On September 26 at the YWCA, Ronnie and Claire Dela Gana of iKubo Media held “Ikaw Na,” their second annual Young Filipino-Canadian Leaders Summit.
Hosted in partnership with the Philippine Consulate General of Toronto and the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa, the day began with Ambassador Petronila Garcia encouraging the audience with the words, “We are not in a place where the young ones should not be seen, not be heard. Speak out loud.”
However, audience members soon realized that younger speakers were largely outnumbered by panelists who were old enough to be their parents.
During the Civic and Community Leadership panel, 25-year-old Jesson Reyes of Migrante Ontario gestured to the politicians onstage with him and asked, “I have a question to the youth: do you see yourselves represented here?”
The number of youth in the audience dwindled after Lucia Harper, an Ottawa-based cultural communications strategist, gave a lengthy presentation titled, “Let's Talk About Cultural Competency.”
In what she called “my little rant, my little scolding session,” Harper said, “Four generations of Filipinos have been here. Four. That’s a lot. That’s longer than my family has been here.”
“There’s no you or us. Your socioeconomic levels don’t matter. Your religions don’t matter,” said Harper. “You’re as much Canadian as anyone else in this room.”
To encourage entrepreneurs to seek out clients and partners outside of the Filipino community, she urged them to stop being “naughty” and to attend networking events.
“Stop identifying as marginalized people; stop with the negative labels. Find a more positive way to demonstrate your value,” said Harper. “And if you could put the word ‘eh’ at the end of your sentences, we’d really appreciate it.”
Some audience members were upset that Harper neglected to acknowledge the myriad of issues that Filipino-Canadians face.
“Our Filipino values cannot be pigeonholed to that,” said 28-year-old panel facilitator Ysh Cabana of Anakbayan Toronto. “As if we can simply wake up one day with everything changed without turning to why or how they came to be. Facing our realities includes acknowledging the inequality in our society.”
“I will respect my culture,” said audience member 21-year-old Victoria Sawal. “But I need somebody to teach me. I need somebody to help me. But when I ask, they look at me and say, ‘Tsk, tsk you’re Canadian now.’ They look at me and say, ‘You’re not marginalized; you’re just greedy or spoiled. You’re just whiny. You’re not grateful.’”
“And I’m telling you, with every fibre in my being right now, we are doing our best to represent ourselves without limiting ourselves, without falling into stereotypes, without being forced to be quiet,” said Sawal.
“We’ve been forced to be quiet for too long.”
Throughout the day, many of the presenters, from politicians to entrepreneurs, spoke about the lack of support they had received from other Filipinos.
Carlo Balagasay, the young co-owner of Scarborough's Strength-N-U gym, advised youth to educate themselves rather than solely seeking advice from their elders.
“Honestly, I’d tell my younger self not to really listen to adults,” said Balagasay. “We started when I was 26, 27, and we would listen to anyone. Straight up, the most people that actually screwed me were Filipino. Straight up. That’s why it was easy for us to branch out, because the people who were supposed to support us kept trying to bring us down.”
Panel facilitator and social worker Veronica Javier made sure to recognize the positive youth leadership movement currently taking place in Toronto.
Javier recognized contributions by Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, the CASJ and York Centre for Asian Research projects on deprofessionalized Filipinos and the low rates of post-secondary education among Filipino-Canadian youth, and recent events such as Next Day Better for helping Filipino youth to process “the things that irk them, that grind them inside.”
“We have gotten to this point because of the work that has been done,” said Javier. “I want you all to recognize that we’ve come this far, and that there is a renaissance. Only greater things can happen to our community.”
After hearing the voices of the youth, Consul General Rosalita Prospero reiterated a phrase that had been repeated by different panelists throughout the day: “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
“One of my priorities is to engage the younger generation in shaping a better future in Toronto and the whole of Canada,” said Prospero.
But by the time the final speaker, 23-year-old spoken word poet and arts educator Patrick de Belen, came onstage, many of the youth had left.
After asking the leaders in the audience below the age of 29 to raise their hands, he remarked that under ten people were there. But for the remaining audience members, his spoken word piece struck a chord.
“I am a Filipino seed, yeah, but I am planted in Western soil— which means my branches may bear plenty of fruit, but my roots are subconsciously digging for oil.”
For some youth, the summit was overwhelming, but positive on the whole.
“We came here expecting to get connections, but we gained more. We gained information about history and certain problems that we didn’t even know about,” said Abigaille Alpay, the 20-year-old president of the University of Waterloo Filipino Students’ Association.
“There is going to be greater action that happens when we get connected. It's just too bad that the other Filipino university student associations aren't here.”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on October 9, 2015.