Maarte, Maldita, Maganda: Jovie Galit launches Pinay Collection

Showing off their sweatshirts from the newly-launched Pinay Collection. Photo by Dinaly Tran

Showing off their sweatshirts from the newly-launched Pinay Collection. Photo by Dinaly Tran

When entrepreneur Jovie Galit addressed the crowd at Paper Plus Cloth on September 14th, she challenged the audience to search “Pinay Collection” on Google. Expecting to see Galit’s merchandise line at the top of the results, they were dismayed to find R-rated links instead.

“I knew that I’d wanted to name my new company something Pinay,” said Galit. “I did the whole thing, I bought the domain, I was so sold with ‘Pinay Collection.’ I was so happy. One thing that I missed: I forgot searching the terms ‘Pinay Collection’ on Google. When I finally looked it up, I was mortified.”

When Galit asked her friends for advice, they assured her that this was exactly why her business needed to exist— to reclaim the word “Pinay.”

New customers showing off their Pinay Collection purchases. Photo by J. Austria

New customers showing off their Pinay Collection purchases. Photo by J. Austria

The Entrepinay

In 2018, Galit was working on her calligraphy business, Pinya Letters, when Karla Villanueva Danan asked her to make a “Kumain ka na?” sign for her film, Jezebel.

“I wanted the kind of stuff you could get at Homesense or at Winners, but in Tagalog,” said Danan. “I thought, why not ask someone to just make it? Why wait for a store to do that when I have this talented friend who I can pay, and the pay goes directly to her and helps her with her business, and then have this beautiful art in my home that reflects our culture?”

Danan’s commission led Galit to use more and more Filipino words in her calligraphy work. A year later, Danan was modelling a “Maarte” t-shirt for the Pinay Collection’s first photoshoot.  “At the end of the day, all I wanted was a sign in my kitchen that said ‘Kumain ka na,’ and I got way more than that,” said Danan.

Reclaiming The Words

Khela Maquiling with Galit and her new Maarte, Maldita, Maganda tote bag. Photo by J. Austria

Khela Maquiling with Galit and her new Maarte, Maldita, Maganda tote bag. Photo by J. Austria

Unlike other Filipino clothing lines that use barongs, ternos, or indigenous weaving to show a link to Filipino culture, the Pinay Collection embraces Filipino identity by boldly featuring Tagalog words like ‘maldita’, ‘lakwatsera’, and ‘ambisyosa.’

“I would get called ‘ambisyosa’ a lot in high school because people would tell me that I couldn’t do something and say, ’Ang ambisyosa mo naman!’” said Galit. “I would tell them something I’d want to do, and they’d call me ‘ambisyosa’ like it was out of my reach.”

“These are very much rooted from my experiences, but at the same time, these are also other people’s identity stories, and I’d like to think that through these pieces, Filipinas and Filipinxs share that connection.”
While most launches are only focused on sales, Galit had a bigger plan: community healing through a free calligraphy workshop using Filipino words.

“Think about a word— Tagalog or not— that you would like to reclaim,” said Galit. “A word that isn’t necessarily so good, something that’s been used to put you down, or that’s been used to shame you in the past. But you know what? You want to reclaim it, you want to own that word. Write it down and write down why. What does that word mean to you?”

“I’d like to reclaim ‘prangka,’” said Stef Martin of Makulay Atbp. “We could just say our feelings but with compassion for each other. It doesn’t have to be negative when you’re being honest and truthful.”
Community leader Glyn Narca’s word was ‘mainggay.’ “When I was in Grade 10, someone told me, ‘You’re loud for an Asian girl.’ So that always makes me feel, ‘Should I be quieter?’” asked Narca. “That’s something that I need to be comfortable with as I grow up: to speak up and not feel like I’m too loud.”

Illustrator Khela Maquiling’s word was ‘maldita.’ “I was a very hyperactive and outspoken kid, and I heard it so many times in various angry tones that I became very quiet and reserved, and I was like that for years,” said Maquiling. “And then I began to think, ‘All of my maldita traits are the traits that make me confident, that make me assert myself in places and spaces that I could never dream of entering. So it’s a word that I’m reclaiming now. I’m maldita, what are you gonna do about it?”

A Role Model

Karla Villanueva Danan, Rowena Sunga, and Jovie Galit. Photo by J. Austria.

Karla Villanueva Danan, Rowena Sunga, and Jovie Galit. Photo by J. Austria.

For Paper Plus Cloth owner Rowena Sunga, the launch and workshop were a pleasant surprise. “When Jovie first approached me about this, I thought it was just about lettering some nice Filipino words that people can relate to, but her message was so much more than that,” said Sunga. “What’s driving her is not the money— it’s about reclaiming what these words mean. I admire her. She’s definitely going to be an inspiration for many people.”

For Ihayag founder and university student Isabela Villanoy, Galit’s merchandise meant an international representation of Filipina identity. “On the global stage, I think it’s great that Jovie’s putting our culture out there through her clothing line. She’s one of the people I’d like to emulate.”

Galit had also become a role model for Maquiling, an aspiring entrepreneur. “Seeing her utilizing such an artistic skill and making a business out of it is so inspiring. Now that I see someone like her being successful, I’m gaining a little bit more confidence stepping into this world of actually showing my art.”

#WearPinay

When it was time to buy the t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, pins, cards, journals, and pouches, the Pinay Collection sparked discussions and laughter as customers excitedly posed with their new purchases.

And as Galit addressed the store filled with customers buying her merchandise, she couldn’t stop smiling. “My goal is that hopefully, when you type the word ‘Pinay,’ something else comes up, something wonderful. Like your faces. Like your stories. I’m really hoping that we can do that together.”
www.pinaycollection.com

Pinay Collection merchandise. Photo by J. Austria

Pinay Collection merchandise. Photo by J. Austria





This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on September 27, 2019.

The Golden Garcias: 50 Years of Love and Revolution

Mila Astorga Garcia and Hermie Garcia on their 50th wedding anniversary. Photo by J. Austria.

Mila Astorga Garcia and Hermie Garcia on their 50th wedding anniversary. Photo by J. Austria.

You may know the Garcias as the founders of The Philippine Reporter, or as the driving force behind the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network, the Community Alliance for Social Justice, the Justice for Jeffrey campaign, and more. But on a  gorgeous summer night at Rembrandt Banquet Hall, they celebrated another revolutionary milestone: 50 years of marriage.

Between incredible performances by Lilac Caña, Emilio Zarris, Lui Queaño, and Naeema Ticzon-Garcia, the couple shared their epic love story.

Granddaughter Naeema Ticzon-Garcia singing “Blue Moon.” Photo by J. Austria.

Granddaughter Naeema Ticzon-Garcia singing “Blue Moon.” Photo by J. Austria.

After meeting the poised and beautiful Mila in 1967, Hermie recruited her into the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP). In the midst of a dangerous student movement, they fell in love.

While many people remember July 1969 as a time when Gloria Diaz became Miss Universe and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, on the same day on July 21st, Mila and Hermie were married.

Only two weeks after the wedding, they were jailed on trumped-up charges, for covering peasant exploitation in Negros Oriental for their community newspaper Dumaguete Times, which lasted only five issues. Their captors attempted to pit them against one another, but no amount of physical and psychological torture could break them.

Upon release, they returned to Manila. Their first child, Norman, was born in 1970, the year of the First Quarter Storm, and as Marcos declared martial law in 1972, they went into hiding, concealing their identities and writing for mimeographed underground newspapers against the dictatorship.

When Mila was arrested in 1974, the military tried to convince her that Hermie was dead. They showed Mila his bullet-riddled Volkswagen Beetle but she remained undeterred, believing he was not dead. Finally, a relative came to the detention centre with something special: Fig Newtons. “Only Hermie and I knew that it was my favourite snack, as I had craved for it when I was pregnant with our first child,” she said. The package proved that he was still alive.

First dance. Photo by J. Austria.

First dance. Photo by J. Austria.

