“Oo, kaya rin natin ito!”
One of two Filipinos in Canada now calls the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) home. There are about 200,000 Filipinos living in the GTA, the fourth largest visible minority group behind the Chinese, Indian and Black communities. Tagalog is the seventh most-spoken language in the city of Toronto.
Yet, we don’t have a single Filipino elected in the halls of political power in the city of Toronto. The Chinese, Indian and Black communities have broken the glass ceiling. They have representatives in the city council and in the provincial and federal parliaments as well.
Not that we’re scared of joining the political fray. Others have tried in the past but failed.
If Filipinos in the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg can rally behind Filipino candidates and elect them to higher office, why can’t Filipino Torontonians do the same?
“It is not that Filipinos do not care about politics, yet many are struggling for daily survival to become actively involved in organizations,” says Cecilia Diocson, executive director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada.
Diocson argues that the individual hardships faced by many Filipinos in Toronto reflect their overall community’s economic and social marginalization in Canada. She blames the Canadian government’s policy of exploiting cheap labour such as live-in caregivers and temporary foreign workers, mostly in retail, construction, tourism and restaurant jobs.
Because of the exodus of Filipinos through the Live-in Caregiver Program, Diocson further argues that many Filipino professionals have been trapped, stalling their integration and development in Canada. Majority of Filipino professionals have also not been able to accredit their professional education and work experience due to “systemic and racist barriers,” Diocson says.
Nonetheless Diocson has noticed the surging interest and enthusiasm of Filipino migrant workers, youth and immigrants in engaging in the economic, political, social and cultural life of Canada, as evidenced by their participation in various activities sponsored by Filipino advocacy groups. Her hopes rest on Filipino youth to continue the Filipino community’s struggle towards genuine equality and development in Canada.
Instead of criticizing our community organizations and their goals, a Filipino community leader has suggested that we should form a new organization to build our political clout and help elect Filipinos in higher office. This kind of observation, however, could defeat the very objective or purpose it is designed to serve because it immediately dodges the civic responsibility of every existing Filipino community organization to help initiate change within our community through democratic participation and community empowerment. Worse, it engenders the further trivialization and degradation of our community organizations into mere purveyors of banal activities like singing and beauty contests, festive celebrations, and social partying that do not promote our integration and involvement in Canada’s political life. Not that fellowship and partying are unnecessary in our lives, but too much focus on these activities may detract us from pursuing the more serious tasks of citizenry, of engaging in community activities as empowered, purposeful participants.
Do we really need a new organization to help us build our political clout?
During the height of the displeasure of the community against the alleged abuses of a federal MP towards two Filipino caregivers, a prominent leader of a Filipino centre in Toronto was caught on TV uttering, “We [the Filipino community] have to show that we are a force to reckon with.”
If this community organization can effectively link up with Filipino social advocacy groups, then there’s no need to replicate organizations that will advance and promote our political stature. Our community leaders need only to re-align their goals with those of the advocacy groups, and put less emphasis on events or activities that portray the image of the Filipino as a mere entertainer or movie or singing idol. With all our striving to be a better version of ourselves here in our adopted land, we seem to have carried over our old habit of putting other cultures above our own. An East Indian boy once asked at a meeting at the Wellesley Community Centre if the Philippines were part of Hawaii. The reason he asked he said was because he has often seen Filipino children and adults perform Hawaiian dances during the Cabbagetown festival. Such is the image many of our community organizations project that not only misleads, but also demeans our identity as a people.
A Filipino community centre that could effectively represent our yearning for a strong Filipino identity in Toronto is the Magkaisa Centre at 1093 Davenport Road. Right now, it is composed of several organizations whose primary aim is to promote the struggle for Filipinos in Canada to achieve equality, human rights and genuine development. It is also in the forefront in the struggle for human rights, national freedom and democracy of the Filipino people. One may not fully agree with Magkaisa’s ideological leaning but it is a collective that fights not only for our community’s integration with the larger Canadian mainstream, but also for our active and purposeful engagement in the Canadian body politic.
Count in the other genuine social advocacy groups, too, in our midst such as the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), Migrante Ontario, Caregivers Support Services, and the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture .
We have the right organizations now to advance our political clout. The only item sadly missing is us: the silent majority, the disinterested groups, the comfortable and leisure-driven middle class, the fence-sitters, and those who just don’t care. With our numbers in the GTA, we can be “a force to reckon with” if only we’ll join and support these advocacy groups.
Why not? If a leader of a Filipino community centre could speak during the World Falun Dafa Day (Falun Gong practitioners) celebrations in Queen’s Park last May 13, 2009, right at the time when the “nannygate” controversy was steaming hot, she surely can lend her voice to the more important causes of her fellow Filipinos in Toronto.
Barack Obama perked up the recent U.S. presidential elections with his slogan, “Yes We Can,” and in the process, has helped revitalize the political engagement of the American citizenry in the affairs of their government, not only through voting but also in voluntarism in the civic sector. President Obama is living proof of the success of community organizing; his first contact with the real world after he left college was working as a community organizer for Chicago’s poor and marginalized groups.
For our various advocacy groups and grassroots community organizations, the goal of participating in the centres of political power is achievable. There’s no need for a new organization to accomplish this purpose. All we need to do is to link up our arms together and join in solidarity with one another.
Yes we can, if we want to make it happen.