Last weekend, I met a woman who escaped slavery.
I was working a freelance project for the nationally-syndicated public radio program “The Story With Dick Gordon” produced by WUNC out of North Carolina. The story was “Enslaved in L.A.” and you can hear the final product at “The Story” Web site. The subject of the story was a 30-year-old woman who spent more than seven years as an enslaved servant here in Los Angeles, working in the large home of a wealthy family.
Her story is sad and simple. She was a poor, badly-treated servant in her home country of Indonesia. She was promised a better working life in Los Angeles, so she moved here and realized she was mislead. Instead, she was a virtual prisoner in the large home, with 24/7 working hours and almost no pay. She was told her destiny was to serve that household, and she felt hopeless. Eventually, a few alert people (a Chinese tutor and a hero neighbor) taught her that she had rights in the U.S. Once she believed them and her neighbor introduced her to an organization called CAST, she was able to escape.
While her story was extraordinary, would startled me most was how ordinary this woman was. If I had met her in the street, I would have thought of her as just another newly-arrived immigrant making their way in Los Angeles. She was dressed simply but fashionably, spoke fluent albeit accented English, and had a modest smile. She was soft-spoken and quiet.
Now I can’t help but look at people twice, wondering how many other stories like hers are walking down the street.