A discussion among UniPro staff members about The Atlantic's recent piece, "My Family's Slave," the cover story for the June 2017 issue.
samdizon (Sam Dizon, D.C. Correspondent): i'm uncomfortable that the article presents slavery as the norm in the philippines. i grew up with a katulong, and my parents still employ her up to now actually, but she is paid, gets leaves, is treated humanely, etc., and that's how other relatives, family friends, neighbors, etc. treat their katulongs as well. to be fair, i don't think that's the intent of the author, but filipinos/filams people are sharing it without that context (usually because they relate to having a katulong/yaya who is so integrated into the family and matches the devotion "lola" had to the tizons - not the slavery part) and i feel like that's how it's coming out to other cultures who are reading the article and thinking "well my filipino friend just confirmed this is the norm so they must be right."
ryne (Ryne Dionisio, UniPro Chicago-Midwest): interesting, my worry was that people would overlook the larger issue of possible other "home slaves" and treat this as a super isolated incident, but I didn't consider people making generalizations because of it
samdizon: i mean i just assume this is a possibility because there aren't a lot of filipino/filam stories out there lol. filipinos can be pretty private because it's "nakakahiya" to talk about non-surface level parts of our culture.
chrmn (Charmaine Balisalisa, UniPro Chicago-Midwest): @samdizon I relate to your fears--whenever I commented on others' reposts of the article and talked about how I was raised with yaya culture in my community, I feel like I have to explain that our yayas were treated humanely--it's a job, so they get paid, get to go home on agreed terms, eat in the same table as everyone else, and sleep in beds.
xanthonycastro (Anthony Castro, UniPro NY): there's also filipinos who only view things with like a "western lens" who are equally offended which is interesting - i honestly don't think it's a matter of what's right or wrong, but how you perceive things based on the morals that you have developed based on a number of factors
ryne: what's the closest "american" equivalent to a yaya? a butler maybe? there's no perfect analogy
samdizon: a yaya is like a stay at home nanny - they're more focused on raising the children. a katulong is like a housekeeper? i guess? they mainly do chores around the house - cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. a more literal translation would be "helper" (for katulong)
bjhayyy (Brian Guerrero, UniPro Chicago-Midwest): For my family in the Philippines, we have lots of katulong that are paid and we treat exactly like our family. Some of them live alongside my family or have their own places nearby. We also allow them to go home as needed and we also make sure that they all stay healthy and safe. This article is very thought provoking but I also feel a slight disconnect in terms of the portrayal of the parents. Yes we are kind of pushed have a discontent and disdain for the parents but, in conjunction with my mom's thoughts, thought that people would think of this as a generalized article about how Filipino people are and how katulongs get treated in the Philippines.
bjhayyy: It's a little more different on my feelings too just because I was never used to having a katulong like the rest of my family in the Philippines. It felt weird having drivers, maids, and a lot of other people be there to do things for me when I've been so independent. My feelings still stand though where our katulongs are exactly like our family. They give a lot to be there for us so we do the same to help support them and their families. I also think that there can be more connections to the culture of katulongs and such in regards to it as a job opportunity to help support their own families.
samdizon: apparently other minorities are saying it's wrong for the author to "erase" lola's name (her full name is actually in the second paragraph) and to "keep using her slave name"
bjhayyy: I don't like that people are referring to Lola as her "slave name"
samdizon: so some view "lola" as a slave name because they're saying she wasn't the author's grandmother. they're likening it to the use of "auntie/uncle" that white slave owners would have their children use to make it more "palatable." so now filipinos are trying to explain that it's an honorific that filipinos use to refer to any elder
caldana (Chris Aldana, UniPro Chicago-Midwest): yeah that comparison makes me uncomfortable but I also think that we shouldn't get too caught up in defending/explaining cultural nuance bc the issue at hand is that this family at the end of the day made someone work for them without pay for years
justin (Justin Winfield, UniPro Chicago-Midwest): To me, this is something new because I never know of anyone who has a katulong or a yaya because my family or my family's friends don't have one so coming into this cold like this is quite an eye-opener. The first thing that came to my mind was slavery. I did see some elements of human trafficking but slavery came to mind so quickly to me considering how I saw some of the correlation between this and slave history we have here. I always found it odd to have a katulong or yaya in your family because I've always been told me to always work hard for yourself an do everything yourself
caldana: Yes, it is a story of slavery, but this story has multiple layers and cultures weaved into it and is really really awful, but to understand how this kind of scenario is living and breathing today in Saudi, in the Phils, in Thailand, in America ... literally everywhere, human trafficking might help you process. Idk, I might be wrong, but this is where my mind is going - which is probs bc I didn't grow up in America so the history of American slavery was not my first frame of reference that came to mind when I read this
justin: But this is where I need to learn more about the historical context of katulongs and yayas before I can go deep into the nuances and the deeper meaning behind the story. I feel like I can provide an opinion but not enough facts to support that opinion -- ended up being a emotional, moral, western opinion
chrmn: I wonder how aware Alex Tizon (writer) was of who his audience is/would be. So far it seems that we have a lot of reactions from people who barely know crap about the Philippines, so now there's a sort of un-facilitated, one-way discussion going on in which Americans don't even know how much of their own history and culture is tied/related to this, and also how much of it has nothing to do with this (lol slave names? Come on). Even we are still figuring it out. @caldana is right, this is complex af, and I wonder if Alex Tizon knew the magnitude.
ryne: I wonder what kind of call to actions, etc we can generate from this story
We acknowledge there are many viewpoints to the story, and different ways to unpack the piece. The above conversation was a discussion among members of UniPro in going through how we felt, and taking other viewpoints into account.