Today’s Needull is the very last article written by the renowned Pulitzer-winning journalist Alex Tizon, his last masterpiece before he succumbed to prolonged illness last month. In the article, he writes about Lola, his household ‘slave’ in the US, who was also his nanny-cum-cleaner-cum-cook-cum-gardener. Lola had joined Alex’s family from his native country, where her family was a victim of classism and casteism spanning generations. In the article, Alex revisits Lola’s past after her death and during his journey through his native Philippines, also takes us on a journey of realisation. As a UAE resident who knows many such ‘slave-owners’, it is an emotional eye opener of sorts for me. Hope it’s the same for you.
We landed in Los Angeles on May 12, 1964, all our belongings in cardboard boxes tied with rope. Lola had been with my mother for 21 years by then. In many ways she was more of a parent to me than either my mother or my father. Hers was the first face I saw in the morning and the last one I saw at night. As a baby, I uttered Lola’s name (which I first pronounced “Oh-ah”) long before I learned to say “Mom” or “Dad.” As a toddler, I refused to go to sleep unless Lola was holding me, or at least nearby.
I was 4 years old when we arrived in the U.S.—too young to question Lola’s place in our family. But as my siblings and I grew up on this other shore, we came to see the world differently. The leap across the ocean brought about a leap in consciousness that Mom and Dad couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make.