She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The Spanish Crown eventually began phasing out slavery at home and in its colonies, but parts of the Philippines were so far-flung that authorities couldn’t keep a close eye. Traditions persisted under different guises, even after the U.S. took control of the islands in 1898. Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.
This article created a huge stir from the moment it was published, especially within the U.S. Filipino community. Slavery is reprehensible, but to most people today, it is incomprehensible to imagine how one human could ever enslave another. This story of a Filipino family that brought a ‘domestic worker’ with them to the United States is a riveting tale that offers glimpses into the cultural context of modern-day slavery. The author was born into this family and it’s a painful tale intermingled with agony, love, cruelty, tenderness, guilt, and growth. This article is a long read, but well worth it. You can listen to a 55-minute audio version of the article, or also listen to the NPR 5-minute version.