Alex Tizon’s Brutal Honesty
Jay Caspian Kang

Wow, so many differing perspectives and reactions to Alex Tizon’s story about Lola! As I read your comments here, I nod or debate in my head, but mostly I’m left with wonder, bemusement, and questions about why we react the way we do, and which perspective matches which reaction. And, how easy it is to make snap judgments, even when the picture is incomplete. Very interesting.

In Filipino, “Lola” is a title that means “Grandma.” Which, if you’ve paid attention to Tizon’s story, is very fitting. (Lola took care of Tizon’s mom before her kids were born.) I imagine after the kids, everyone just got into the habit of calling her “Lola.” Many parents will recognize this scenario: when couples have kids, they sometimes start referring to their spouses as “Mom” or “Dad” in front of their young children, mainly for consistency. Because, how dare your kids call you “Alex” — so, you habituate them.

I’m an immigrant. My family once had the luxury of having help around the house. (They were paid, had time off, lived with us, and my parents put their kids through school.) They were very much a part of the family, and when we kids referred to them, their names were always preceded by a title — e.g., Big Sister, Big Brother, Auntie, Uncle — out of respect, and because of cultural norms. That was our situation. But I’ve seen first-hand several situations similar to Tizon’s, and not just in my birth country’s local soap operas, where the plight of the poor (especially the maids and servants) made for very colorful and much-loved story lines. And, watched enthusiastically by… yes, the household help.

I wish “Slave” weren’t part of Tizon’s essay title. That ugly word had prepped so many to a specific framework, one that is entirely negative. One that blocks from your mind the Bigger Picture — the historical context, the struggles of SE Asian immigrants in their “Coming-to-America” story. How, Tizon’s parents were well-to-do in the Philippines and highly educated — Doctor, Diplomat! — but were treated like third-rate citizens in America, barely able to make ends meet. (Did no one notice this?) I get that Tizon’s story was centered on Lola, but if you look a little deeper, it goes beyond that. Implicit racism. Fear of deportation. Guilt. Frustration. Humiliation. Helplessness.

Have you ever angrily honked the horn then stuck out your middle finger and cursed at the dude who cut you off? And that’s just your typical road rage.

From my perspective, I can see the complexity of Tizon’s family’s situation, beyond Lola (Grandma). If the parents had brought a sibling/cousin with them to America, I would venture to guess he/she would have had a similar fate under the same circumstances.

No: I do not condone Lola’s maltreatment. But, I saw a lot of love and devotion in the story as well, from all parties involved. Twisted, isn’t it? And I’m sure you could find many examples of twisted relationships, whether it be a twisted spousal relationship, twisted romantic relationship, parent-child, teacher-student, government-society… twisted relationships abound. But Lola’s story struck a chord of distate for many, with Tizon thrown under the bus— why?

Understand: Lola’s story is so much deeper, so much more complicated than we could ever judge from where we stand.

Dan Nguyen

“…it really pains me to see people remark that he was taking care of her just to make himself feel like her savior…” Me too, Frankie.

Richard — I love how you try to understand.

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