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It's All History by Jon Malek

Community vision, values, and place

by Jon Malek

On 6 June 2016, members of the Filipino community got together at the Philippine Cultural Centre of Manitoba for “An Evening of Community Envisioning,” which has been part of the larger Envisioning Celebration project of the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba (PHCM). The goal of this event was to discuss the goals and aspirations of the community for the next 20 to 25 years, focused on the core values of respect; trust and integrity; teamwork, leadership, communication, and positive attitude. These values were identified during a conference hosted by the PHCM on 7 March 2015, led by Martin Itzkow, who also led last week’s meeting (For more on this conference, see "Envisioning our future").

I was privileged to be welcomed to attend this meeting, and even contribute my thoughts on a couple of points. While the atmosphere was relaxed, a lot of hard work and thought went into the evening as participants discussed the core values of the Filipino community. This process involved attempting to define, in some way, the core values, and to list five day-to-day situations in which each value was experienced. Next, positive and negative aspects of each value were identified in relation to the community. The discussion was lively and frank, and at the end of the evening we were left with a poignant and difficult question from our coach, Martin Itzkow: “After all this discussion, what were you going to do about it? To whom were you going to talk about this? In short, what was the point of all this?”

I took inspiration from this to write a little bit on the history of community envisioning amongst Filipinos in Winnipeg. As I reflect on my overall research on the community’s history, I realize that much of it is caught up in trying to determine both its future and place in Canada. This theme of Envisioning Celebration and the community’s future led by the PHCM – and including many different community organizations – is not the first such attempt to gauge the position of the community and plan for its future. Certainly, it is one of the most concerted, well thought out, and supported efforts for decades. As best as I can find, the earliest attempt at this was a conference held on 2-4 September 1977. This conference, whose theme was “The Role of Filipinos in the Manitoba Mosaic,” was hosted by the Philippine Association of Manitoba (PAM) and its proceedings were published in co-operation with the Department of the Secretary of State of the Government of Canada. The proceedings are available in the University of Manitoba Libraries.

The 1977 Conference was split into two sections. First were conference presentations, and these papers with topics such as Canada’s then-new multicultural policy, the value of education in Canadian society, economic integration for Filipinos (such as dealing with credit), and the role of Filipinos in Canadian affairs. These papers, presented to a community that was then around 20 years old, not only discussed the practical implications of living in Canada, but also how, as a community, Filipinos fit into the multicultural mosaic of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Canada. The second section of the conference was a series of workshops on the themes of cultural and social values; education; national issues; and federal, provincial and local issues. It should be noted that these proceedings, as well as a conference paper, were done by Dr. Conrado Santos, who recently passed away.

As a relatively young community, this conference was interested in situating the community within Canadian society. What were its contributions? What Filipino values could Canada benefit from? What barriers and challenges presented themselves to Filipino families? These questions preoccupied the conference, as they did the local Filipino newspaper at the time, the Silangan. The workshops allowed the community to focus on issues that the PAM and the conference board identified; in comparison to the Envisioning campaign of the PHCM, these workshops dealt with challenges facing the community, especially in terms of integration. Thus, the workshop on education called for a Filipino nurses’ interests group that would advocate for a body of healthcare professionals increasingly finding it difficult to have their credentials recognized (a challenge that Filipino nurses today are experiencing, still!) The workshop on culture and values expressed a concern for the preservation of Filipino heritage in Canada’s mosaic, and so issued a number of resolutions for a cultural centre, language school, cultural school, and others.

Judging by the coverage of this conference, and a proposed follow-up meeting the following year (which doesn’t seem to have happened), this gathering of Filipino community members generated a lot of excitement, discussion, and even debate. But, in my eyes as a historian, I think this was a turning point in the community for a few reasons. The massive government support tied in nicely with the overall spirit behind Canada’s multiculturalism policy, which emphasizes that the entirety of Canada is created by a collection and coming together of various ethnic groups. I think that this conference, as well as others that occurred across Canada in the 1970s and 1980s (including a national conference held in Winnipeg in 1982, also generating much discussion and debate), gave the Filipino community a lot of confidence in its place within Canadian society and of its capability to guide itself in that integration with its own Filipino values.

I see this confidence and self-determination today in the PHCM’s events. In some ways, the basic challenges facing the community have changed very little. Today, the status of Filipino youth in Canada faces a number of challenges (including heritage preservation and educational attainment), yet many of these problems were widely discussed in the 1970s. In many ways, Filipinos in Canada face many the same challenges as other immigrant and Canadian families, but starting in the 1970s it was clear the community was going to face them with distinctly Filipino values and practices. Thus, in the 1970s there was an emphasis on the importance of the Filipino family, and at the Evening of Community Envisioning the discussion of Respect dealt in large part with respect to family members and elders. Canada’s multicultural policy has given room to ethnic groups to maintain their cultural heritage because, in all honesty, that is the best way to face their distinct problems. The Filipino community I see today faces much the same challenges as the community in 1977, but it is with more confidence and determination. There is no doubt that Filipinos are a part of Winnipeg’s fabric, and now the community is taking a moment to determine how it will continue to contribute in the coming decades.

This is no easy discussion. Like the 1970s, the discussions are hard and force community members to face values and practices that have negative influences. Like the 1970s, these discussions will likely involve communal soul searching, disagreements, and even arguments as a direction is hammered out. When things get hard, though, take heart. Community is not necessarily a body of consensus, a group of people who all agree on everything; community is a process, a continual negotiation and re-negotiation among members, a journey shared by people with a common bond. The complexity of the community means that there are many needs – the large number of community organizations emphasize how many different interests are involved – and these needs may, at times, conflict with each other. But, just like the 1977 conference did not “solve” the issues facing Filipinos in Winnipeg, this current project will help re-align the community with its pressing needs and positive values that will drive the community forward for years to come.

Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program.

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