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The controversial Atlantic article “My Family’s Slave” by the late journalist Alex Tizon sparked a range of emotion and discussion. Tizon writes about Eudocia Tomas Pulido, a Filipina domestic worker his family enslaved for 56 years and how he felt about her contested role in the family, even after her death. Reactions ranged from sadness at Pulido’s life, to anger at the Tizon family and Alex Tizon himself. The article raised key questions about modern day slavery, poverty in the Philippines, the power of narratives, and more. Read on to gain perspective on these important questions.

How might slavery arise in a Filipino American family?

In the United States, the word “slave” brings to mind the institution of chattel slavery. Therefore the common understanding of slavery in America is that it only happens within a Black-white racial dynamic. However, slavery can also exist within the same ethnic community. In the case of “My Family’s Slave,” the slaveowners are a working-class, immigrant Filipino family and the slave is a Filipina domestic servant. It is worth explaining the different historical and cultural contexts that Filipino immigrants bring with them, so we can challenge these conditions and the enslavement that often arises from them.

Poverty, imperialism, and joblessness back in the Phillipines forced Pulido into enslavement, which continued in the United States when the Tizon family migrated here. Filipino youth and student organization Anakbayan USA released a statement explaining the structural economic and social conditions of the Philippines that shaped Pulido’s life. This includes feudalism, an agricultural system in which landlords exploit landless farmers and peasants. Imperialist economic influences, including that of the United States, exploits these farmers such that they are unable to provide for their own families. This creates poverty and joblessness resulting in the mass migration of Filipinos abroad. Everyday, around 6,000 Filipinos leave their country in search of work. These overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) often find themselves isolated, indebted, and even undocumented.

Pulido is one of these OFWs, whose enslavement is a consequence of poverty in the Philippines. She was born into a poor family and her choices for survival were to either marry a pig farmer twice her age or to become a servant (katulong) for another family. Marrying a pig farmer would have kept her in poverty as a part of the poor peasant class, while becoming a domestic servant as an already poor woman would have made her easily exploitable. In the U.S., the Tizons forbade her from leaving the house; she could not drive, use ATMs, or speak English; and for a good while, she was undocumented. Considering her circumstances, it is not surprising that Pulido “chose” to stay with the Tizons; she had no other viable options for escape.

Who was Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s life before she became “Lola”?

A common criticism of “My Family’s Slave” is that Alex Tizon focuses too much on his own guilt and struggle rather than centering Pulido’s perspective. Filipina journalist Lian Buan takes us into Pulido’s hometown of Tarlac to gather the perspectives of those who knew her in a different light, outside of the master-slave dynamic: her surviving family. These articles offer insight into Pulido’s life that Tizon, for whatever reason, did not cover himself.

In Tarlac, Pulido goes by another name: Aunt Cosiang, rather than the name “Lola” (grandmother in Tagalog) as the Tizon family knows her. According to her niece Ebia, although she did not wish to marry or have her own family, one thing she wished for was “to stay for good here [Tarlac], to sell what she cooks, because she cooks very well, especially pastries.” Over the years, Pulido had sent back cooking and baking tools in hopes of opening a bakery to sell puto, or steamed rice cakes. In Tizon’s telling of Pulido’s thoughts about moving back to the Philippines, he could only write that she could not go back permanently because she was ashamed about not sending back money or because America was all she knew. This disparity reveals how relying on Tizon’s narrative conceals essential parts of Pulido as a person. “My Family’s Slave” missed many opportunities to let Pulido tell her story from her own perspective. In Buan’s evaluation of the piece, Tizon devoted much of it to describe the good things he had done for Pulido instead of what she must have thought about her circumstances. As someone who was silenced and abused for essentially her entire life, to not offer her a chance to break this lifetime of silence furthers the marginalization of her agency, and the agency of other exploited workers like her.

What can we do now?

