Canadian Historical Association
to publish a history of Filipinos in Canada
by Jon Malek
I am happy to report to the community that the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) has commissioned me to write a booklet on Filipinos in Canada, with a hopeful release date in January 2017. The CHA has two series of short historical booklets; one on general Canadian history and one more specifically on Immigration and Ethnicity in Canada. They are available for free online (http://goo.gl/3cI2JH). Since 1953, the CHA has released 64 booklets under the general history series, and 33 under the immigration and ethnicity series, which my booklet will be under. The CHA itself is an institution in Canadian academia, founded in 1922 to support, unite, and lobby for historians working in Canada.
The interest of the CHA in releasing a booklet on the history of Filipinos in Canada demonstrates that the organization is taking note of the significant Filipino community in Canada, and this booklet will hopefully be of use to many outside of academia. As a short introductory history, it will not tell all the stories of those have chosen to live and/or work in Canada, but it will open the door to Canadians and others about this group’s history. Over the last two decades, there has been good research done on Filipinos in Canada from the social sciences, but has been more or less neglected from a historical standpoint. What has been done is often community driven, which I have written about in the past.
Hopefully, this booklet will be of use to the Filipino community in Canada, and not just to an academic audience. The ANAK organization has long been advocating for the importance of ethnic history, which I fully agree with, and I have argued that the silence in Canadian history books about Filipinos in Canada can have a negative impact on integration and belonging. In terms of Asian immigration to Canada, Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian immigrants have received considerable historical study, but more recent Pacific immigrants – Filipinos especially – have, for one reason or another, been neglected. Including these histories in national narratives will reinforce the fact that Filipinos are a part of Canada’s national identity, and have been for decades. Indeed, I have been able to show that as early as the 1920s there were Filipinos immigrating to Canada, and possibly as early as 1905 along the west coast.
The challenge presented with this booklet is the length. The booklets average in length from 30-40 pages, and this is a very small space to tell the national history of a group! What broad story should be told? What examples given? What about life in the Philippines does one need to know to understand Filipino immigration to Canada? How can one best represent the lives, activities, and experiences of those who have come to call Canada home (and even those who are only here temporarily)? I would be interested in what the community thinks about this and I am certainly open to suggestions from anyone.
Additionally, I am always interested in gathering life histories of community members. My work on the Winnipeg Filipino community’s history is written in part by the testimonies of those I interview; their stories shape the history of the community and will help others understand and appreciate what life has been like for them in Canada. This is an opportunity to shape the historical narrative of the community, as everyone’s life experience has an effect on others. Oral histories such as these are important because they demonstrate that while some broad trends are shared and experienced by others, individual life histories are in fact complex and unique. To be sure, no two experiences of immigration and settlement in Canada are the same, and each story helps us to understand the overall experience. I’ve written an information pamphlet on oral history for those curious about the process and the importance of it. It is available on my project website www.pearloftheprairies.ca (http://goo.gl/SGIP0F). As well, Dr. Alexander Freund of the Oral History Center at the University of Winnipeg has written a CHA pamphlet on oral history, available for free online (http://goo.gl/V6tPJM). If you are interested in contributing to and helping to shape this project, I’d be pleased to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org), regardless of age, date of arrival, or place of birth. Each story is valuable and can help others understand and appreciate their history.
When the booklet is completed, I will be certain to circulate it widely.
Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program.