Nanay Clarita Ortega Nazario
Giving back by serving others, promoting heritage
by Lucille Nolasco
When you talk about the Bulacan Association of Winnipeg, Inc. (BAOWI), her name will almost always be mentioned, as well.
Fondly called “Nanay” Clarita (mother), she has been a pillar of the regional association since it was founded 34 years ago.
“It was Bernie Bernabe of Norzagaray who started the group in 1986, with the help of Albert Capiral, Lito Bautista, Mar Moya, Boyet Nicolas, Kaka Pacheco, former MLA Conrad Santos and others,” remembers Nazario.
“At first it was to connect with other kababayans from different towns in Bulacan. Until the group started undertaking projects to help other people in the community, as well as people in need in the Philippines.”
Through the years, Nazario held the positions of President and Secretary for BAOWI. At present, she is actively serving as senior adviser for the organization.
Aside from BAOWI, Nazario is also a member of the Ladies of the Knights of Rizal, wherein the Canada Regional Commander, George Poblete in Toronto, recognized her.
“I made all the uniforms for the Knights of Rizal in Winnipeg where my husband was a member. I also made uniforms for members in Toronto, the US, Czech Republic and in Prague.”
Nazario also served as Vice President of OFSAM (Original Filipino Seniors Association of Manitoba,) when they raised funds for calamity-hit Haiti in 2010 and victims of super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.
At the 40th year anniversary of OFSAM in 2017, NDP-MLAWab Kinew recognized members and officers in the Legislature for their selfless community work in Manitoba and in the Philippines.
Nanay Clarita also served as a Board Member of the Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba (PCCM) and other community associations.
Nanay Clarita & her late husband Romeo
Life in the Philippines
Born on January 6, 1942 in Bocaue, Bulacan, Nazario hardly remembers the Second World War. But because of it, she and her parents with her six brothers moved to Sto. Cristo in Pulilan, Bulacan to escape the Japanese.
“Life was simple. My father, Icasiano Ortega was a farmer and a fisherman. He was also devoted to the Church, as he was active in the annual presentation of the Pagoda fiesta in Bocaue. While our mother Josefa Cruz, was a sewer and a loving mother to her own three children and four stepsons.”
Nazario grew up a bright achiever. She was always in the honour roll in elementary and in high school.
But when she was 16, her world changed in many ways when a 23-year old from Quezon province took a liking to her.
“My mother used to own a small grocery store and I would be there whenever I’m not in school. One of our customers, Romeo Nazario, would often come by to buy stuff and talk.
One day he said he wanted to talk to me because he was going home to Quezon the next day to look for other jobs.”
So the two went to the back of the store to talk and say their goodbyes. But when her mother learned of it, she castigated Clarita. The couple was then brought to the cabeza de barangay (town head) and married right away.
“I was shocked! Everything happened so quickly. My mother gave me some clothes and told me to go with my husband. I guess that was the old way. If people see a single man and woman talking without a chaperone, you have to get married right away! (laughs). Good thing I married a good man. I was 16. I didn’t know anything. But he was patient with me. He taught me many things and guided me through our married life.”
Clarita and her husband Romeo were blessed with eight children. She also has nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Her family members and close relatives live in the Philippines, Canada, Australia and the U.S.
A love for designing and a knack for business
Despite her busy days as a young wife and mother, Nanay Clarita was able to pursue her dream of becoming a designer. With the support of her husband, she took up Garments, Trade and Design at Philippine College of Arts and Trade in Manila.
While serving as a catechist and a layperson in the parishes of Sto. Cristo and Sta. Barbara, she would make clothes for the priests and other parishioners with the parish priest footing the bill.
“From that experience and from observing and helping my mother when I was younger, my love for making clothes and designing helped me and my family a lot,” Nazario said.
She went on to work for small and big garment companies such as Sampaguita Garments, Ding Velayo, Ye ye Vonel and others. From 1973 to 1991, they became sub-contractors for some companies, having their own staff and workers.
Life in Canada
In 1993, Nanay Clarita and her husband Romeo visited Winnipeg as tourists upon the invitation of their younger son, Romeo Jr. Liking what they saw and what they had experienced during that visit, Romeo Jr. submitted a sponsorship application for his parents.
