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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why the obituary for Eudocia Tomas Pulido didn’t tell the story of her life in slavery

By Susan Kelleher Seattle Times staff reporter

Six years ago The Seattle Times wrote an obituary for a local woman who seemed to have lived a life of devotion to her family. But now it’s been revealed as something drastically different.

Six years ago, I was assigned to write an obituary about a local woman who seemed to have lived an extraordinary life of devotion to family.

Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s life was, indeed, extraordinary, but not in the way it was presented in the pages of The Seattle Times.

Tuesday night, I read with horror and growing anger Alex Tizon’s account in The Atlantic magazine of Ms. Pulido’s life with three generations of his family, and his journey to come to terms with it.

Many of the details were familiar, as Tizon had shared them with me during a long interview following the death of a woman he knew as “Lola,” an honorific title in her native Tagalog that Tizon took to mean “grandmother.”

In retrospect, the obituary reads as a whitewash for a fundamental truth known only to Tizon and his family: Ms. Pulido was a slave.

Even typing those words makes me sick, as does knowing, as I do now, that I wrote about slavery as a love story.

Here’s how it happened.

After Ms. Pulido died, Tizon wrote an obituary and sent it to then-Executive Editor David Boardman, who passed it down the chain as an assignment. It fell to me to write it.

I chafed at first. Why were we writing about the relative of a former Seattle Times staffer? But as I read details in Tizon’s draft, there were remarkable aspects to her life that I thought would be worth sharing.

It focused on how Ms. Pulido raised a family of high achievers, even though she had been illiterate most of her life. I was more drawn to the sacrifices she made for others.

I’d never met Ms. Pulido, but the person Tizon described to me was a familiar one: a woman who devotes her life to caring for others. We rarely write about those women, and I saw the obituary as an opportunity to acknowledge and honor those sacrifices.

Tizon and I talked for at least 90 minutes as I collected details for the story. He told me how Ms. Pulido was “asked” to care for a young girl whose mother had died. How a relative requested that she “always look after the girl.” How she followed that girl into adulthood and took care of her children, and the children’s children. She shopped, she ran off troublesome boyfriends, and, having had no romance of her own, was obsessed with the royal wedding of Princess Diana.

In the more honest account Tizon wrote in The Atlantic, he admits that she was, in fact, a slave in their home. In Tizon’s written account, Ms. Pulido wasn’t “asked” to care for his mother. She was “given” to her. And everything that happened to Ms. Pulido from that day forward is tied to that act of inhumanity.

No matter how much Ms. Pulido loved or was loved by Tizon and his family, she was not free. Tizon had an opportunity to tell that story when she died, to honor her more deeply than the saccharine sentiments he shared in our pages. And I now have an opportunity to examine my own lack of knowledge that allowed historical questions about slavery in the Philippines to go unasked.

Tizon was a valued colleague at The Times, and a friend to many. He was revered as a writer and a truth teller.

It is not my intention to denigrate him, only to apologize for being complicit in further injuring Ms. Pulido by providing cover for what was ultimately a life denied.

Tizon died recently, before his piece in The Atlantic was published, so I can only wonder what compelled him to solicit an obituary for a woman whose life he had not yet come to terms with.

“Sometimes it takes people awhile to get to the truth about their lives,” his wife, Melissa Tizon, said Wednesday. “So maybe Alex wasn’t quite there yet when he talked to Susan.”

As a reporter, Tizon knew that writing the final story of someone’s life is an honor and a huge responsibility, one that relies on people in grief to tell the story.

Obituaries depend on the fundamental honesty of the people who survive to tell the story. Tizon lied to me, and through me, to our readers, depriving Ms. Pulido of the truth of her life, and the rest of us an important piece of our history. And for that I am truly sorry.

Susan Kelleher: skelleher@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2508. On Twitter @susankelleher

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/northwest/why-the-obituary-for-eudocia-tomas-pulido-didnt-tell-the-story-of-her-life-in-slavery/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article_title_1.1

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