Journalism professor's final story lands on magazine cover

UO journalism professor Alex Tizon

When Alex Tizon of the UO UO School of Journalism and Communication died in March, he was on the verge of publishing a story that would reveal his family’s greatest secret.

Tizon never found out that it would be the cover story in the May issue of The Atlantic.

“He died the day we made that decision, before we had a chance to tell him,” wrote Jeffery Goldberg, editor of The Atlantic.

Tizon’s final article, “My Family’s Slave,” tells the story of Lola, a Filipino woman who, at the age of 18, was given as a present to his mother by his grandfather. Lola spent the rest of her life with Tizon’s family as an indentured servant, even after they moved from the Philippines to the United States.

She cleaned, did laundry and helped raise the family’s five children. She also suffered abuse and mistreatment, by modern standards, at the hands of Tizon’s parents.

Tizon, an assistant professor who was found dead in his Eugene home on March 23 at age 57, did not put together the pieces of Lola’s identity until he was 11.

When Tizon’s mother died and Lola came to live with Tizon and his wife Melissa as a member of their family, Tizon did his best to give the woman who helped raise him the life she never had — one of freedom, reverence and respect.

According to Melissa Tizon, her husband struggled to tell Lola’s story.

“Confronting a personal story is always a challenging proposition for writers, especially when the narrative involves questionable actions of one’s family,” said Juan-Carlos Molleda, the Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication. “Alex’s last work was courageous, authentic, comprehensive and masterfully articulated.”

Since its May 16 publication, Tizon’s story has ignited a national conversation around slavery in its many forms. The story has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. The Atlantic is publishing select responses, which range from outrage at Lola’s servitude and treatment to admiration for Tizon’s telling of the tale.

“Alex Tizon built an exemplary career by listening to certain types of people — forgotten people, people on the margins, people who had never before been asked for their stories,” Goldberg wrote in an editor’s note.

According to Melissa Tizon, her husband “was always impatient with small talk, because he believed that all people had within them an epic story, and he wanted to hear those epic stories — and then help tell them to the world.”

Tizon was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of the award-winning “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.”

Read more about Tizon on the schools webpage, and find more coverage of “My Family’s Slave” on NPR and The Oregonian.

—Patty Jenness ’13, digital strategist and freelance writer