Alex Tizon, Filipino-American Reporter and Memoirist, Dies at 57

Alex Tizon, Filipino-American Reporter and Memoirist, Dies at 57

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Alex Tizon at a workshop in 1991. He shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for articles on a housing program for Native Americans.

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The Seattle Times

Alex Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter whose well-received 2014 memoir documented his insecurities and alienation as a Filipino-American, was found dead on March 23 in his home in Eugene, Ore. He was 57.

His wife, Melissa, said that he had died in his sleep and that the cause had not yet been determined.

At The Seattle Times, where he shared a Pulitzer in investigative reporting in 1997, and later at The Los Angeles Times, where he was Seattle bureau chief, Mr. Tizon (pronounced TEA-zahn) was admired as a prose stylist and known for long, deeply reported articles.

He wrote of his own life in “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.” In the book he addressed many of the stereotypes he internalized as an Asian-American, having experienced them “as a set of suspicions that seemed corroborated by everyday life.”

“When did this shame inside me begin?” he wrote. “Looking back now, I could say it began with love. Love of the gifted people and their imagined life; love of America, the sprawling idea of it, with its gilded tentacles reaching across the Pacific Ocean to wrap around the hearts of small brown people living small brown lives. It was a love bordering on worship, fueled by longing, felt most fervently by those like my parents who grew up with America in their dreams. The love almost killed us.”

Mr. Tizon’s memoir detailed his struggle to find masculine Asian role models in Western popular culture, and his childhood attempts to make himself look whiter. He recalled dangling from trees to stretch his vertebrae and pinching his nose with a clothespin to narrow it.

“‘Big Little Man’ is an unflinchingly honest, at times beautifully written, often discomforting examination of Tizon’s remarkable, yet thoroughly relatable, life,” Jay Caspian Kang wrote in The New York Times Book Review.

Mr. Tizon said in an online interview with The Boston Globe in 2016 that he thought life had grown better for Asian-Americans.

“I have nephews who are just worldbeaters,” he said. “They read my book, and, yeah, they can relate to some of it. But a sense of inferiority? No. That’s just not there.”

Michele Matassa Flores, the managing editor of The Seattle Times, said in a phone interview that as a reporter Mr. Tizon “focused on the gray” rather than seeing the world in black and white. “The world was not a simple place for Alex,” she added, “and he wanted to convey that to his readers.”

On one assignment Mr. Tizon rode through the streets of Seattle with a gang during a period of growing violence in the city in the late 1980s. He also wrote a series of profiles, “Crossing America: Dispatches From a New Nation,” for which he traveled across the country with the photographer Alan Berner after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Tizon, along with Eric Nalder and Deborah Nelson, won the Pulitzer Prize for articles about problems afflicting a Department of Housing and Urban Development program to help Native Americans build homes.

The articles chronicled dysfunction and incompetence within the department, corruption and nepotism at the tribal level, and misallocation of funds at Indian reservations around the country. In many cases, the articles showed, the result was overcrowded hovels for most and taxpayer-funded mansions for a connected few.

“It is not much more than a large plywood box, this house Thelma Moses calls home,” one article began. “To stand outside it is to wonder how such dimensions — 10 feet by 12 feet — can enclose a life.”

The series resulted in a congressional investigation and changes in the federal program.

Tomas Alexander Tizon was born in Manila on Oct. 30, 1959. His parents, Francisco Tizon and the former Leticia Asuncion, used borrowed money to bring their family to Los Angeles in 1964.

The Tizon family lived in Seattle and the South Bronx before settling in Oregon. Alex graduated from high school in Salem, Ore., in 1977 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University in 1986, the year he joined The Seattle Times.

Mr. Tizon left The Los Angeles Times in 2008, and in 2011 he began teaching at the University of Oregon in Eugene and writing freelance articles for national publications, including The Atlantic.

In addition to his wife, the former Melissa Quiason, with whom he lived in Eugene and Seattle, he is survived by their daughter, Maya Tizon; a daughter from an earlier marriage, Dylan Tizon; two brothers, Art and Albert; and six sisters, Leticia Tizon, Maria Tizon-Silbernagel, Maria Tizon-Huskey, Nikki Walker, Toni Tizon and Giselle Tizon-Kousonsavath.

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