Six months later, Hermie was imprisoned.  Mila gave birth to her son Lawrence in the detention centre, inspiring 140 detainees to go on a hunger strike to free Mila and another nursing mother, Marie Hilao. After 14 days, the two mothers and their babies were released. However, Hermie was still imprisoned.

When Mila had their third child, Kalayaan, she juggled three jobs, while Hermie took care of their children in the detention centre on weekends and wrote articles under Mila’s byline.

After a long campaign, Hermie was released, completing 6 1/2 years without conviction. They worked in Manila, the sounds of their typewriters lulling their children to sleep. For the safety of their family, they decided to emigrate to Canada, but upon arrival, they couldn’t find work in journalism since they had no Canadian experience. This inspired them to start their own social justice-oriented Filipino-Canadian newspaper, and in 1989, The Philippine Reporter was born.

Staff and contributors of The Philippine Reporter. Photo by TPR.

Staff and contributors of The Philippine Reporter. Photo by TPR.

For Hermie, the most important element in a successful marriage is compatibility. “Chemistry may be strong at the start but if there’s no compatibility in many things, like lifestyle, taste, values, maybe even the way people speak, the chemistry will fade and die,” he said. “If the chemistry is not nourished by compatibility, even patience cannot sustain it.”

Lilac Caña on the dance floor. Photo by J. Austria.

Lilac Caña on the dance floor. Photo by J. Austria.

And as evidenced in the speeches by Mithi Esguerra, Lord Mayor Art Viola, and the Garcia sons, Mila and Hermie are certainly compatible. Norman spoke of his parents’ weekly movie nights, and how he can still find them together, hours after the credits have rolled. Throughout their 50 years, they have been an unwavering example of true love.

A performance by Lui Queaño. Photo by J. Austria.

A performance by Lui Queaño. Photo by J. Austria.

As Mila said, “Fifty years later, we find ourselves grateful for our blessings: a lasting marriage, flourishing in love and bliss with the pride and joy of our lives: our three wonderful children, and five beautiful grandchildren, Serena, Santiago, Domenic, Naeema, and Justice; a lasting partnership in journalism committed to social justice; and a love where romance has never left.”

Happy 50th Anniversary, Golden Garcias. Here’s to many more years to come!

Jennilee Austria with Hermie Garcia and Mila Astorga Garcia. Photo by M. Ramos.

Jennilee Austria with Hermie Garcia and Mila Astorga Garcia. Photo by M. Ramos.

This article was published in The Philippine Reporter on September 13, 2019.





FSAT wins outstanding student group award

From left, front: Dr. Bonnie McElhinny, Glyn Narca, Gillian Duterte, Jennifer Thompson, Hilary Naluz. From left, back: Katherine Faith Tan, John Patrick Carlos, Justin Ortiz, Todd Le Blanc. (Photo: New College)

From left, front: Dr. Bonnie McElhinny, Glyn Narca, Gillian Duterte, Jennifer Thompson, Hilary Naluz. From left, back: Katherine Faith Tan, John Patrick Carlos, Justin Ortiz, Todd Le Blanc. (Photo: New College)

“We always knew that we were doing something special, but being recognized for it means so much to all of us.”
— FSAT Co-President Glyn Narca

On March 18th, the Filipino Students’ Association of Toronto (FSAT) became the first recipients of the Outstanding Student Organization Award from New College at the University of Toronto.

They were nominated by Co-President Glyn Narca, who wanted to recognize FSAT’s unique initiatives and accomplishments during the 2018-2019 school year. From providing free tutoring for children at St. Margaret’s Catholic School, to organizing a networking event with the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Toronto, to participating in the Pinoys on Parliament conference in Ottawa and more, FSAT has elevated Pinoy pride throughout the university and beyond.

“It’s not just the innovation and the community building, but the legacy building,” said Le Blanc of New College. Photo by J. Austria.

“It’s not just the innovation and the community building, but the legacy building,” said Le Blanc of New College. Photo by J. Austria.

The executive members were thrilled to be the first group to receive this recognition.

“It’s been fourteen years since FSAT started, and I do think that we get better and better because some of our programs take years to develop— particularly our tutoring program, for example,” said Health and Wellness Coordinator Jennifer Thompson. “We’ve hit certain roadblocks, but it’s a program that’s long-established and that’s something that we’re very proud of.”

This year, the committee continued the FSAT tradition of organizing a “Filipino Awareness Week,” but with one change: that it would be renamed “Filipino Appreciation Week.”

“We’ve been having these weeks every year since FSAT started,” said Cultural Events Coordinator Katherine Faith Tan. “We decided we’d rather people see us as a community that’s been here for a long time, who just want to be appreciated for what we can do.”

Along with the traditional kamayan dinner and talent night, Filipino Appreciation Week also included a Filipino martial arts workshop, a Tambayan Art Gallery showcase, and a pyjama party with the Vietnamese Students’ Association.
And while the events were a celebration of Filipino culture, they were also a way to find new members— even those who were not of Filipino descent.

FSAT executives with their award. From left, seated: Glyn Narca, Gillian Duterte, Katherine Faith Tan, Jennifer Thompson. L-R, standing: John Patrick Carlos, Justin Ortiz, Hilary Naluz. Photo by J. Austria.

FSAT executives with their award. From left, seated: Glyn Narca, Gillian Duterte, Katherine Faith Tan, Jennifer Thompson. L-R, standing: John Patrick Carlos, Justin Ortiz, Hilary Naluz. Photo by J. Austria.

“The way I like to look at it is that we refer to ourselves as a Filipino student association, but it’s not just for Filipinos to associate with Filipinos, it’s for everyone to associate with Filipinos,” said Thompson.

And in addition, every event is an opportunity to find FSAT’s future executive committee members.

“Throughout the year, we always try to encourage Filipinos— or anyone in general, actually— to come to our events, to come see what we’re about, and to encourage them to run for executive positions next year,” said Social Events Coordinator John Patrick Carlos.

For Todd Le Blanc, Assistant Dean for Student Life and Leadership at New College, FSAT’s ability to maintain momentum is why it stands out among other student groups.

“It’s not just the innovation and the community building, but the legacy building,” said Le Blanc. “For the first-year students coming into FSAT, the upper-year students give them responsibilities and they take it and run with it. So there’s a really great pipeline that comes through FSAT that means it’s strong year after year— that’s one of FSAT’s hallmarks for sure.”

With majors ranging from Animal Physiology to Neuroscience to Equity Studies, the twelve-member executive team boasts a range of interests and skills.

“We know how to work together and how to utilize each other’s strengths,” said Co-President Hilary Naluz. “Each event shows that we’re passionate and we’re driven to do this type of work on this land and in this institution.”

“I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished for the Filipino community within the university and also within the Greater Toronto Area,” said Co-President Glyn Narca. “We always knew that we were doing something special, but being recognized for it means so much to all of us.”

FSAT receiving mentorship from members from Mayrose Salvador (seated) and members of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Toronto. Photo by J. Austria.

FSAT receiving mentorship from members from Mayrose Salvador (seated) and members of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Toronto. Photo by J. Austria.

This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on April 12, 2019.

Five Fil-Can youth leaders rise at Sariling Gawa camp in Hawaii

Canadian contingent from L-R: Andre Mejia, Monica Batac, Hilary Naluz (20), Karla Villanueva Danan (25), Glyn Narca (20), Maria Toquero (22), and Kristian Pacpaco (23). Photo by Anson Lam.

Canadian contingent from L-R: Andre Mejia, Monica Batac, Hilary Naluz (20), Karla Villanueva Danan (25), Glyn Narca (20), Maria Toquero (22), and Kristian Pacpaco (23). Photo by Anson Lam.

On March 23rd, 69 Filipino youth entered YMCA Camp Erdman for Sariling Gawa’s 38th annual youth conference in Oahu, Hawaii. Among them were five Filipino-Canadians embarking on the experience of a lifetime.

Although Glyn Narca (20), Hilary Naluz (20), Karla Villanueva Danan (25), Kristian Pacpaco (23), and Maria Toquero (22) came from organizations such as the Filipino Canadian Association of Ryerson (FCAR), the Filipino Students’ Association of Toronto (FSAT), Kababayan Multicultural Centre, Babae Theatre Workshop, and more, the first time that the group met was at the Oahu airport. Their common denominator: McGill Social Work PhD candidate Monica Batac.

