News & Opinion | May 16, 2017 12:56 pm

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Reveals Horrific Secret of Family Slave

The late Alex Tizon's final story in The Atlantic is one he waited his entire life to tell.

A photograph of Lola.
A photograph of Lola, supplied by the author to The Atlantic. (The Atlantic/Twitter)

In this month’s heart-wrenching cover story for The Atlantic, the late Alex Tizon recounts a painful family secret that haunted him over the course of his life.

Tizon’s “Lola’s Story” chronicles a woman who was only 18 when his mother “acquired” her in the Philippines. Lola agreed to care for Tizon’s mother without understanding the role was for life. The servant went on to travel with Tizon’s family to the United States, with promise of an allowance and more freedom—only to spend most of her adult life living and working in the confines of the Tizon home for free.

“No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly,” Tizon wrote. “She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.”

Tizon, who wrote that he was 11 before he realized that Lola was the family’s slave, died in March of natural causes at age 57.

In an editor’s note published online, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg wrote of Alex’s writing and passing:

“Alex did not know that we would be putting his piece on the cover of this issue; he died the day we made that decision, before we had a chance to tell him. His death, quite obviously, could have derailed publication of what turned out to be his final story, but his family, led by Melissa and his siblings, worked with us during this uniquely trying time to make publication possible. We are grateful to them. And we are grateful that Alex shared his story—his epic story—with us.”