BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – A preschool director in Berkeley is coming to grips with a shocking story about how her family secretly had a slave for decades.

“A lot of us didn’t know. My brother and I talked on the phone yesterday morning. Slave? We couldn’t chew on that word,” Candace Tizon Martinez told KPIX 5.

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It’s the cover story in The Atlantic magazine, written by Martinez’s uncle, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Tizon. The account of Eudocia Tomas Pulido or “Lola,” the woman who spent 56 years as a slave in Alex’s family’s household, is sending shockwaves around the world.

“No other word but “slave” encompassed the life she lived,” Tizon wrote. “My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been.”

As a child, Candace was close to Lola, understood her to be a housekeeper and integral part of her family.

“Yeah, ‘slave’ doesn’t fit to me. She was our grandma,” she said.

Lola was 18 years old when her family gave her to Candace’s real grandmother to be her personal servant, a practice not uncommon in the Philippines.

Lola immigrated with the couple to America. She cleaned house, raised Alex and four other children. Occasionally asked for money to send home, but her owners never did pay her.

Alex eventually grew to realize what was happening, but didn’t quite know how to set her free – and Lola resisted leaving.

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Eventually, when Candace’s grandmother died, Uncle Alex took Lola in and ended up paying her a stipend and helping her get odd jobs. But Lola was old by then, she had never had children of her own or even had a boyfriend.

“Them finding out was probably a struggle of ‘We know that she came here under circumstances she couldn’t control. But she’s our mom. She raised us.’ So what do you do with that?” Martinez said. “And I think my uncle did the best that he could. He would be the first to admit it wasn’t enough.”

While Lola’s incredible saga played out in Washington and Oregon, similar cases could be happening here.

“We know that there are victims like Lola here in the Bay Area,” said Caylin Patterson with the Contra Costa Alliance to End Abuse

Patterson said there is a long history of this type of human trafficking here – not just housekeepers, but workers in nail salons and restaurants.

“In Contra Costa alone, actually, we were able to track 22 cases of labor trafficking between 2014 and 2016,” Patterson said. “So we know that there are other Lolas or other victims of labor trafficking out there.

Alex Tizon, who authored Lola’s story, had tried for years to get it published.

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When The Atlantic decided to make it their cover story, they called to tell him, only to learn he had died that very day. Tizon was 57 years old.