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Nobility of Spirit: A Salute to all the ‘Manangs’

A recent Sunday’s gospel was about the Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-25:30; Luke 19:12-19:27. I heard this parable many times before and I accepted its meaning – God gave us abilities, and yes, talents, to use and share with those who people our lives.

Those talents are as unique as the mark on our souls, visible and recognizable to the One who created us. Our birth into this world makes us fellow travelers whose final destination depends on how well we use those abilities. Whether we use them to uplift, or bury them and not use them at all. Or worse, use them to debase.

Some have gifts that are obvious. Some have abilities that don’t shock and awe but are recognized as indispensable. And then there are those who toil and labor, unnoticed and unappreciated. Some persist because they need employment to survive. But for some, they persevere because of a nobility of spirit that gives meaning to their dedication. They take pride in their work and take satisfaction from a job well done.

It was a stretch, but that gospel made me think of the quiet grace and dignity of hard work and perseverance. That, I thought to myself, required incredible talent.

If I sound “preach-y” it’s because this is a preachy subject. Grin and bear with me.

We, the Filipino immigrants who moved out of the Philippines and resettled in the Americas and Europe, felt the sting of criticism after reading “My Family’s Slave,” the story of “Lola” Eudocia Tomas Pulido by Alex Tizon.

I grappled with the truth – the Philippines had an underbelly of exploitation. It was not unique to the Philippine elite. Even those who squatted on public lands had household help who received horrid treatment.

Lola Eudocia’s story was extreme and unpardonable. She passed away in 2011 but her life saga remained relevant. It was the subject of discussion at our family dinner one evening. It reopened questions and distaste about mistreatment of those who rank low in societal hierarchy.

We visited the Philippines twice when the children were young, and they saw how the household help was treated by family and friends. The maids and houseboys remained invisible and were expected to intuit the family’s needs. The culture shock to our daughters and son was profound. Our children witnessed the iniquity and bristled at the injustice.

I am not an expert in social science. Moral philosophy bewilders me. But inequality and unfairness, I recognize.

There were many “manangs” employed by my parents. I grew up living with and served by them. It was a way of life. We were not allowed to call them by their first name. They were called “manang.” It was an honorific bestowed to one who was older, although it had evolved to mean a house maid.

I understood they were there because we needed them. Without them, my brothers and I would have had to do the chores. There were no appliances like dish washers, washing machines, or vacuum cleaners. Everything was done by hand. “Pawis” power. Through sweat and hard labor.

I could recall one who stayed even though she was rude to us and was openly disobedient. Mamang eventually dismissed her and she was immediately employed by a neighbor. It was a shock to learn that not a week later, she murdered several members of that neighbor’s family, including a child. She had stabbed them to death. Her deed was not discovered until the next day. Somehow, my parents felt responsible.

She was the exception. “Manangs” who preceded her and those who came after her were good and kind. They took note of what food I preferred. My school uniforms were pressed and ready. They even laughed at my jokes. There was “Nang” Lucy who gave me massages when I arrived home from my 8-hour shift at the hospital. I cried when she left.

Libet, my father’s maid and caregiver, has been with him since she was 19 years old. (She celebrated her thirtieth birthday last year.) She has remained loyal and dutiful. I know because neighbors love to gossip about her. My brother and I give her a salary which is above the pay scale among the household help in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, Mitch gives her extra monthly allowance.

Our oldest daughter needed help on the days I didn’t babysit her boys. Haydee was a god-send who took care of our apos as a lola should. She had a calming personality who was able to discipline our rambunctious grandsons.

My mother-in-law was a social “reformer.” She insisted that all her household help attend night or trade school to improve their future. She was a paragon and my ideal of a good wife and mother. When our cleaning lady asked to quit her twice monthly job to help me at the clinic, I agreed. I imagined Mommy Lily smiled at me from heaven. Cely worked hard and gained our trust and remained with us until Mitch retired.

So here’s to all the “manangs” who work as invisible adjuncts. Cheers to you and may you be abundantly blessed for your noble spirits.


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