The SG Magic

When Batac had searched for successful, youth-led Filipino community programming, she discovered Sariling Gawa (“Our Own Work”), a group which had been running in Hawaii since 1981.

For the past two years, Batac built numerous bridges between SG and Canada: SG Vice President Geordan Arenal met youth at Kababayan Multicultural Centre in 2016; Kababayan staff Flor Dandal and Amy Basingan and youth leader Gino Amboang attended the SG camp in March 2017; and in August 2017, Batac had Amboang join SG leader Patrick de la Cruz at KAMP (Kababayan Academic Mentorship Program) in British Columbia.

And finally, in March 2018, Batac encouraged five Fil-Can youth leaders to collect community sponsorships to allow them experience what Sariling Gawa called the “SG Magic” in Oahu.

“I’ve been spending over 3 years laying down seeds, working on the ground among the youth, figuring out who amongst them wants to lead,” said Batac. “It’s slower, but I think it’s more powerful that way.”

Hilary Naluz of FSAT enjoying a cultural workshop by Wayland Quintero. Photo by J. Austria.

Hilary Naluz of FSAT enjoying a cultural workshop by Wayland Quintero. Photo by J. Austria.

A Point of Pride

Sariling Gawa offered three days filled with Pinoy cultural pride, including games of lastiko, tumbang preso, patintero, and Ilokano language challenges, break-out groups called barangays, an on-site sari-sari store, and cultural workshops with Wayland Quintero and H. Wayne Mendoza.

But apart from fun and games, the youth reflected on challenges in the community.

Keynote speaker and Curriculum Studies professor Patricia Espiritu Halagao shared a shocking statistic with the group: although Filipinos make up 22% of the public school population in Hawaii, Filipinos only make up 9% of University of Hawaii Manoa.

“Here, the Filipinos are known to work in hotels and plantations,” explained SG Treasurer and Program Advisor Lana Fernandez. “But we want to see the SG youth become educated, working professionals. That’s why we volunteer; that’s why we’re here year after year.”

Glyn Narca discussing issues of being Filipino in Canadian society. Photo by J. Austria.

Glyn Narca discussing issues of being Filipino in Canadian society. Photo by J. Austria.

During a group discussion, the Toronto contingent spoke about Filipino deprofessionalization in Canada when Program Advisor Rey Fernandez made a suggestion.

“Celebrate the caregivers in Canada,” said Fernandez. “They’re laying down your guys’s foundation. What if every Filipino took a day off in Toronto? Let that be a point of pride for you guys. Find a point of pride to build off of, and that’ll bring some like-minded people together.”

“My biggest lesson from the SG conference includes believing in the power of the collective,” said Hilary Naluz, Equity & English Studies student and FSAT Cultural Events Coordinator. “At SG, they emphasized that celebrating together as Filipinos has strength in it. If we can’t do it for ourselves, no one else will!”

Hilary Naluz of FSAT (middle) playing Lastiko with Abigail Valencia (left) and Nyah Juliano (right). Photo by J. Austria.

Hilary Naluz of FSAT (middle) playing Lastiko with Abigail Valencia (left) and Nyah Juliano (right). Photo by J. Austria.

SG President Leon Florendo's daughter Leala, front, with SG Secretary Manang Milli, Leon Florendo, Manang Mia Luluquisen, and Dr. Patricia Espiritu Halagao with the coconut tree planted by SG 38 years ago. Photo by J. Austria.

SG President Leon Florendo's daughter Leala, front, with SG Secretary Manang Milli, Leon Florendo, Manang Mia Luluquisen, and Dr. Patricia Espiritu Halagao with the coconut tree planted by SG 38 years ago. Photo by J. Austria.

Choosing to Rise

A unique leadership opportunity arose when SG President Leon Florendo held up 25 dollars. “Who wants this?” he asked the youth. “Anybody?”

The group laughed nervously, but History and Equity Studies student and FSAT member Glyn Narca raised her voice and waved enthusiastically. “Anybody want this?” Florendo asked again.

The group hesitated, but Narca boldly went to the front of the room, and Florendo gave her the bills and thanked her for demonstrating leadership.

“The theme of our conference this year is to RISE,” he said. “We can wish for something, we can plan for something, but unless we’re willing to rise and do something about it, nothing happens. It’s just a wish, it’s just a thought. Unless you’re willing to commit and work, nothing will happen.”

By the end of the camp, when the barangay discussions, cultural activities, and self-reflections were over, Narca felt more empowered than ever.

“In Hawai’i, I lost and found myself,” Narca said. “I lost the girl that had doubted herself, the one that constantly questioned if she had the potential to achieve her goals… Instead, I found a woman that now believes in herself and the vision she has for the Filipino community and for herself.”

A Hui Hou

On the final day of camp, as the Canadians and University of Hawaii Hilo students spoke about their challenges, they were surprised to find more similarities than differences.

A barangay group hug to cement new bonds being made.Photo by J. Austria.

A barangay group hug to cement new bonds being made.Photo by J. Austria.

“The biggest lesson I learned at SG was the mirroring of experiences between Filipino-Canadian youth and the Filipino youth from Oahu and Big Island,” said writer and Ryerson Social Work student Maria Toquero. “We faced similar struggles—from discrimination, to the loss of culture, to immigration, to identity. The highlight of my experience was that I felt like I wasn’t alone.”

Freelance fundraiser, capacity builder at Kababayan, International Relations graduate, and delegate to the United Nations’ 62nd Commission on the Status of Women Karla Villanueva Danan held back tears during the final lunch.

“It was even more magical than I expected,” she said. “Moments would just catch me totally off guard and I would just start crying at how beautiful it was to be surrounded by people who felt and looked like me.”

“My biggest lesson from SG is learning the true potential and result of having a close-knit community and pride in one’s own culture,” said Chemical Engineering student and FCAR executive member Kristian Pacpaco. “I have no doubt that the bonds we, as Toronto delegates, have formed and shared together will be the foundation of a strong community that Toronto and Hawai’i can truly be proud of.”

In the future, the group plans to create a summer leadership camp for Filipinx youth in Toronto.

“When I think about my wish, it’s that they return back from Hawaii, inspired with a clear illustration of what this camp could look like, but it’s up to them to imagine it and build it for themselves,” said Batac. “It looks very promising already.”

A hui hou, Sariling Gawa— till we meet again.

From L-R, front row: Maria Toquero, Glyn Narca, Karla Villanueva Danan. Back row: Hilary Naluz, Charlotte Faye Esquida of Big Island, Chelsa Gonong of Big Island, and Kristian Pacpaco. Photo by J. Austria.

From L-R, front row: Maria Toquero, Glyn Narca, Karla Villanueva Danan. Back row: Hilary Naluz, Charlotte Faye Esquida of Big Island, Chelsa Gonong of Big Island, and Kristian Pacpaco. Photo by J. Austria.

This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on April 27, 2018.

Youth get free career support at NPower Canada

By Jennilee Austria, Community Liaison, NPower Canada

"The Future is Yours" - Ezra Baltazar, Paolo Dela Cruz, and Jim Castor. Photo by J. Austria.

"The Future is Yours" - Ezra Baltazar, Paolo Dela Cruz, and Jim Castor. Photo by J. Austria.

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, there are 83,000 youth who are not working, in training or in school, and employment agencies are finding innovative ways to help.

As the new Community Liaison at NPower Canada, I’ve noticed something special: young Filipinos leaving jobs in factories, retail, and fast food to acquire certifications, training, and support towards full-time careers— for free.

NPower Canada provides two cost-free, government-funded employment training programs for youth aged 18-29: IT Service Analyst and Digital Customer Care. 

NPower Canada’s most recent Filipino graduates encourage more youth to apply.

 

Ezra Baltazar shares his interview experience. Photo by J. Austria

Ezra Baltazar shares his interview experience. Photo by J. Austria

Ezra

After Typhoon Ondoy devastated his home in Rizal, Ezra Baltazar’s family sent the Canadian government pictures of their submerged house and car.

His family’s immigration papers were expedited, but finding success was difficult— even after finishing his education in Toronto.

“I found it hard to get a job in social services as most jobs required at least three years of experience, but I was stuck at my part-time job at No Frills for more than four years,” said Baltazar, 24.

“Then, my coworker enrolled at NPower and told me how this could be a way to improve my chances of getting a proper job,” said Baltazar. “He told me, ‘Ezra, you gotta try this. It really works.’ Now he’s working for a tech company.”

Baltazar stressed how important it was for young people to think of a better future.

“I haven’t been out of a job since 2012, but it’s always been part-time jobs,” he said. He is looking forward to starting his new career in the contact centre of Alterna Savings.

“With NPower, you learn that there are more job openings, more companies that are hiring, more opportunities,” said Baltazar. “And you have an edge because you meet contact centre employers and learn what to do— straight from employers themselves.”

 

Jim Castor receives his certificate of completion. Photo by J. Austria.

Jim Castor receives his certificate of completion. Photo by J. Austria.

Jim

Although Jim, 27 had finished middle school and high school in Canada, when he started studying at Sheridan College, he didn’t feel like it was a good fit. 

“I realized that working in a creative field was too competitive,” he said. 

He had worked in various fast food restaurants, but when his hours at Harveys were cut, he took a friend’s advice and joined the Customer Care program.

Paolo Dela Cruz enjoying sports leadership at the MLSE Launchpad. Photo by J. Austria.

Paolo Dela Cruz enjoying sports leadership at the MLSE Launchpad. Photo by J. Austria.

A highlight for Castor was that Customer Care participants had access to the MLSE Launchpad— a modern athletics centre in downtown Toronto where students facilitated sports leadership activities for their peers.

“Practicing speaking to clients and then practicing to guide others, that helped me to connect my skills,” he said. “Physical activities are a way to have fun and to grow, and it felt good to try something new.”

 

"I had only been in Canada for a year, but I needed to start pursuing a career," said Paolo Dela Cruz. Photo by J. Austria.

"I had only been in Canada for a year, but I needed to start pursuing a career," said Paolo Dela Cruz. Photo by J. Austria.

Paolo

Newcomer Paolo Dela Cruz, 22, had been working as a factory machine operator when he decided to pursue education relating to his schooling.

“I did Information Technology at Bulacan State University and Network Engineering at CITI College, so I came to NPower to continue what I studied,” said Dela Cruz. “I had only been in Canada for a year, but I needed to start pursuing a career,” he said.

“I heard about this from a friend of a friend,” said Dela Cruz. “After he did the IT program and a three-month internship, he got a help desk job at Corus Entertainment.”

“I want to work at a help desk and practice more communication skills, move up to IT, become a team lead, and upgrade to virtualization and cloud computing,” he said. “That will take years to achieve, but I’m motivated.”

Dela Cruz enjoyed multiple aspects of the program: visits to employers, group activities, icebreakers, role-plays, and mock interviews. 

“They really challenge you to be prepared for future challenges— this is important.” 

With his motivation to succeed, Dela Cruz will be starting his new role as an AV Technician at Systech.

 

"NPower Canada made my work goals come true with dedication and perseverance," said Arolyn Madrid. Photo by J. Austria.

"NPower Canada made my work goals come true with dedication and perseverance," said Arolyn Madrid. Photo by J. Austria.

Arolyn

Arolyn Madrid, 22, had recently graduated with a degree in Business Administration with a Specialization in Accounting, but as a retail worker at Yorkdale Mall, she wasn’t getting past the phone interviews.

“As a recent university graduate who had little network with professionals, I was hopeless about finding a full-time job,” said Madrid.

The Customer Care program helped her to develop the skills that employers look for: “the ability to de-escalate difficult situations, handle multiple tasks while actively delivering customer’s needs, and, most importantly, to work with diverse people.” 

“NPower Canada made my work goals come true with dedication and perseverance,” she said.

 

James Torio Professional Headshot by Bruce Zinger Photography.

James Torio Professional Headshot by Bruce Zinger Photography.

James

Apart from the Customer Care program in downtown Toronto, NPower Canada also has IT Service Analyst programs in Markham and Mississauga.

Newcomer James Torio had recently arrived from Dagupan, and instantly became a class favourite.

“He got his full CompTIA A+ certification quite early on and was a very impressive student,” said Laura Dutton, Peel Region Manager of Student Support. “He even helped others study for the certification exams.”

“I’ve only been living here in Canada for less than a year,” added Torio. “NPower was the best thing that happened to me personally and professionally.”

With his positive outlook and enthusiasm to learn, Torio will be starting his new role-- and his first job in Canada-- as a Quality Assurance Analyst at CIBC.

 

Apply Today

Upcoming 15-week IT Service Analyst programs will be starting on January 15th in Mississauga and Markham, and the 10-week Digital Customer Care program will be starting in downtown Toronto on January 22nd.

Participants will receive free certifications in either CompTIA A+ or in Microsoft Office Specialist.

Applicants must be between ages 18-29, and must apply online to be invited to a free information session and interview.

Future 2018 programs will be in April, July, and October. Applications available at www.npowercanada.ca/youth 

 

 

This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on January 11, 2018.

Launch party for first book about queer Filipinx community in Canada

Professor Robert Diaz, Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Photo by J. Austria

Professor Robert Diaz, Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Photo by J. Austria

On November 17th, an estimated two hundred people packed into Urban Space Gallery on 401 Richmond Street for the launch of Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries.

Published by Northwest University Press and co-edited by Dr. Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, and Fritz Pino, the book featured reflections by scholars, artists, and community members on the contributions of LGBTQ Filipinos in Canada.

A wonderful turnout at Urban Space Gallery. Photo by J. Austria

A wonderful turnout at Urban Space Gallery. Photo by J. Austria

The book came out of a groundbreaking conference that was held at OCAD University in 2015, organized by Diaz, Largo, Pino, and Kitt Azores.

The celebration began with remarks from leaders whose views on the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender have been cited by many scholars, artists, and activists.

Dr. Rinaldo Walcott (Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute), Dr. Bonnie McElhinny (Principal of New College at University of Toronto), and Richard Fung (Professor at OCAD University) reflected on the contributions that the book made both inside and outside of academia.

In a video, Dr. Martin Manalansan (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) spoke about the book’s incitement to achieve equity and social justice, for both the Filipinx in the diaspora and other marginalized populations.

Professor Roland Coloma asks mentee May Farrales to sign his book. Photo by J. Austria

Professor Roland Coloma asks mentee May Farrales to sign his book. Photo by J. Austria

During the academic panel, book contributor Casey Mecija said, “Writing the essay that’s a part of this collection helped me to give language to feelings and experiences I might not have otherwise been tuned into. The collection, like the space we’re in today, attempts to hold the many ways of feeling queer, feeling brown, and feeling different.”

Contributor May Farrales took the opportunity to acknowledge those who had helped her along the way.

“To all of the mentors I’ve re-encountered tonight, I feel deeply grateful and indebted for all of the things you’ve done with me and for me,” said Farrales.

Attendees were invited to A Space Gallery to view Unsettling Imaginaries, an art exhibit curated by Marissa Largo.

Julius Poncelet Manapul's piece, "Whitewash Cockfight" in A Space Gallery. Photo by J. Austria

Julius Poncelet Manapul's piece, "Whitewash Cockfight" in A Space Gallery. Photo by J. Austria

Artist Julius Poncelet Manapul, whose work graced the book cover, reflected on the meaning of art in creating social change.

His gallery piece, “Whitewash Cockfight” was composed of cut-outs from gay magazines that hung from the the ceiling in the shape of two fighting roosters.

“I want people to realize that the gay community is more racist than they might think,” Manapul said. “Being gay, being Filipino— this piece is about all of that and more.”

The art exhibit also featured Filipinx artists Kuh Del Rosario, Marigold Santos, and Leslie Supnet.

Audience enthralled by Ms. Nookie Galore, Patrick Salvani. 

