Proudly Pinoy: Filipino community celebration for social change

Every year, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) celebrates Asian Heritage Month with a day dedicated to the Filipino community called Proudly Pinoy.

The celebration took place on May 31st at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School.

This school has one of the highest numbers of Filipino students in Toronto. For music teacher Mr. Garofalo, this enabled the students to easily learn the Philippine National Anthem.  This song is in their blood, he said. 

The Marshall McLuhan CSS school band playing the   Philippine   National Anthem. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

The Marshall McLuhan CSS school band playing the Philippine National Anthem. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

On the surface, Proudly Pinoy looked like a typical Filipino party: pandesal, pancit, an emcee, and a talent show. But one aspect set this event apart: the workshops.

With an organizing committee consisting of Filipino TCDSB staff, Settlement Workers in School, and community leaders, the workshops reflected the issues that frontline staff sees every day.

With many of their parents unemployed or underemployed as caregivers or cleaners, students are often uninspired to strive in school and in the workplace. “Why bother?” is an attitude that staff often face.

Settlement Workers Ben Bongolan (left) and Jennilee Austria (centre) with members of the Role Models Panel: graphic designer Jose Carlos Bonifacio, entrepreneur and artist Jodinand Aguillon, nurse and artist Haniely Fernandes, and lawyer Vanessa Ibe. 

Settlement Workers Ben Bongolan (left) and Jennilee Austria (centre) with members of the Role Models Panel: graphic designer Jose Carlos Bonifacio, entrepreneur and artist Jodinand Aguillon, nurse and artist Haniely Fernandes, and lawyer Vanessa Ibe. 

To combat this disengagement, the Tips from the Pros role models panel is a consistent highlight in the Proudly Pinoy student workshops. The students were thrilled to meet an young entrepreneur, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, a graphic designer, and an engineer willing to speak about their inspirations and challenges. “They’re all Filipino, and some of them even grew up in the Philippines!” said one newcomer teen.

In the parent workshops, facilitators addressed the low numbers of Filipino youth in post-secondary education, the process of becoming gainfully employed, and the intricacies of mental health issues. Parents were grateful for a space to ask questions like, “Why is OSAP a positive debt?” and “After reuniting with my child, how do I start rebuilding our relationship?”

TCDSB Staff Michael Consul leads the students in celebration. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

TCDSB Staff Michael Consul leads the students in celebration. Photo by JC Bonifacio.

The event was made possible by over 70 student and parent volunteers, Jodelyn Huang and Michael Consul of the TCDSB Community Relations and Student Leadership Offices, Settlement Workers in School Jennilee Austria, Christine Balmes, and Ariel Lopez of North York Community House, Maria Guiao of Culturelink, Charmaine Cansino of CICS, settlement coordinator Ben Bongolan of the 519, and Flor Dandal and Amy Basingan of Kababayan Multicultural Centre. Patricia Grupe, Jacqueline Capule, Pablo Padilla, and Gilbert Francisco represented Filipino high school teachers in the TCDSB.

This free community event united over 250 Filipino parents and youth from across Toronto, showcasing their talents of song and dance, their volunteer spirit, their faith, and, of course, their pride in being Pinoy.

The original version of this article was published in The Philippine Reporter on June 13th, 2014.