Slavery is a visceral and ancestral imprint on the bones of people of African descent in this country. Many lump us in with people of color but we are the only ones who were kidnapped from another continent and sold for the benefit of manifesting the great American dream, or should I say nightmare. So, when the late Alex Tizon’s story appeared online from The Atlantic, of his slave named Eudocia Tomas Pulido, as a descendant of slaves, I stopped everything to listen to the story on Audm.com. It was discomforting to hear a white-male-sounding voice telling a slave story. After thirty minutes or so I forced myself to let go and imagined a Filipino voice akin to my Filipino cousin who married into our family years ago. And this is what we mean when we say black people conjure. We have to cross barriers by redefining, redrawing lines, creating language and maybe even create a type of dance to transform what is being projected as “real” but it is not.
Many people of African descent such as myself read or listened to Tizon’s story because of the use of the word “slave.” The word stimulated a horrendous legacy of slavery of which we have had to conjure ourselves everyday to be more than that. We interjected ourselves into Tizon’s story because slavery is slippery and contagious and there is no way we can ignore the smell of it.
While listening I grew anxious because I knew the story would end tragically. I began creating gift packages for dharma daughters. They are all of African descent and the result of karmic actions that birthed slavery. Slavery is the root of our meditation practice and is the object of our underlying constant observations. Our path is to eliminate a bondage to being who we are not and that has nothing to do with the nihilism or dropping identity found in Buddhist thought. It has all to do with being more than the slaves we are often thought to be and the experience of ignorance from others and the cyclic suffering that follows. Eudocia Tomas Pulido lived as who she was not. And because of that, folk like myself, descendants of slaves in this country, interjected ourselves into Eudocia’s story and a brew of collective anger flooded through for her. She was, we were, robbed of freedom in the way many have been and still are today.
While a personal story, written from Tizon’s own cultural lens, with the freedom to say what he wanted, the shameful secret was treated as an endearing journalistic memoir. The story, in fact, exposed the constant bondage of people in the world and the ultimate disappearance of millions of people on the earth who are still living and walking among us.
Tizon, impacted by his own cultural ways, could be nothing but a slave master in the eyes of those in the African Diaspora. He had choices. He chose to keep his slave and then return her ashes home to her people who had been waiting for her for 56 years. I began to feel myself as Eudocia, lying on the floor in a corner. I saw her/myself holding a pillow because of living in terror and not some surface feeling of needing a mate as was interpreted by Tizon. I spiraled through with the storyteller expecting to land on my feet. Instead, I felt dropped on my head. Where is her story? Who are the people we cried for her when only the ashes were returned?
So, why are black people speaking on this Filipino cultural experience? You must understand that black people will and must interrupt slavery of any kind, especially if it is taking place in this country. We must disrupt the presentation of slavery as sentimental rather than the barbaric torture it is. If we do not, slaves will remain hidden away while masters write their stories.
May the spirit of Eudocia never be forgotten.
by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel