“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.” ~ Alex Tizon, from “My Family’s Slave”

Lola Pulido with the author and his siblings (all images are Tizon family photos)

“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess

Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.

I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.

Lola age 51

The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that working for implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:

Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.

. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.

“If ever I lose
my memory of you, walk beside me
like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences

Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.

Lola passport photo

These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.

When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.

“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”

Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.

Lola Pulido at age 18

We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.

That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad.  Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.

“Stare at the monster: remark
How difficult it is to define just what
Amounts to monstrosity in that
Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”

What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.

Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.

Lieutenant Tomhow

But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.

Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).

Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited

Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty  much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.

We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.

Lola age 82

My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.

That’s just not how it works. Is it?

Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Bird”

When the color of the sunset is intensely orange, in 2-3 days time, a typhoon will come. ~ Ivatan folk belief

I think that this is just amazing:

Source:

Then comes the thunder a’rumbling,
Then comes the lightning flaring,
And then downpours the heavy rain.
But the lightning is my torch, the thunder beats
the cadence of my steps,
And for my walking cane the rain…!
– Traditional Ivatan poem

All over Batanes, the signs came days before the storm. The residents of the northernmost Philippine archipelago — even the ones without radios or televisions — could sense the typhoon’s approach. The hermit crabs began scuttling away from the beach. The moon looked full, but dull. Old folks complained of reawakened aches and pains in their joints. In Uyugan, a coastal town of 1,200 people, a friend called fisherman Alex Ibay with an urgent piece of news: The water buffalo was out.

Ibay, 49, remembered his grandfather’s simple warning about the islands’ severe weather: “Just be ready.” He taught Ibay to look daily toward the promontory called Disiay south of Uyugan, where the island’s main throughway, National Road, wrapped around a cliff. If a lone water buffalo looked out from Disiay over the water — forgetting, for a time, its grazing and its herd — a destructive typhoon was on its way to Batanes, one that would require the islanders’ best preparation. If the water buffalo was not there — if his friends were mistaken — Ibay could relax.

Ibay looked out toward Disiay on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. There it was: a brown water buffalo, unmoving, staring toward the ocean as if in vigil.
Ibay rushed to his motorcycle and drove north to the capital, Basco, the only town in Batanes with internet cafés. There he read that three days earlier, some 1,500 miles north, scientists at the Japan Meteorological Agency already had begun to watch a tropical depression roiling 800 miles east of Manila, the Philippines’ capital. The weather forecast, sent by the JMA to the Philippine weather service, PAGASA, confirmed what Ibay suspected: An ominous blue and red mass spun west toward Batanes. Its international name was Usagi. PAGASA named the storm Odette.

The Philippines has long been at the heart of the Pacific’s typhoon belt. Now, with the warmest decade ever recorded in human history, the seas east of the archipelago have experienced the highest degree of sea level escalation in the world: 60 centimeters, or three times the global average. With more water at the ocean’s surface, pushed by stronger, hotter winds, typhoons are becoming more monstrous. By day’s end, Typhoon Odette, which was rapidly intensifying, would be reclassified as a super typhoon.

Alex Ibay motorbiked from the internet café home to Uyugan. He and his fellow fishermen met near the port and agreed; they would bring their wooden fishing boats ashore, and, using the protective methods of their forebears, cover their hulls with the thick, heavy fronds of coconut leaves. Local officers at Batanes’ branch of the National Council of Indigenous Peoples have given a name to the indigenous methods of reading the arrival of a storm, one passed down through generations: ethnometeorology.

The people of Batanes, like Ibay and his grandfather, are the Ivatans. The Ivatans rarely fear or deny the storm. They have built their lives around their preparation for nature’s unpredictability. They know how to read nature’s messages and have minimized risk by building strong homes, always having a month’s worth of food on hand, and obeying commands to evacuate or remain inside for typhoon warnings. Their history and mind-set show that the people of Batanes are of the storm, shaped by the storm’s demands, rooted to their soil even as strong winds and rains buffet their fates. With lives made near unforgiving waters, Ivatans’ stories of unbelievable survival are far more common than unspeakable tragedies. For the Ivatan people, to die in a storm is so unnecessary, it’s nearly shameful.