Audience enthralled by Ms. Nookie Galore, Patrick Salvani. 

At the book launch, drag queens riled up the crowd.

Sofonda Cox, one of Toronto’s most prominent drag queens, gave a performance that went from the Tagalog song “Narito Ako” to Janet Jackson’s “Escapade.”

Ms. Nookie Galore performed part of a “drag-horror cooking show.”

After throwing raw longanisa on the floor, Ms. Nookie Galore doused themselves with soy sauce, shook bay leaves out of their wig, and performed a remix of “I Will Always Love You” laden with intermittent screams, much to the delight of the audience.

Community members also offered important insights into the history of LGBTQ activism in Toronto.

Queer feminist group Babaylan presented on their history of community organizing through song, storytelling, and photos of their events in the 1990s.

Jo SiMalaya Alcampo reflecting on 25 years of Babaylan. Photo by J.Austria

Jo SiMalaya Alcampo reflecting on 25 years of Babaylan. Photo by J.Austria

“Our mentors taught us that bonding, socializing, and creating relationships is what allows us to still be friends,” said Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. “Next year will be our 25th year.”

Diaz also honoured four community organizations that were instrumental to the book: the Magkaisa Centre, Migrante Ontario, ACAS (Asian Community AIDS Services), and Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, where many of the artists in the book had participated in their Clutch and Navigation arts programs for youth.

Diaz said that the free programs were instrumental in helping youth “find themselves, learn about what it is to be Filipinos, and express themselves— sometimes in ways that even contradict what their family think, sometimes in ways that allow them space in homes where they don’t have that.”

VaChina Dynasty after a fantastic performance. 

VaChina Dynasty after a fantastic performance. 

Navigation alumni and program coordinator then sang a heart-wrenching song that they had written after the Sandy Hook shooting, and after coming out to their mother as non-binary.

And in the grand finale, drag queen VaChina Dynasty danced to a mash-up of Tagalog music and songs featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race, while holding a Philippine flag high above the cheering crowd.

As the night ended, audience members marvelled that the book was already sold out.

Diaz emphasized the need to see the publication not as an end, but as a beginning.

“This event highlights the need to animate the full meaning of solidarity,” he said.

Iconic book cover by Julius Manapul. Photo by J. Austria.jpg

 

“As LGBTQ Filipinx, we must see how our pains, hopes, and dreams intersect with the hopes and dreams of other marginalized folks, such as Indigenous communities, racialized minorities, and sexual minorities from the global south. This book reminds us of what we have yet to achieve, while also reminding us that others have been doing the work of seeking social justice for decades. We need to acknowledge that work, since it offers us a map to a better future.”

Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries is a book that our entire community should be proud of.

 

 

 

 

Some of the many academics, activists, and artists who contributed to Diasporic Intimacies. 

Some of the many academics, activists, and artists who contributed to Diasporic Intimacies. 

This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on November 24, 2017.

Upcoming summit offers free coding, mentorship opportunities for Filipina-Canadians

Marily Mondejar (front row, eighth from left) with 2016 FWN awardees. Photo by FWN. 

Marily Mondejar (front row, eighth from left) with 2016 FWN awardees. Photo by FWN. 

From October 25th to 29th, the 14th annual Filipina Leadership Global Summit will be held in Toronto.

Organized by the San Francisco-based Filipina Women’s Network (FWN), the event is more than a celebration of the world’s 100 most influential Filipina leaders— it is an opportunity to bring free coding and mentorship opportunities to Toronto.

“We don’t want to just come in and leave,” said founder and CEO Marily Mondejar. “We want to give back to the community that hosts us.” 

 

Musical Coding by Music Notes

Facilitators from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will be teaching Filipinas aged 9-12 a lesson in coding with an artistic twist.

“Because we want to focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) instead of just STEM, we want the girls to learn coding through hip-hop,” said Mondejar. 

“At the end of the day, they will be able to modify or code a song that they will present at graduation.”

Although the cost is $100 USD per child, the FWN is offering the workshop for free to 50 girls. 

“We want them to apply soon so we can give them the scholarship,” said Mondejar. “The research we’ve seen says that it’s the most neglected age group.” 

“All of the experts are flying in on their own money. This group, Music Notes, their mission is to teach coding to young girls. They’re investing in this. We need to find the girls.”

Participants must bring their own smartphone and laptop with Windows 8 or 10. The program will be on October 25th from 8:00-5:30 at the InterContinental Toronto Centre. 

 

Wonder-Full Adventures with Robots: Dash and Dot

Teams from ten GTA high schools can apply to send two to four Filipina teens and one adult to learn coding with Wonder Workshop's award-winning robots, Dash and Dot.

After the workshop, teams can bring a robot back to their high schools.

Although the cost is $500 USD per person, the FWN is offering this workshop for free.

Successful teams who apply will be notified by October 15th. Team members must bring their own tablet and smartphone (contact FWN for brand specifications). The program will be October 25th, from 8:00-5:30 at the InterContinental Toronto Centre. 

 

Power MeetUp With Amazing Filipina and Canadian Women

FWN members will meet Filipina and Canadian professionals at this free social networking event with a focus on women in international trade.

“We want to seat them in groups of five for a more intimate gathering,” said Mondejar. “As a ‘No Host’ event, this will be an informal evening for us to meet local women.”

The Power MeetUp will take place on October 25 at 6:00pm at the Marché in Brookfield Place. Hors d’oeuvres will be provided, and participants must pre-register online.

 

Pinay Speed FEMtoring with Global FWN100™ Awardees

FEMtors are female mentors who have received the Global FWN100™ award for outstanding Filipina leadership. 

“Awardees must join the FWN, attend the summit, pay their own way, and give back by advising mentees,” said Mondejar. “It’s a working award.”

This mentoring event is geared towards new professionals with only one to five years of experience in any profession.

“We want to connect Filipina doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, people in the military, and more,” said Mondejar. 

Last year, the summit was at the University of Cebu. 

“We opened FEMtoring to students, but the president of the university said that the professors requested the session be for them, too. They were teachers, doctors, lawyers. They actually closed the school for the day— they were so interested.”

The event will take place on October 28 at 3:15 at the InterContinental Toronto Centre. Participants must fill out an application under the “Engage” tab on the FWN summit homepage.

 

Nominations Still Open: The 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World

The FWN is still seeking Global FWN100™ nominations for Filipina-Canadian leaders.

Nominees must be a “#FilipinaDisrupter”— someone who is “fearless, purpose-driven, and socially conscious” in any economic sector. 

“Our goal is to have a Filipina woman leader in every sector of the economy by 2020,” said Mondejar.

Canadian nominations must be received as soon as possible. 

“She has to be vetted and interviewed for approval,” said Mondejar.  “Then there’s another process for featuring her on FWN Magazine and ordering her award, if approved.”

“There are currently eight Canadian awardees, and we’d like to increase that eight.”

Mondejar hopes that this summit will connect more Filipina leaders worldwide.

“When someone says, ‘I’m the first,’ my question is, ‘Who did you bring along? Who will be next?’ You’ll always be first, but I’m sure there’s another influential Filipina in your area.”

“This is the culture of FWN,” said Mondejar. “They’re not just coming to get an award. It’s a working award. We say, ‘You need to give back.’”

Participants must pre-register online for all events. For schedules, nominations, and registrations, see www.filipinasummit.org or contact filipina@ffwn.org.

Touching KAMP Experiences of Vancouver's Pinoy Youth

KAMP mentors and mentees sharing a laugh during group skits. Photo by J. Austria

KAMP mentors and mentees sharing a laugh during group skits. Photo by J. Austria

Just like most Filipinos, my husband and I have never been to summer camp. So when we realized that our Vancouver vacation coincided with a Filipino youth camp, we spent two days at Loon Lake.

We soon realized that KAMP was not just a summer camp— it was a social movement.

In 2008, KAMP (Kababayan Academic Mentorship Program) started out with Filipino-Canadian youth having weekly meetings with Kababayan UBC (the Filipino Students Association at the University of British Columbia). With the help of Joy Jose, Multicultural Liaison Worker with the Vancouver School Board, the teens benefited from tutoring and mentorship sessions.