They returned in 1995 as landed immigrants. At the time, Nanay Clarita’s aunt, Natalia Fernando, was managing a group home for 16 patients and hired them as her live-in helpers.
In 2004, the Nazarios were able to put up their own group home for mentally challenged patients, in support of Canadian Mental Health Association, called McDermott Place.
Despite the busy schedule of managing a group home, Nanay Clarita never forgot her love for designing and making clothes.
Through the years she worked at Nygard, Warehouse One and other garment companies. She has made and designed various team uniforms, party dresses, wedding dresses, and more, for countless people. Through her talent, she was able to meet and rub elbows with different community as well as political leaders.
“Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux calls me Ate (elder sister). Whenever he sees me he says ‘Hi, Ate Clarita!’ It always makes me smile,” Nazario reminisces.
“I have made national costumes such as barongs, kimonas and jackets for him, and for many other community leaders and politicians, and even for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau!”
Nanay Clarita is always present during Philippine Independence celebrations in Winnipeg. She said during these events she always brings a bag full of barongs and kimonas for anyone who needs them.
“People tell me it’s good that I don’t have any political leanings. NDP-MLA Andrew Swan even said ‘This lady is awesome! She’s friends with everybody.’”
Clarita is also a committed supporter of Foklorama, the yearly cultural celebration that runs for two weeks in Winnipeg. She usually has a long table full of Philippine-made dresses, arts and crafts.
“It’s important to never forget where you came from and to share with other people your love for the home country and kababayans.”
Nanay Clarita was also invited to present Philippine-made products at Calgary’s International Heritage week, in Alberta.
Nanay Clarita with Kevin Lamoureux, MP for Winnipeg North, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Helping kababayans in need
Since immigrating to Canada, Nanay Clarita always makes it a point to go back to the Philippines every year, usually around the time of her birthday. She returns not just to visit family but also to do charitable works.
“We initiated livelihood projects for women prisoners in Malolos. We donated sewing machines and taught them how to sew. At first, they started with rags that they could sell until they were subcontracted to make shorts and pants. Now they also make wallets and rosaries that I bring back to Canada to sell for them.
We also gave clothes, food and other donations to Emmaus Home for the Aged in Malolos. My eldest son based in Bulacan, Philippines would help me bring food donations to families hit by floods, as far as Pulilan and San Rafael.”
In 1976, when she was invited as a guest speaker at Sto. Cristo Elementary School, she gave a four-year scholarship to the class valedictorian who came from a poor family and otherwise could not continue on with her education.
Her last visit to the Philippines was in 2019. She was planning to go back in 2020, but then the pandemic hit.
“BAOWI has been planning to invite back Bulacan Governor Fernando who promised to bring with him 10 celebrities from the Philippines. We were supposed to have a friendly basketball match as a fundraiser for BAOWI. There were also plans of bringing back members of Koro Bulakenyo for a fundraising concert, but because of COVID-19 I don’t know when these will all push through.”
Valuable lessons in life
Now at 79 years old, Nanay Clarita is still busy managing McDermott Place on her own. Her husband Romy passed away in 2008.
She is also actively serving as senior adviser for BAOWI and making clothes for clients from time to time.
Her means of relaxation? Sewing.
“I never get tired of designing or sewing. It relaxes me. I might not be as active or as fast making clothes as before, but I still can do it.
Simple things make me happy. Being able to see my children settled, having beautiful grandchildren and great grandchildren. Having many friends. What more can I ask for?
Asked what valuable lessons she has learned in life, Nanay Clarita said,
“I have always believed that human beings are equal, no matter the colour of our skin. There shouldn’t be a place for racism or discrimination. That is why former US President John F. Kennedy is my favourite, because he always had this view. We have to treat others as we would like to be treated. And of course, to never forget where you came from. Help others for they will help you in return. Be loyal. Persevere and keep reaching for your dreams.”
Pinays MB Corner features Filipino women who can be role models for other women. If you know of any Filipino woman whose inspiring life story can be featured in this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send in her name, a brief description of her inspiring life story, and contact information.