How To Survive A Super Typhoon

                   

Ivatan Laji Poem

Whose face do I behold mirrored
Upon the warm water I am about to drink?
I dare not drink that the vision I may prolong!

If I die, bury me not
At the Cross of San Felix: bury me
Under your fingernails, that I may
Be eaten along with every food you eat; that I may
Be drunk along with every cup
of water you drink.

In the original Ivatan:
Muyin para oinu si tauri a maoiaoanu
Du chinuhat ko a danum oia di ku s’di pachilupa
Ta pakaynaynamen ko a mavuya?
As anu madiman aku, oia ivuvun mo ava yekn
De asked nu kuku mo ta pachisuvusuvuay
Ko du kanen
mo a mahutu as pachidiludilupay ko
Du inumen mo a danum.

Sometimes It’s the Little Things

clas tub + candles

 Feels Like a Little Bit of Heaven

Fifty Things About Me That Are Totally Irrelevant:

  1. My middle name is Gayle. Just think about that for a minute . . . Lolita Gayle. Can you perceive any possible rhyme or reason why those two names might be linked together in any way? Me neither. It has always dumbfounded me as to why my parents chose this for my middle name, and I have always hated having Gayle as my middle name. It’s not the name that I hate, per se. It’s the name in conjunction with my first name. No poetry there. No melody. No logic. But what can you do? My cup of teadaughter hates her middle name also, and her father and I thought that it went very well with her first name, so I suppose that it’s just one of those parent things.
  2. Whenever I go to a bar, I order three things simultaneously: whatever liquor I’m drinking, for example Kahlua and cream, plus a glass of iced water, and a cup of hot tea. This is one of the reasons that I like to go to places where the wait staff knows me. They don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I place my order. Why do I do this? Why is my middle name Gayle? Exactly. Actually, I like to drink all three things at once. I pace myself by drinking water throughout the night, and I like my hot tea. I’m not a big drinker in the first place, so my combo works very well for me.
  3. I have only had short hair a few times in my life, and the times that I did have it, I hated it. I’m just not a short hair person. I feel like I look like a monkey when I have short hair. Of course when I was a child, my mother used to chop off my hair regularly. She would see a hairstyle that she thought was very chic, and then I would lose hair. I hated it when she would do that.womens-collage
  4. I have always been a flaming liberal, and females who say that they aren’t feminists don’t really understand the true definition of the word.
  5. I have two crooked toes. They were never broken, but the fourth toe on each foot is curved like a comma. It has never really bothered me unless someone asks me about it.
  6. Speaking of toes, I have Filipino toes, as in, I can pinch with my toes and pick up things with my toes. I know, also very strange, but trust me, this is not an unusual trait among Filipinos.
  7. Cats make me have asthma attacks, which is a shame since cats love me, and if I enter a house in which a cat resides, said cat will make a beeline for my face.
  8. My favorite thing to do when I go out is singing Karaoke. That’s because I’m a ham and a thwarted Broadway star. I had planned to run away to New York after high school, but it never happened.
  9. I’m a classically-trained pianist, but never felt that I was very good at it, even after 14 years of lessons.
  10. I have been a vegetarian a couple of times in my life, and there was no particular reason for it other than I got tired of eating red meat. I’ve never been a vegan and don’t even have the least idea as to how one does that.
  11. I love Beethoven as much as I love the Beatles, Frederic Chopin as much as I love Kenny Chesney, Stravinsky as much as I love Springsteen. My playlists usually cover about four genres of music.
  12. Cayman Islands beachMore than just about anything else, reading is my favorite way to pass the time. Reading on a tropical beach is even better. Reading a good mystery on a tropical beach with an umbrella drink is the best.
  13. My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love to decorate the house and to buy the perfect presents for the people in my life. No one else in my family gets as excited about Christmas, and that always makes me a bit melancholy.
  14. I make lots of lists—grocery lists, shopping lists, to do lists—and I lose them almost as soon as I make them, which kind of negates the whole purpose of lists.
  15. painted toenailsI always keep my toenails painted. When I went into labor with Alexis, I took the time to paint my toenails and mop the kitchen floor. One of the things I hated about having back surgery was my inability to paint my toenails for a while.