But when community member Marissa Peña remembered how her own daughters had thrived in the summer YMCA camps, she spoke to Jose. 

Organizers Michael Infante, Rene-John Nicolas, and Maureen Mendoza during the final moments of KAMP. Photo by J. Austria 

Organizers Michael Infante, Rene-John Nicolas, and Maureen Mendoza during the final moments of KAMP. Photo by J. Austria 

“Joy said that some of these students haven’t even seen North Vancouver or Stanley Park,” said Peña. “So we brought the idea of a summer camp to Maureen, Rene, and Michael. We need to form leaders among the youth - and we need to form leaders who know where they come from, and where they're going.”

Mendoza’s involvement with Philip Kelly’s Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada project opened up even more ideas for the program.

“FYTIC inspired me to further pay attention to both intergenerational conflict and opportunities for connections, as well as the systemic connections and reproductions of migration inequities our community faces on all levels, but particularly education trajectories and outcomes,” she said.

Campers Theirry Mae Mogato and Jomar Calayan laughing over their Palanca letters. Photo by J. Austria.

Campers Theirry Mae Mogato and Jomar Calayan laughing over their Palanca letters. Photo by J. Austria.

It was important for Mendoza that KAMP would be a place for all generations of Filipinos to connect. “FYTIC also emphasized for us the importance of cultural identity for both newly arrived, 1.5 and 2nd gen, and points of connection where learning across difference and sameness can happen in the context of a structured KAMP environment.”

For its second year, Mendoza was able to raise $14,600 for KAMP. “The funding was a real community effort,” she said. “Crowd-sourced fundraising, an acoustic night, and the Assumption Alumni Association came together so that students could experience this for free.”

And while many might think that summer camp consisted of showering in a lake and sleeping in a tent, KAMP was much more than this.

Mentee Jomar Calayan entertaining the crowd. Photo by J. Austria

Mentee Jomar Calayan entertaining the crowd. Photo by J. Austria

Deep in the heart of UBC’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest, KAMP was in the cosy Loon Lake Retreat complex on the edge of a private lake. When we arrived, the mentors and mentees were eating a catered meal in a gorgeous dining hall.

KAMP’s newcomer mentees were bursting with stories to share. From rock-climbing to high ropes to fitness bootcamp to voluntarily waking up at 5:30am to play basketball, the physical activities made many realize how often they were on “auto-pilot” in their new homes.

There were 23 mentees ranging in age from 13-19, and while some had been in Canada for years, others had arrived only a few months before.

Mark Orayen had arrived in Canada in May, and he found that canoeing was a metaphor for succeeding in his new Canadian life.

“At first, Kuya Rene and I weren’t able to make a left or a right— we weren’t in sync yet,” he said. “But as we paddled back, we were the first ones back to the dock.”

“While canoeing, I realized that we should meet our challenges because this could be our foundation to face future hurdles. It was so fulfilling because oh my God, I challenged myself.”

Mindfulness workshop by Jaisa Sulit on the shores of Loon Lake. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

Mindfulness workshop by Jaisa Sulit on the shores of Loon Lake. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

KAMP was not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging, as well. The many workshops included Jaisa Sulit speaking about mindfulness, Francis Arevalo’s presentation on mental health and spoken word, and Carlo Sayo’s session on visual thinking and communication.

Mentee Thea Melodias said that the workshops inspired her to look beyond the present.

“It’s like KAMP was cleaning a dirty window to let us see a better perspective, to help us plan our future,” she said. “It gave us a starting point to push our boundaries and limitations to see what’s out there.”

McGill PhD Social Work student Monica Batac conducted KAMP’s first workshop, and was surprised at how many students were so open about their feelings.

“I hadn't expected them to cry,” Batac said. “I asked them to close their eyes and picture walking into a family member's house, and to imagine what food they were smelling. That was enough to make some of them emotional."

Sulit added, “Some of the kids said that they haven’t cried since the last time they were at KAMP. It’s so great that this place gives them the space to do that.”

Mentor M-jay Frias hugged by mentee (and sister) Mica as facilitator Monica Batac looks on. Photo by J. Austria.

Mentor M-jay Frias hugged by mentee (and sister) Mica as facilitator Monica Batac looks on. Photo by J. Austria.

The vulnerability that the youth displayed allowed for deep connections.

“Last year, I was a mentee, but this year, I’m a mentor,” said M-jay Frias. “It’s totally different. I can’t just think of myself. I have to think of everyone else and be an older brother to all of the youth. Now they think of me as everyone’s kuya.”

In the closing workshop, Batac led the students through an exercise called “Touch Somebody.” Everyone sat in a circle with their eyes closed, and Batac selected individuals to stand in the middle. “Touch someone who is able to accomplish anything,” she said. “Touch someone who has given you good advice… Touch someone who made an impact on your life.” 

The students touched the shoulders of their peers, and soon, the sound of sniffles filled the room. 

At the end of the exercise, Batac asked, “How do you feel?” And after the initial nervous laughter at everyone seeing each other with red eyes, the group responded with powerful words: “Thankful,” “Important,” “Respected,” Noticed,” “Loved.”

Mentee Joy Siscar was especially touched. After being in Canada for only a year and a half, she felt lonely without her extended family. 

“I thought that coming to Canada, my family would only be just us six,” she said. “But KAMP taught me that family doesn’t have to be blood-related, but it can be the people who support you. I never expected people to appreciate the small things that I do.”

And the newfound connections inspired mentor Sol Diana to perform an original poem. “i see my ancestors / and i have so much to tell them / like look where we are! / look what we've done to get here / look what we've done to honour your legacy / you fought for this / you fought for me and for that i'm grateful / i'm grateful / for the home that i've found.” 

Torontonian Gino Amboang (left) with Jomar Calayan, Thea Melodias, M-jay Frias, and Mark Orayen. Photo by J. Austria.

Torontonian Gino Amboang (left) with Jomar Calayan, Thea Melodias, M-jay Frias, and Mark Orayen. Photo by J. Austria.

Batac hopes that KAMP could be replicated in Toronto. She brought Toronto newcomer Gino Amboang with her to participate as a mentee.

“I’ve been committed to building capacity within our community to strengthen the settlement and youth-serving sectors,” she said. 

“Gino has shown great interest to help revive Kababayan Multicultural Centre’s youth summer camp, a program which has been halted for the past few years. I wanted him to experience KAMP first-hand, meet the other youth leaders who run this program, with hopes that it inspires him to share this knowledge to his peers in Toronto.”

“I hope that KMC’s Youth Leaders, the Filipino student associations across the Toronto universities, and other interested Filipino youth, will come together to organize an annual summer camp for Filipino youth in the GTA,” said Batac.

“It has been done before in the past, through KMC, and now it’s time for Filipino youth to lead this work. Using KAMP and Hawaii’s Sariling Gawa as models, what might this look like for us here in Ontario?”

KAMP 2017 Mentors, mentees, and organizers. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

KAMP 2017 Mentors, mentees, and organizers. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

 

This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on August 24, 2017.

Think Twice Before Saying You Want to See Cuba "Before It Changes." Change Is Exactly What Cuban People Want.

Outside Hotel Inglaterra. Photo by J. Austria

Outside Hotel Inglaterra. Photo by J. Austria

I was standing outside of Havana’s Hotel Inglaterra when an American tour guide boarded his bus and declared, “Folks, all of this will change! The US Embassy’s reopened, and the US trade embargo’s over! Soon, this is all going to be replaced by McDonald's and Starbucks. Take pictures of the authentic Havana while you still can!”

I turned to Yildo, my former Toronto housemate and a born-and-raised Habanero.

“Do you think that’s true?” I asked.

“That guide doesn’t understand Cuba,” said Yildo. “If there’s a Starbucks and a McDonald’s, there will only be one of each, and it won’t come until we have the infrastructure for it. Imagine, they need a delivery of food that has to be in the fridge every day. But in Cuba, sometimes the trucks don’t work, and then there’s a blackout for hours. And if they have their own generator, they’ll probably find that someone has stolen their diesel.”

