Even as Tizon condemns the coercion “Lola” endured, he looks for signs of her affection in her cooking: “I could tell by what she served whether she was merely feeding us or saying she loved us.” Tizon, like Stockett, is desperate to understand the care he got as unconditional love, as rising above and separate from coercion But in this genre, that rising above always signals the growth and goodness of the narrator.
The essay, then, is not “Lola’s” story, but Alex Tizon’s reflected through her.
Inevitably, they turned to “Mammy’s” warm embrace and asserted her abiding love to be evidence of their own growth, learned empathy, and commitment to future equality.
Her faithfulness showed that white people could change, while “Mammy” stayed locked in her place. The central white character in that story is a young woman named Skeeter in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962 coming into her own as a writer, fighting her family and the expectations of the dominant gender order, and discovering her sympathies with Civil Rights activism, all through her love for and painful loss of the black domestic worker who “raised” her.
Still, Tizon’s own essay demands the comparison to American slavery and its legacies.
His story joins a tradition that began with what’s known as “the faithful slave narrative,” morphed into the dominant “mammy” ideal by the later 19th century, and has persisted, to the present day, through mainstream popular culture and in stories of black caregivers whose deep love for the white children they cared for transcended the cruelty and coercions of their circumstances.Advocates proclaimed slavery to be morally superior to free labor, arguing that it was more truly humane, based on a lifetime of mutual care and obligation as well as natural racial hierarchies.By this logic, some were born to be slaves while others were born with the responsibility to manage, guide, and care for them.Slave narratives have informed most of the innovative scholarship on slavery written over the past half century.Slave narratives demanded a dialogue regarding slavery and freedom, and accordingly served as essential components of the abolitionist struggle.The novel includes an author’s essay at the end called, “Too Little, Too Late: Kathryn Stockett in her Own Words,” as if the entire book weren’t already her own words.In it, she describes her continued love for Demetrie Mc Lorn, a black woman employed by Stockett’s grandparents who cared for her and her older siblings in the aftermath of their parents’ divorce in the 1970s. It wasn’t something people felt compelled to examine.This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of the faithful “mammy” figure’s endurance.It distorts the narrative, just as it warps individual relationships and emotions, even in attempts like Tizon’s to speak truth, expose family crimes, accept responsibility, and reckon with past and present abuses.In his painful and powerful essay “My Family’s Slave,” Alex Tizon writes that, as a child, his primary point of reference for the place Eudocia Tomas Pulido, or “Lola,” occupied in his family’s life was “in slave characters on TV and in the movies.” That Tizon saw echoes of “Lola” in the character of Pompey, a subservient, scraping, black manchild to John Wayne’s rugged frontiersman in , is telling.It points to the ways in which stereotypical depictions of black people and popular narratives of slavery and emancipation provide a very American context for Tizon’s story of immigration and exploitation.