A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has written an extraordinary final story about the secret his family hid throughout their lives: They had a slave.

Alex Tizon died on March 24 aged just 57, without ever knowing his unflinching personal account would be the cover story of The Atlantic's June edition.

The talented writer, husband and father has posthumously told the terrible truth about Lola, the young woman who became his family's slave in the Philippines, and remained that way even after they moved to the United States.

Tizon recounts how his grandfather, a lieutenant, "gave" 18-year-old Lola to his mother when she was 12, and she spent the rest of her life in real, modern-day slavery.

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He recalls how his mother used to share the "outrageous" story of how she once misbehaved and then told her father to punish Lola instead of her, which he did by lashing her with a belt.

When his mother married and gave birth to Tizon and his siblings, the family moved to America, taking Lola with them on the promise of an allowance to send to her family. She never received anything.

Tizon recalls numerous horrific episodes in which his parents, and later his stepfather, screamed at and abused their unpaid slave for not working hard enough. He was 11 before he understood what Lola was, when his older brother summed up Lola's reality:

"Wasn't paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters. (Her designated place to sleep in each house we lived in was always whatever was left; a couch or storage area or corner in my sisters' bedroom. She often slept among piles of laundry.)"

Tizon describes how Lola was like a mother to him, how his mother resented her close relationship with the children and how they hid the truth from friends and neighbours. He could never persuade his mother to admit what she had done was wrong.

Later in Lola's life, Tizon tried to make amends, even taking her on a trip back home to see her family in the Philippines. But she never moved back there, and getting her to stop working was almost impossible.

"Dad used to say she was simple," Tizon wrote. "I wondered what she could have been if, instead of working the rice fields at age 8, she had learned to read and write."

Being a slave was all she knew.

Read the full remarkable story in The Atlantic.

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