CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Human dignity and an unpleasant truth

My Family’s Slave is a personal story written by Pulitzer-prize winning author and journalist, Alex Tizon, who died last March.
 
Tizon grew up in the United States of America (US) where he migrated with his family in the 1960s. He was four-years-old at the time.
 
He left behind a moving and conscience-searing story about his yaya, the family domestic worker, who cared for him and worked her whole life for the Tizon family.
 
Some would praise her devotion and sacrifice—Tizon calls it slavery.
 
He wrote about this village girl from the Philippine province of Tarlac: Eudocia Tomas Pulido. The 18-year-old was given as a gift to Tizon’s mother by his grandfather.
 
The grandfather was a well-off land owning patriarch. Pulido was a docile, submissive village girl, who was intimidated by the powerful man. She had a vague sense that her family owed something to the old man and she had a debt of gratitude to repay with a life of servitude. 
 
Pulido worked without recompense of any kind in the house of the Tizons in Tarlac. She would take beatings from the grandfather in place of her mistress.
 
She was scolded and blamed for resting even when she was sick. When the family moved to the US in the 1960s she was brought along as an unpaid family servant. 
 
“She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realised who she was,” Tizon wrote.
 
The Tizons were considered a model family in America, good Catholics with a fragmented, unreflecting hypocritical form of Christianity.
 
There are millions of upright, true, honest Filipino families that would never do such a thing or exploit anyone, but others sadly do it.
 
Such people are living a contradictory illusion of being Christian. Like many, they think that killing suspects without evidence or due process is a good and right action. Their conscience apparently does not bother them one bit.
 
Tizon’s story, posthumously published in the June edition of The Atlantic, is doing the rounds on social media and is challenging and troubling the consciences of many a family who have had similar helpers or domestics, many of whom would have been like Pulido and, dare we say as did Tizon, a slave.
 
How many more workers are held captive in bonded unpaid labour, kept in the house, denied freedom, marriage, a family, pay and a home of their own?
 
Pulido was treated like and given as a slave and owned by the family to do with her as they liked.
 
Her few requests in her lifetime were denied. When Tizon’s mother died (the father had deserted the family), Tizon took Pulido in, paid her US$200 ($1,550) a week, gave her own room and all her needs, as well as a free, human life.
 
Tizon took her on a visit to her family in Tarlac after he got her legal migrant status properly established. But she no longer knew anyone and went back to the US.
 
This story uncovers the culture of exploitation in the various forms of domestic slavery that are rampant in Philippine society. The injustice of such lives of servitude is never considered. It is accepted as a cultural right of a dominant family over the weaker.
 
But it reflects a status-conscious society where possessions and wealth determine standing and value. It shows how easily the poor, hungry, unemployed and uneducated can be exploited by the rich.
 
The poor are generally considered by the rich as having lesser value as humans and to be unworthy to improve their lives.
 
It is a challenge to the kind of Catholic Church teaching that critics have said is too sacramental, theologically abstract, impractical and unrelated to daily life, rather than the values of compassion, justice, human dignity and freedom, and taking an active principled stand for them is rare.
 
These values are at the heart and meaning of Christian life. Without living them daily with commitment we are just Church-going Catholics.
 
Father Shay Cullen