The current issue of Atlantic magazine carries a fascinating article about a woman kept as a family’s slave in the United States for decades.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino-American journalist Alex Tizon, who died just weeks before the article was published, wrote with impeccable authority. The slave, Eudocia Tomas Pulido, served his family for 56 years until her death.
“We called her Lola,” Tizon wrote. “She was 4-foot-11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine – my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived.”
Chilling – but not an aberration.
Well into the 21st century, human slavery is still rampant. There are thousands of slaves in the United States, and that includes the self-proclaimed bastion of human rights we call California.
“Forced labor and sex trafficking are not just brutal relics of history or crimes that take places in faraway places,” says a 2012 report by the California Department of Justice. “They comprise the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise and they are flourishing right here in California.”
In fact, California is a hotbed of human trafficking because of its complex economy and large immigrant population.
Periodically, California authorities stage raids that free slaves from sweatshops or other places of forced employment. Earlier this year, raids in Southern California freed 28 child sex workers and resulted in 474 arrests.
And periodically, specific cases of slaves like Lola being kept by California families – usually wealthy immigrants from the Middle East or Asia – pop up:
▪ Last year’s federal prosecution of an Iraqi couple in San Diego for bringing an Indonesian servant into the U.S. The woman escaped by pleading with a nurse for help in her native language. The charges said the couple threatened the woman with “physical restraint if she did not perform labor and services.”
▪ A young Egyptian woman named Shyima whose parents sold her into slavery to a man named Nassar Ibrahim. His family moved to wealthy Irvine in Orange County in 2000 and she was forced to work as a servant for seven family members without pay for up to 20 hours a day. In 2002, after 16 months in California, an anonymous tip to police resulted in her being freed and Ibrahim and his wife being arrested and eventually given prison terms on federal slavery charges.
▪ In 2013, police arrested Meshael Alayban, described as one of six wives of a Saudi Arabian prince, for keeping five women as slaves for her family in a three-story Irvine condominium. One of the women, a Kenyan, escaped and told police of the other four, all Filipinas, still in captivity.
“The laws of our nation and California do not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labor or services,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said of the Alayban case.
But it’s still happening.