Both Pulido and Alex Tizon have passed. We will never hear Pulido speak for herself nor Tizon’s responses to these discussions. That does not mean that the pursuit of justice for Pulido and those like her is over. We can prevent further injustice by joining the efforts of organizations such as GABRIELA USA and Anakbayan-USA; by treating domestic workers with dignity; by uplifting the stories of survivors; and by learning how to deconstruct narratives such as those advanced in “My Family’s Slave” that unknowingly excuse slavery rather than demand justice.

To keep up with the ongoing reader response to “My Family’s Slave,” check The Atlantic’s Notes column.

South Asian. Lived in East Asia. International student. Daughter of immigrants. South campus major. Where is the “artist” in these labels? Where is the Disney Princess movie being made about my life?

Are the mammoth residential buildings housing hundreds of families in Hong Kong not worthy of Walt Disney’s magic broadcast worldwide?

As a young Indian girl who grew up in Hong Kong, I struggled to find the words I needed to express myself. Silence was easier, except when trying to guess what dinner was from the spices’ aromas in my mom’s kitchen, or trying to guess what my dad brought from the roadside stalls after a long day at work. Having ju cheung fan right before a dinner with paneer tikka masala was not uncommon at home. The intensely different textures and tastes were second nature to my mouth. Yet the defiance of my mom’s cooking or my existence was not ever worthy of celebration in a city where Brownface is prevalent throughout mainstream media. My parent’s murtis and rituals during Diwali were too “foreign” and “weird” for “Asia’s World City”. For that young girl, I threw myself into INDUS at UCLA in hopes for a space to celebrate my messy identities and to find the words that I could never find even amid calligraphy during Chinese New Year, or henna (ha…) patterns adorning my hands.

The United States of America is no better.

The land of opportunities, filled with diversity, was sold to me at a UCLA information session. Yet here, it became even harder to determine my identity. I never expected to be so sharply pigeonholed into the paths of either doctor or engineer. Nor did I expect the persistent, probing question, “but no, where are you really from?”. The competing Cantonese, Hindi, Sindhi and English always leaked a “foreign” accent that can’t be “hella” enough. I was still too “weird” for this place.

What is the purpose of a “cultural melting pot” when all we do is tokenize the members of it and feign representation; it’s really just a chamberpot of lies and further disempowerment.

Whether in predominantly white spaces, or AAPI spaces, I am told that my narrative does not matter; that the narrative of my resilient grandparents, who all fled religious persecution 70 years ago does not matter.

Every day as a South Asian in the diaspora is a struggle that is unacknowledged. Even writing for Pacific Ties Newsmagazine that chose to rebrand itself from AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) to APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) is a tip of a hat to that struggle of the expression that we try to bring forth.

I am in awe of the resilience of the artists that are coming to the first ever UCLA South Asian Art Week, and I am in awe of the students I have worked with in the past six months to make this series of events happen in a world where fundings for the arts has decreased even more.

For that young girl in me who was unsure of how to express herself, I will try to wipe her tears when she realized she would have to work thrice as hard to express herself as an Indian, as a girl, as the kid who was labelled the “foreigner” in her Chinese local school.

You finally get to hear from successful authors that look like older versions of you in a publishing panel on May 31st.

Here’s to my best friend Christina, who dragged me to every art gallery as I slowly fell in love with contemporary art created by people of color, who resisted conforming to stereotypes of banality and lack of creativity. She made this happen for me in a city not known to be “cultured enough” for the arts. She made this happen when conversations about diaspora are always America-centric or Euro-centric, and I struggled to find a place for myself.

Come to the artist mixer to meet South Asian artists, performers, actors and create community with them on June 1st.

Here’s to the third culture freshman who was enthusiastic to embrace diversity and was looking for community to bring back expression to her life and the lives of so many of her friends, who forgot it at all as they paved their own ways towards being doctors or engineers. We were never just scientific professionals. Let’s reclaim the arts from the ostentatious monuments created by centuries-dead kings, and breathe life into ourselves to create more art.

We speak now on May 31st during a spoken word night, and we celebrate the films created by our peers in a film festival on June 2nd.

Here’s to fighting the fractures in our own community, to fighting APIDA hierarchies to actually elevate Desis within this strange encompassing label, and to resisting power structures that stamp down on the hands and labour of people of color every day, whether it is on this campus or beyond.

Here’s to the stories that were “too mundane” or “too ethnic” to make the final cut in the galleries, the publishing lists, and the performances.

Here’s to always celebrating the diasporic identities we have found for ourselves, whether temporarily or permanently.

Join us in our journey to create community for generations of the past, present and future.

Join us Week 9 for the inaugural UCLA South Asian Art Week.

Gaginang.

That may not mean much to the average UCLA student. However, Loan Chung, the current Teo-Chew Association (TCA) secretary and incoming internal president, truly appreciates the meaning of the word: ‘Gaginang’ is a common phrase that Teochew people use to connect with each other, wherever they are in the world.

“What I love about being Teochew is that when we say ‘Gaginang’ (‘our people’), we truly mean it,” said Chung. “There is no such thing as strangers in our world.”

What is Teochew?

Teochew is a dialect native to the eastern province of Guangdong, China, that preserves many old Chinese pronunciations and words no longer found among the popular modern dialects, such as Mandarin or Cantonese.

However, Teochew speakers aren’t found just in China. You can also find these dialect speakers in regions like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and even Los Angeles.

Teo-Chew Association (TCA) has been at UCLA since 2004.

TCA member Qinhao Xu finds the language to be an essential element in unifying members into a family. “One of the most memorable experience is having a language workshop during the weekly meeting, where we practice our native language Teochew,” said Xu. “This is what make this so special because most of us are second generation immigrants.”

Teochew is considered a dying language – it’s difficult for younger generations overseas to practice the language outside of the family since it’s not nearly as popular as Mandarin or Cantonese. Merely finding others who speak the language is a challenge in of itself.

TCA provides an opportunity for people to meet others who share a similar cultural background while also meeting others who speak the language. “We want to keep our language and culture alive while also creating a place where people of our background can find a ‘family’ away from home,” noted co-president Victor Tran.

TCA at UCLA.

Teochew manages to bring multiple campuses together. The TCA associations from UCLA, UCI, and UCSD held their first joint banquet this year. Tran treasures the memories he has made with them.

“My most memorable experience of being [co-]president of TCA would have to be the first joint banquet this year,” he said. “Although it was very hectic, it was a joy to be able to work with the sister organizations from the other UC schools for one big joint banquet. I enjoyed seeing many of the members from all of the campuses interacting together and having fun.”

UCLA TCA, UCSD TCA, UCI TCA, and the main Southern California TCA branch

You don’t have to speak Teochew or be of Teochew background in order to join – TCA welcomes anyone who is interested. Although TCA is a smaller organization on campus, it’s this size that allows such a tight-knit community where everyone can get to know each other. The organization doesn’t have active membership requirements; its members are simply passionate people who care not only about Teochew culture but also about the well-being of the club and its members.

While there won’t be any more meetings this quarter for TCA, check out their Facebook page for regular updates on meetings, socials, and other events. Check out the website for more details as well.

There is a short phrase we find difficult, if not impossible, to say to our parents.

“I love you.”

They don’t say it. We don’t say it. Or, so I thought.  

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I wanted to delve further into this phrase, especially in relation to our mothers. Why don’t we say it? Or, do we say it often? Should we even have to say it? I walked around UCLA and asked some of my peers what their thoughts were.

Pacific Ties: Has your mom said “I love you” to you before?
Josephine Gao: Yes, my mom has … every time before I fly to UCLA. It makes me feel very happy and loved. It is very comforting to hear, especially if she says it when I am stressed or upset.
Raymond Huynh: No, but she makes food for me which is all the love I need.
Sujan Kim: My mom tells me she loves me all the time – whenever we hang up on the phone, whenever we’re hanging out, all the time.

