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It's All History by Jon Malek

Moira and Filipino representation

by Jon G. Malek

The recent Moira concert at the Canada Life Centre was a milestone for Filipino representation in Winnipeg. Photo by Jan Tugado Images

After her concert on March 25, 2023, at Canada Life Centre, the artist Moira posted on social media saying, “we made history,” referring to her concert being the first time a Pinay performed at the Canada Life Centre. This was a moment shared with other Filipina singers Jovelle Balani, Zachary Ignacio, and Zephanie Dimaranan. It was an important moment in the city’s history, and not only because it was a first. The Winnipeg Filipino community has a thriving events industry, with groups like ACC Events and Services and Pinoy Tribe Entertainment finding success in bringing major Filipino talent to the city. This reflects the size and desire of Winnipeg’s Filipinos for such events, but also shows how Winnipeg is “on the map” when it comes to international talent.

But I see the Moira concert as being important for the location in which it happened. GMA News Online described the Canada Life Centre as “the premier sports and entertainment venue in Winnipeg city.” It is where Canada’s national sport is played by the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose; it is where most large shows coming through the city set up. It is, in short, one of the centres of “mainstream” culture in Winnipeg. Mainstream is a tricky term most of the time, but in this case, I just mean for the entire Winnipeg community. Events such as superstar bands and singers, events like Monster Jam, as well as a host of sports events bring thousands of Winnipeggers downtown to the venue. And, while the majority of those at the Moira concert were Filipino, it speaks to how “mainstream” the Filipino community has become. It represents, as I see it, a growing recognition of the Filipino community and its cultural richness.

Now, to those already in the Filipino community, this is no surprise, and one would be right to ask why it took so long. In many ways, Filipino culture gets a lot of time in the spotlight in Winnipeg. It has been a constant at the world renowned Folklorama since its inception in 1970 and every June, various community groups take to the parks of Winnipeg and celebrate Philippine independence. But Filipinos have yet to find representation outside of these special events. I think it is very important that the Canada Life Centre is now a venue associated with the Filipino community. It is the site of what many view as quintessential to Canada’s cultural life – hockey – and has seen numerous big acts take to the stage within its walls. Now, Moira has claimed the site for the Filipino community.

As an aside, I think it’s also important to point out and celebrate that this was the first time a female Filipino took to the stage in Canada Life Centre. The arena could easily be seen as a site of masculinity in the city, as male dominated sports are played here and events such as Monster Jam drip with testosterone. For one night, Filipinas took over the stage with the help of their fellow male musicians.

As an immigration historian, the representation that the Moira concert represents is very important. Despite the fact that Canada’s population is incredibly diverse with people from around the world, it tends to present itself culturally in a way that doesn’t reflect the depth of its population. Take hockey as an example. It is indeed a sport with an intimate history with Canada’s people, but at the same time there are many who do not identify with it as being a cultural icon. There are Filipinos who enjoy the sport, but maybe not to the extent as do other segments of Winnipeg’s population. The point is that emphasizing hockey as something integral to Canadian identity, and accompanying narratives that not liking hockey is un-Canadian, are damaging to the inclusion of people in our country whose cultures may not value the sport quite the same.

While I would love to see Filipino cultural events like the Moira concert drawing crowds from outside the Filipino community, the growth of such events over the past few years in Winnipeg represent the strength of Filipino culture in the city. And hosting the Moira concert at Canada Life Centre was a way of the Filipino community staking a claim in Winnipeg’s cultural scene, of including itself in that “mainstream” group. The building, which is a site of major cultural events in the city, became the site of a major cultural event in the Filipino community.

In terms of representation, this means that Winnipeg as a whole should now be seeing the Filipino community as a part of the mosaic of the city’s culture. Many Filipinos have expressed that they do not feel included in Canada’s representations of itself. Years ago, when ANAK was designing its exhibit celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Filipinos in Winnipeg, it was stated that the event was in part a response to the fact that this history was not included in wider narratives of Canadian history. Other cultural groups have found such inclusion in Winnipeg and Manitoban history, such as Ukrainians; Filipinos are not a new group in Canada, and have had innumerable contributions to Canadian society, so why the community is still excluded is a hard question to answer.

Representation is important because it tells people that they are welcome and appreciated in Canada, that they are seen, and that their voices contribute to the country’s society. Often, Filipinos are celebrated as being great workers, but this cannot be the only reason Filipinos are valued in Canada – it has to be more than the work they give, but their very presence as individuals with a unique culture. This is representation and while a concert at Canada Life Centre will not make this happen over night, it is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

Jon Malek received his PhD from Western University and currently teaches history at the University of Manitoba. He is working on a book manuscript on the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community.