He chuckled.

“If anything changes, it’s going to take a really long time.”

Classic Havana. Photo by J. Austria

Classic Havana. Photo by J. Austria

As Yildo took my husband and me around Havana, we saw everything promised in the guidebooks.

The classic American cars, the colonial architecture, the sidewalk musicians crooning endless renditions of “Guantanamera”-- it was all exactly as we’d imagined.

But because of Yildo, we also caught glimpses into the everyday lives of locals.

Not only were hard-working Habaneros crammed into plazas designated as wifi zones, but there were also offices that had only one or two employees scribbling in yellowed notebooks -- not a computer in sight. There were department stores displaying rusty farming tools and deflated bike tires in their windows, and there were people stuck in queues for hours, only to be turned away due to lack of goods.

Habana Vieja. Photo by J. Austria

Habana Vieja. Photo by J. Austria

Yildo described his mother as a “businessperson,” although he lamented that she wasn’t making a profit.

After retiring from her work as a nurse across Southern Africa and the Middle East, she settled in one of the oldest municipalities in Havana and started a home bakery. Some of her cakes cost merely the equivalent of $5 USD.

Although her products barely covered the cost of the ingredients that she often had to buy on the black market, she refused to raise the prices. “These cakes are for the people,” she said. “And right now, the people here are poor.”

Outside our flat in Centro Habana, there were stray dogs, cracked sidewalks, and shells of buildings that had crumbled under the weight of neglect and overcrowding.

Instead of family restaurants, there were bars where men were already drunk at 9:30am on a Sunday. And on the narrow front stoops of houses, Habaneros listlessly watched the world walk by.

Centro Habana. Photo by J. Austria

Centro Habana. Photo by J. Austria

“People want change,” said Yildo. “They want to be able to work and to make money decently. They want to afford a house, a car. The moment you provide a way for them to get a little bit of that, they’ll go for it.”

Yildo explained that most Cubans were worried that the government would stand in the way of progress. “Big industries, healthcare, education, and tourism are all run by people who were in the military with Raul Castro,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean they’re businessmen. They’re all in their 60s and 70s. They have that old mentality, and they don’t have the schooling to really run a country. They’re just going by what has been done so far, and that’s not necessarily right. The only thing that could save Cuba from being overtaken by another country would be a better economy.”

Express delivery. Photo by J. Austria

Express delivery. Photo by J. Austria

While travelers seeking nostalgia worry about the potential over-commercialization of Havana, Yildo and his friends embraced the promise of changes to come.

One friend was selling his family home in leafy, quiet Vedado. With its gorgeous courtyard, five bedrooms, and living room featuring a candid photo of the family with Fidel Castro, the asking price was €300,000 (about $336,000 USD at publishing time).

“The price is in Euros because we’re hoping to sell to a Cuban living abroad,” he said. “The time to sell property is now.”

Another friend was embracing the fact that his home had a hole in the roof, and hoped to turn it into an indoor-outdoor rock-climbing gym. He was adamant that Americans could not “ruin” Cuba.

"Who's afraid of Americans?" Photo by J. Austria

"Who's afraid of Americans?" Photo by J. Austria

“Who’s afraid of Americans?” he asked. “People come to Cuba to ride in old American cars, to see old American Art Deco architecture. They drink in the bars where Hemingway went. Even Cuba Libre is made out of Cuban rum and Coca-Cola. I’m not scared of Cuba changing. Actually, I’m scared of it not changing.”

But as Cubans look towards the future, many tourists only seek out the past.

They prize the time-warp atmosphere of Havana -- a land without wifi, without consumerism, without mass commercialization. But tourists must realize that longing for nostalgia means that they are against the change that so many Cubans want.

With two million tourists visiting every year -- mostly Europeans and Canadians -- the country certainly hadn’t been cut off from the outside world before Americans arrived. What they had been cut off from is the version of Cuba that only tourists could afford.

“No industry pays people what they need to live,” Yildo said. “The average Cuban makes the equivalent of $18 USD a month. So of course they have to do something on the side.”

He pointed out dozens of ways for Habaneros to make money from side businesses. From selling everything from eggs to concrete on the black market, to turning their private cars into taxis, to converting their dining rooms into restaurants, to putting their homes for rent on Airbnb, Habaneros were embracing opportunities to capitalize on tourism.

I thought of the American tour guide.

“But what if tourism goes too far?” I asked. “Could developers come and demolish the old family homes of Centro Habana and Habana Vieja and turn them into condos and hotels?”

“There’s a housing shortage, so where would they put the people?” Yildo replied. “The only thing that will happen is that they’ll make enough money to fix their roofs. And maybe put on a new coat of paint.”

From the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra. Photo by J.Austria

From the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra. Photo by J.Austria

Before we left Cuba, Yildo said that we had to visit the FAC -- the Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Housed in a former peanut oil factory, this maze of brick buildings was the perfect place to appreciate Cuban culture in a quirky, industrial, club setting. Stylish people walked around sipping drinks, sampling food, listening to music, watching live theatre, and admiring unique local art that went far beyond the standard pictures that dominated the tourist markets.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Photo by J. Austria

Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Photo by J. Austria

Apart from the old silent movies playing on an outdoor wall, the FAC was modern, and it didn’t have any of the trappings of Havana nostalgia touted by guides. By 10pm, the line to enter went halfway down the block, and the crowd was a mix of both foreigners and Habaneros. It felt like a sign of things to come.

Authenticity is not static; it is what we witness when we interact with local people. And with Havana poised to embrace the future, we have to look at what is truly authentic: that Cubans want to be part of the change.

 

This article was originally published in Wanderful on June 16, 2017.

Filipinos well represented at Canada's largest immigration conference

PhD Candidate Conely de Leon of GABRIELA-Ontario. Photo by J. Austria

PhD Candidate Conely de Leon of GABRIELA-Ontario. Photo by J. Austria

The National Metropolis Conference is Canada’s largest annual gathering of researchers, policy-makers, and community advocates. And this year at the Westin Harbour Castle, Metropolis featured a number of Filipino-Canadian speakers.

Topics ranged from Hywel Tuscano’s speech on hepatitis B and C awareness in immigrant communities, to Dindin Villarino’s talk about immigrants in Northumberland County, to Ethel Tungohan’s presentation on the experiences of Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta.

And on March 5th, two simultaneous Filipino-focused panels saw presenters advocating for Pinoy students, foreign-trained professionals, and caregivers.

In the “Accessing Education and Training: Challenges in the Filipino Community” panel, Philip Kelly of the York Centre for Asian Research gathered representatives from three research projects.

Along with Jennilee Austria and Don Wells of McMaster University, Kelly debuted the preliminary results of “The HCDSB Pinoy Project,” a study of Oakville and Milton-based Filipino students in the Halton Catholic District School Board.

The study looked at the impact of the Live-in Caregiver Program on youth— on their grades, their after-school employment, their parents’ involvement in their education, and in their goals for post-secondary education — and found marked differences between them and their peers whose mothers did not come to Canada as caregivers.

Don Wells of McMaster University introducing The HCDSB Pinoy Project. Photo by J. Austria

Don Wells of McMaster University introducing The HCDSB Pinoy Project. Photo by J. Austria

For Master of Social Work student Christa Sato, Metropolis was an opportunity to present her thesis on a nationwide level. After presenting her study of the factors that helped eight second-generation Filipino males to succeed at the University of Calgary, she welcomed audience questions to prepare for her thesis defense.

Graduate student Christa Sato of the University of Calgary. Photo by J. Austria

Graduate student Christa Sato of the University of Calgary. Photo by J. Austria

“It is a humbling experience to hear critical and thought-provoking feedback from esteemed scholars that will ultimately strengthen the quality of your work,” Sato said.

Petronila Cleto and Conely de Leon presented the GATES project, a GABRIELA-Ontario survey of over 600 former caregivers to discover the barriers to upgrading their education in Canada.
With the rise of young Filipino-Canadians in academia, Cleto emphasized that this project marked the first time that a Filipino community group partnered with Filipino academics to study caregiver issues.