PT: How does your mom express her love for you?
Frank Deng: She tells me. She worries about every little thing for me.
Pauline Tze: Basically, my mom worries at least twice as much about the things I’m worried about even after I stop being worried about them, and she nags me about things I haven’t been worrying about as well. I just pick up her calls even if I’m in the middle of studying and bear through all her nagging.

PT: Do you say “I love you” to your mom? How does she respond?
Linda Yee: Yes! She says I love you back or kisses me.
JG: Yes, I tell my mom that I love her before I end phone conversations with her. She usually replies that she loves me too.
RH: Yes (laughs). She just laughs.
SJ: I tell her I love her as often as I can. She always reciprocates the mushiness.

PT: How do you express your love for your mom?
LY: I like to think that I express my love for my mom through my actions. I’ll go up and hug her, or I’ll try to help her with whatever she’s doing.
JG: Honestly, I don’t think I adequately express my love for my mom, even though I love her a lot and am very grateful for everything she has done for me. (But) when I come home, I help my mom with chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes and folding laundry. I bring her hot tea, and we spend quality time together, watching TV shows that she likes.
SJ: I call her often and send her funny pictures of my daily life while she does the same. It’s like I never left home.

After my interviews, I learned the phrase didn’t matter too much. Whether our mothers say “I love you” or express it through actions, their love comes in hidden and various forms that don’t require words at all. The three words are just three words.

So, this Mother’s Day and the days after, let’s not forget the spoken or unspoken love our mothers have for us. Let’s remind them of our appreciation and reciprocation through words or actions; either works! I know Sunday I’ll be giving my mom a call saying “I love you.”

 

Hui O’Imiloa (Hawai’i Club) at UCLA has been hosting an annual lu’au for the past 31 years, and this year is no exception. By showcasing contemporary and traditional hula, the Hawai’i club brings the Hawaii experience to Ackerman Grand Ballroom. In addition to traditional Hawaiian dance, this year will also feature Tahitian, and Maori (New Zealand) dances.

In Polynesian culture, a lu’au is historically an important feast marking a special occasion. The word “luau,” in Hawaiian, is the name of the taro leaf, which is typically cooked like spinach. Now, people still have luaus to come together to eat, sing, and dance.

Hui O’Imiloa means a group of adventurers or explorers, something the club members have embodied as they explore Hawaiian culture. Many do not have direct ties to Hawai’i or the Polynesian culture but still are welcome in this space. Fourth year, Angela Nguyen has been in Hawai’i club since she was a freshman because she wanted to find a space on campus that would allow her to continue hula dancing. Nguyen is now Hawai’i club’s financial co-vice president and has been preparing for the annual lu’au for the past year in hopes that students will learn a lot about Hawaiian and other Polynesian cultures.

“Not only do we perform traditional chants and dances, but also we explain the stories and the meanings behind them” said Nguyen.

Second year external vice-president, Erin Murashige is from Hawai’i and knew that before starting school that she wanted to join the club. “The club also allows me to continue to dance hula with amazing people while I am in college,” said Murashige.

Hawai’i Club’s 32nd annual Lu`au – Nohea will be held in Ackerman Grand Ballroom on May 6th from 5-9pm.

“We want to showcase authentic culture, from the costumes and decorations to the music and performances. We also hope to dispel a lot of the stereotypes surrounding Hawaiian culture (e.g. coconut bras and grass skirts) by showing that there is so much more to it than is portrayed in the media,” explained Nguyen.

In addition to dancing and ukulele performances, a traditional Hawaiian dinner will also be served.

“We are trying to showcase what a luau in Hawai’i would be like with entertainment, food and a feeling of aloha. I hope that students who attend will enjoy the experience and learn more about the culture,” said Murashige.

You can stay updated with all of Hui O ‘Imiloa’s events through their Facebook page, Facebook group, and YouTube channel

“American justice has become American injustice. Superimposed on you.”