  16. I have worked as a writer, editor, marketing director, resume writer, newsroom supervisor, grants writer, proposal development specialist, graduate teaching assistant, university English instructor, membership coordinator, publications manager, 6th grade public school teacher, senior education specialist, and research and development assistant. The job that I hated the most was teaching 6th grade for Norfolk Public Schools. The job that I loved the most was teaching at a university. The environment that I enjoyed working in the most was at an arts museum. The environment that I enjoyed working in the least was for a non-profit help group.
  17. I have been to the following countries: England, Scotland, France, Germany, Morocco, the Philippines, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Belize, and Spain. The places that I have not yet been to that still want to see include Ireland, Wales, Greece, Costa Rica, Australia, China, and New Zealand.
  18. A job that I think I would have been good at? Being a crime analyst (in the lab, not in the field). I love solving mysteries, and it seems that analyzing evidence would be one of those jobs that would continue to evolve.
  19. The major that I seriously considered and actually regret not pursuing is marine biology. I considered pre-med, psychology, and anthropology. I ended up getting two of my degrees in English, but I have always been interested in life under the sea. I did take my LSAT’s because I was going to go to law school when we moved to northern Virginia, but then I got pregnant with Alexis and changed my mind. 
  20. Tartan 27 Sailboat
    Tartan 27 Sailboat
  21. I almost bought a 27-foot boat when I was in college that I wanted to live on. Do I regret not doing this one? Absolutely. How often are you that free in your life? No ties, no debts, the ability to make life-changing decisions. I was completely stupid for not following through on this one, and the only thing that held me back was fear.
  22. My best feature? My legs. My worst feature? Everything else.
  23. My favorite flower is lilac.
  24. My favorite scent is Calvin Klein’s Eternity.
  25. My favorite colors are black, red, and purple, in that order.
  26. I love black leather boots, my full-length black leather coat, and squooshy black leather hobo bags. My favorite leather designer is Kenneth Cole, and I don’t believe that you can ever have too many boots or purses.
  27. black bootsI love cashmere but cannot wear it because it gives me a rash.
  28. I love silk and wear it as often as possible.
  29. I love the smell of freshly cut roses, but hate the smell of rose-scented candles.
  30. My favorite jeans are Levi’s, and I cannot imagine ever paying $200 for a pair of jeans.
  31. My favorite jewelry, besides my wedding rings, are my crosses. I have a gold Claddagh cross, a gold crucifix, and three rosaries. I am not Catholic.
  32. I would have been a good lawyer because I like to win.
  33. Among the things that I like to collect are watches, especially ones with big faces and leather straps.
  34. My mom pierced my ears with a needle when I was 12.
  35. I have one tattoo on my back. I want to get at least two other tattoos.
  36. I am claustrophobic in crowded places: elevators, coliseums, rallies.
  37. I can curse without moving my lips.
  38. gem_aquamarineI spent several formidable years of my childhood in London, England. I went to a public school, and I had a very proper British accent. I haven’t been back to England since I was a child, and I would love to go back just to see how much it has changed.
  39. My birthstone is garnet, but my favorite stone is aquamarine.
  40. I am stupidly jealous, and more than once have made an idiot of myself because of it, but it stems from my insecurity.
  41. I believe that if you make a promise, you should keep it even if it’s to a small child. If you know that you aren’t going to keep the promise, don’t make it. Broken promises cause disillusionment.
  42. Keeping information from someone is the same thing as being dishonest. I know. This is probably a woman thing.
  43. I could go my entire life without watching the NFL and never miss it.
  44. I want to live in the mountains and by the sea.
  45. I love good coffee, Belgium chocolate, and angel hair pasta.
  46. I love fresh seafood, but refuse to eat lobster because I think that they should be allowed to live on the bottom of the ocean for as long as they can.cupid's bow lips
  47. I miss wearing suits and heels.
  48. I always have something on my lips, at least gloss, throughout the day.
  49. I would love to pursue another degree.
  50. Nothing is better for stress than a hot bath, lots of candles, a glass of wine, and someone washing your hair for you.
  51. This is the longest amount of time that I have spent thinking about just myself in forever, and I only did it because I couldn’t think of anything else to post.

More later on a different subject. Promise. Peace.