Audience members such as Ann Bowen, an Immigration Officer from the Yukon government, attended the panel due to the rise of Filipinos in their areas.

Bowen noted that there has been “generational tension” in the community, with parents pushing their children to work rather than to pursue further schooling. She estimates that in the Yukon, the number of Filipino immigrants may have surpassed the francophone population.

Monica Anne Batac and Flor Dandal with MP Arif Virani and teacher Rowell Clarito Perez. Photo by Hywel Tuscano

Monica Anne Batac and Flor Dandal with MP Arif Virani and teacher Rowell Clarito Perez. Photo by Hywel Tuscano

In another Filipino-focused panel, UP Diliman-trained teacher Rowell Clarito Perez and MP Arif Virani advocated for better support for internationally-trained immigrants.

Masters student Monica Anne Batac and Flordeliz Dandal of Kababayan Multicultural Centre emphasized the various Kababayan programs and professional associations supporting internationally-trained Filipino-Canadian accountants, nurses, teachers, physiotherapists, and engineers.

For Batac, a highlight was meeting the Filipinos in the audience.

“At our session, we were happy to meet Filipinos from across Canada also committed to helping newcomers access their original professions,” said Batac.

“The possibilities for collaboration — whether for service delivery, research, or advocacy— are promising.”

Rowell Clarito Perez presents his newcomer experience as a foreign-trained teacher. Photo by Hywel Tuscano

Rowell Clarito Perez presents his newcomer experience as a foreign-trained teacher. Photo by Hywel Tuscano

For PhD candidate Conely de Leon, the Filipino representation at Metropolis was made possible by the leaders who had come before, such as Anakbayan Toronto, the Philippine Migrants Society of Canada, the Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia, and the Community Alliance for Social Justice.

“It is their continued leadership and active community involvement that drive the need to raise awareness and intervene in spaces where issues affecting Filipinos in Canada are often marginalized,” de Leon said.

And with the “alarming changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and increasingly limited access to training, education and employment opportunities, it is important to raise awareness around issues that have a lasting impact on the survival of our communities,” said de Leon.

“This is why collectively presenting our research findings and policy recommendations at venues like Metropolis is meaningful.”

Presenters Christa Sato, Don Wells, Conely de Leon, Petronila Cleto, Philip Kelly and Jennilee Austria. Photo by Gina Csanyi-Robah

Presenters Christa Sato, Don Wells, Conely de Leon, Petronila Cleto, Philip Kelly and Jennilee Austria. Photo by Gina Csanyi-Robah


This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on March 11, 2016.

Parents advocating for school space, culturally-sensitive curriculum

St. Margaret parent Jerrylyn Gueverra at St. Margaret's Beatrice Campus-- a building shared with displaced ninth graders from Dante Alighieri.

St. Margaret parent Jerrylyn Gueverra at St. Margaret's Beatrice Campus-- a building shared with displaced ninth graders from Dante Alighieri.

In a school where students are 90 percent Filipino:

Frustrated parents seek PEACE at St. Margaret’s Catholic School

From Bathurst and Eglinton to Bathurst and Steeles, TCDSB elementary schools have two things in common: high Filipino populations and a need for more space.

After implementing full-day kindergarten, St. Margaret Catholic School could no longer accommodate its full student population.

For the past three years, the school has been split into two. Students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 4 at the original Carmichael Avenue school, and the Grades 5 to 8 students are at an old TDSB high school on Neptune Avenue called the “Beatrice campus.”

Not only is this satellite site a 20-minute walk from St. Margaret, but it is already used by Dante Alighieri ninth graders who were also displaced due to overcrowding.

“In terms of the Filipino community, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Antoine Daniel, Our Lady of Assumption, and St. Margaret— they’re all sort of on the same Bathurst strip. And there’s not a dime for any of them.”
— Trustee Maria Rizzo

“The original school has the capacity for 288 kids, but there are 640,” said St. Margaret parent Jerrylyn Gueverra. “My kids are in Grades 4 and 6, and it’s like they go to two different schools.”

“Sometimes, they don’t have mics. Sometimes, they don’t have a principal or a vice-principal. Sometimes, they don’t have a Child and Youth Worker.”

“This is our third year having a split school. How is student success not compromised?”

Gueverra is also concerned that the Beatrice campus is in a substandard building.

“They found lead in the water in the summer. They said that they fixed it, but who knows what else could be wrong?”

Upon joining the parent council, Gueverra noticed that the conversations always strayed towards acquiring a new building.

Bannockburn campaign to keep the old schoolyard as a public park.

Bannockburn campaign to keep the old schoolyard as a public park.

When they found on TCDSB trustee Joanne Davis’s Twitter feed that the board had put in a bid for the TDSB’s old Bannockburn School, St. Margaret parents were taken by surprise.

Large enough to accommodate the entire St. Margaret student population, Bannockburn currently houses a Montessori and is located only an eight-minute walk from the school’s original location.

However, since the land includes a significant amount of green space, local residents are actively engaged in a “Save Bannockburn Park” campaign. With fundraising reaching over $14,700, the residents are adamant that the site be maintained as a public park.

Angelo Sangiorgio, Associate Director of Planning, said that relocating to Bannockburn would be possible if the TDSB agrees to sell them the school and the yard.

“Bannockburn will be an option only if we can get the full five acres,” said Sangiorgio.

The much-awaited TDSB decision will be made on January 16th.

The highly sought-after Bannockburn Park.

The highly sought-after Bannockburn Park.

Sangiorgio said that the other option would be to build a new school on St. Margaret’s original site.

Due to the school’s meagre two-acre lot, the proposed designs include an underground parking lot so that students could retain their schoolyard.

If the underground parking lot is approved by the Ministry of Education, then an application will go to the City of Toronto.

“Best case scenario, it’ll be three years to completion. But it’s all dependent on the response from the Ministry,” said Sangiorgio.

Trustee Maria Rizzo wishes that the provincial government had prioritized St. Margaret long ago.

“They’ve passed St. Margaret over and over and over again,” said Rizzo.

“In terms of the Filipino community, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Antoine Daniel, Our Lady of Assumption, and St. Margaret— they’re all sort of on the same Bathurst strip. And there’s not a dime for any of them.”

With government funds bypassing schools in Filipino areas, “some members of the community feel that there is some racism going on,” said Rizzo.

“It’s not blatant racism, it’s systemic. To some degree, it’s my fear that it’s because these parents are not as politically active as the people on the east side of Avenue Road.”

Superintendent John Shain speaks with Trustee Gerry Tanuan, Jerrylyn Gueverra and Judith Cortez at a TCDSB Filipino Christmas event.

Superintendent John Shain speaks with Trustee Gerry Tanuan, Jerrylyn Gueverra and Judith Cortez at a TCDSB Filipino Christmas event.

To empower St. Margaret parents, Gueverra recently created a group called PEACE (Parent Engagement And Community Empowerment) as a subcommittee of the existing parent council.

“All of our CSPC meetings were about the new school, but we need to talk about social issues, access issues,” Gueverra said.

“It’s not blatant racism, it’s systemic. To some degree, it’s my fear that it’s because these parents are not as politically active as the people on the east side of Avenue Road.”
— Trustee Maria Rizzo

St. Margaret parent Judith Cortez hopes that others will join PEACE. “We need everyone’s help to raise awareness, to advocate and most importantly to contact or e-mail our MPP Mike Colle and Minister of Education Liz Sandals to give us funding to build St. Margaret to properly serve the students in our community.”

“I just moved to the area last year, but when I got here, I thought, ‘This is a disaster,’” said Gueverra. “This is Bathurst and Wilson— this is Little Manila. St. Margaret is 90 percent Filipino and we can’t even talk about culturally-responsive curriculum.”

“Parent engagement shouldn’t be about me worrying about a building for my children’s school.”

St. Margaret's JK-Grade 4 location on Carmichael Avenue. All photos by J. Austria.

St. Margaret's JK-Grade 4 location on Carmichael Avenue. All photos by J. Austria.


This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on January 8th, 2016.