Showcased at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is a documentary directed by Steve James that encapsulates a five-year-long legal battle between the state of New York and Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

Within the first three minutes of the film, the viewer is introduced to the entire plot.

Thomas Sung founded Abacus in 1984 after realizing Chinese immigrants had no access to financial resources such as loans and credits. The family-owned community bank quickly expanded in location and provided accessible resources as it served and uplifted the Chinese community for decades in New York. Eventually, Sung’s daughters Vera and Jill joined their father in his mission to provide the Chinese community with an opportunity to attain the American Dream.

However, Abacus was not immune to greed.

The company underwent two waves of larcenous employees. The first transpired in 2003, where branch manager Carol Lim disappeared with ten million dollars. The second incident occurred in 2009 and had a less forgiving outcome. The Sung family discovered Ken Yu, a loan officer, and several other employees in the loan department had committed fraud by embezzling money from borrowers and falsifying loan documents. The Sungs responded by firing all of the responsible individuals, notifying the proper authorities and pursuing a private investigation. Shortly after their response, the New York District Attorney office involved itself in the case and charged Abacus in 2012 with 184 (later 240) counts of indictments that included mortgage fraud, grand larceny and conspiracy.

The film mastered navigating through narratives with smooth editing and transitions. The incorporation of investigative journalism that occurred during the legal battle provided an insightful and realistic element to the documentary.

The intimate familial scenes between the Sungs were well situated in the film.

The family’s Dim Sum and interview segments, for the most part, portrayed them as dedicated, genuine and humble individuals who just want to see their community succeed. These moments lighten the intense mood from the case, and for the most part, incorporated a fairly balanced perspective to juxtapose the two parties.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the prosecution lacked a definitive case.

The prosecution’s approach seemed to be executed with discrimination in mind. Their entire case was built on speculation that Abacus’ management was well aware of the corruption within their loan department, which seemed likely, but Abacus cooperated and assisted the DA when they first opened the case. However, the prosecution did not end there, for they believed that Abacus had contributed greatly to the 2008 financial crisis.

The latter is a bit far-fetched and hypocritical.  

It became obvious that justice depended on who the offender was. And Abacus was the offender targeted because of its skin color.

The government turned a blind eye on large bank companies when they engaged in fraudulent schemes that blew up and caused the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, the film shows the government bailing out the big bank companies (typically ran by white CEOs) who just had to pay the penalty fees to make the situation go away.

Abacus did not receive the same treatment.

“The DA told us, ‘You have to accept a plea of guilty for felony, plus a fine,’” said Thomas Sung.

The lack of options disregarded by the prosecution raised concerns that the DA’s targeting of Abacus was saturated with prejudice.

In response to these accusations, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, “I think the characterizations that this was somehow a cultural bias on the office’s part…entirely misplaced and entirely wrong. We devote an enormous amount of effort into protecting immigrant communities and I felt that our handling of the bank was consistent with how we would have handled the bank if we were investigating a bank that services a South American community or the Indian community. There was nothing different that we did or purposely designed to treat this bank differently.”

Vance highlights community of color banks in his statement, which seems contradictory to what he is saying because he is creating a distinction between privilege in large corporate banks and community banks.

His quick dismissal of discrimination is also inconsistent with the behaviors exercised by the DA office throughout the case.

In the film there is a scene where the convicted employees of Abacus were all handcuffed to a chain and led out of the courtroom by DA investigators. According to interviews from attorneys and investigative journalists, they recall their shock in seeing the fifteen Chinese individuals chained for the first time in their entire career.

The film highlighted more issues within the Chinese American community than just the legal battle.

The cinematography captures culture, conflict and a family’s grit faithful to reality. We see an entire community dependent on the offender–Abacus, to achieve their means of the American Dream and yet, that same community is harassed by the law.

“When we started the bank, it was our motivation to help all the people, all of the immigrants,” said Thomas Sung.

The Sung’s duty to the community never faltered and they persisted and fought for their legacy in court so that they can continue to serve the Chinese community.

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” will be in theaters May 19.

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