Justice

Story of Family's Slave Shows a Side of Human Trafficking We Rarely Discuss

May 17th 2017

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

If you've been anywhere near a computer in the last two days, chances are you've seen some conversation about a story published in The Atlantic titled "My Family's Slave." 

Written by acclaimed Filipino-American journalist Alex Tizon before he died on March 24, 2017, it tells the emotional story of his family's live-in slave, and its descriptions have run the gamut from "touching" to "cowardly." 

 

 

 

The narrative focuses on Eudocia Tomas Pulido, a now-deceased Filipino slave, or "katulong," who Tizon's family brought from the Philippines to the U.S. As Tizon describes, she spent 56 years working for no pay, sometimes falling asleep on floors due to exhaustion. Tizon wrote that he was 11 when he realized Pulido, who he described as "more of a parent to me than either my mother or my father," was a slave. 

"She was 18-years-old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us," he wrote. "No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived." 

Tizon credited his older brother with giving him the vocabulary as a child for the harsh treatment and horrible situation Pulido lived everyday. 

"Before he said it, I’d thought of her as just an unfortunate member of the household," Tizon wrote. "I hated when my parents yelled at her, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they—and the whole arrangement—could be immoral." 

After Tizon's mother died in 1999, Pulido came to live with Tizon and his family in a town outside of Seattle. 

"I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs—the American dream," he wrote. "And then I had a slave."

Alex Chen, a staff writer from the New Yorker, used Twitter to share the reactions of Filipinos to the story.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Tizon's story has sparked a lot of conversation for it's depiction of what seems like an antiquated practice, human rights experts say such forms of slavery are more common that most people realize. 

"It's much more common than people think it is," Annick Febrey, a senior associate at Human Rights First told ATTN:. "In general I think labor trafficking is happening much more frequently than we realize."  

She said that elected officials often focus attention and resources on trafficking cases related to children or sex slaves, rather than on labor. 

"Congress has put a lot more emphasis on domestic minor sex trafficking partly because it's easy to identify and it pulls on people's heart strings," she said. "Those cases certainly need attention, but there's also less attention on labor trafficking and less understanding and effort to figure out how we hold perpetrators accountable." 

She said that all human trafficking can be difficult to track in general, but labor trafficking can be especially difficult to detect. 

A maid.

"In sex trafficking cases the nature of the work is illegal to begin with, but labor trafficking can hide behind a legitimate business," she said. "It's not illegal to have a domestic worker, but it's illegal if they're not paid, or if they're forced to be there, or held against their will." 

Febrey said it's also challenging for officials to detect labor trafficking on agriculture fields, in restaurants, or at construction sites because the workers often seem like paid workers on the surface. A 2014 Urban Institute and Northeastern University study of labor trafficking cases found that 71 percent of the victims who came to the U.S. arrived on legal visas, but 69 percent had visas that had expired by the time they escaped. Most victims came from Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Southern Asia. 

Since 2007, The National Human Trafficking Hotline run by the Polaris Project says it's received more than 5,400 reports of labor trafficking cases inside the United States. A 2012 report by a San Diego State University researcher, which was submitted to and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, estimated that more than 30 percent of unauthorized Spanish speakers in San Diego were victims of labor trafficking. 

Febrey said that the vast majority of labor trafficking cases affect foreign nationals and that their immigration status often works as a tool to control victims, which makes it harder to identify the problem. 

"They could think they're coming here for a legitimate job and a legitimate immigration status," she said. "Then once they're here, they could have the papers withheld or never receive the legal status at all so they're hesitant to come forward to law enforcement." 

Read Alex Tizon's full story about Eudocia "Lola" Tomas Pulido here