It’s not often the entire internet has the requisite attention span for a longread, but today it seemed like all anyone could talk about online was “My Family’s Slave,” the cover story in this week’s issue of The Atlantic.
In the article, writer Alex Tizon (who died in March) profiles Lola, the woman who was his family’s secret slave in the Philippines, and who remained their slave when they moved to America.
“My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly,” Tizon writes. “She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been.”
Tizon describes his attempts to defend Lola as a child, while simultaneously hiding her existence from his friends. As he gets older, he tries to help Lola survive in America—and once Tizon’s parents die, Lola comes to live with him. While she sometimes drives him crazy, she also progresses in many ways (like learning to read and going back to the Philippines to visit her family). And five years after Lola dies, Tizon returns her ashes to the rural village where she was born.
The phrase “My Family’s Slave” was a trending topic all day, as reporters sang the article’s praises and noted that The Atlantic was in a way going back to its roots as an abolitionist publication.
But many female and minority readers (Filipinos in particular) were not nearly as enthusiastic, pointing out that empathy only goes so far and that Tizon waited far too long to help Lola once he was able to. Others pointed out that Tizon’s mother worked at Fairview Training Center, a home for the developmentally disabled where they were called “inmates” and underwent forced hysterectomies, vasectomies and castrations:
Every one of these threads is well worth reading in full.
The Atlantic declined an Observer request for comment.