite a lot like what Lola did, especially knowing that many of those slaves were quite likely family members as well.

    Beyond the endlessly discussed matter of the enslavement of Africans in America, is the lie known in all our civics classes as “indentured servitude.” My friend, the writer James LaFond, has done a lot of work on this topic, exposing the truth that indentured servants were every bit the chattel slaves that Africans were, were bought and sold at auction, and that poor whites were presumed to be escaped slaves unless they had freedom papers.

    If you or readers are curious about this, see

  18. Andrew Snalune on July 15, 2021 at 13:33

    Great article. Hadn’t heard of this story and haven’t read Alex’ article yet but your nuance and closeness surely expands the conversation.

    ‘Slave’ was obviously a very poor choice of term to use in the original article ‘unindentured servitude’ would seem more close to the reality from your outline. Also some people carry more simply because they can and will. And whose legacy is the greater for that?

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