Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Stories of Bayanihan and Belonging: Filipinos in Manitoba, Part 2

by Alison Marshall
Department of Religion, Brandon University

Number 77, Winter 2015

In 2000, I moved from Toronto to Brandon. In that year, children of some of Manitoba’s first Filipino settlers attended my classes at Brandon. At the time, and today almost 15 years later, Filipino thought and culture is largely unknown and untaught, as most history, civilization and world religions textbooks omit the Philippines as an area of study. In this article, which forms the core of a planned book, I tell the stories of some of Manitoba’s remarkable Filipinos.

Most people don’t realize that transpacific trade routes brought the earliest Filipinos to North America hundreds of years ago. From the late 1500s until the early 1800s, Spanish galleon ships and seamen sailed between Manila and Acapulco facilitating the trade of pearls, silver, silks and sapphires. [1] Canada’s documented history of Filipino migration begins much later, however, with the earliest pair arriving in 1921. [2]

Drawing on nearly 15 years of ethno-historical research on prairie cultural diversity, more than 40 interviews with Filipino Canadians, and 150 surveys in the Philippines, this article profiles Filipinos who have come to Manitoba as recruited migrants and independent applicants, and via chain migration through family ties and mutual support networks. As these stories show, many Filipinos cultivate connections through the bayanihan spirit that both solidifies and transcends family bonds connecting them to community and kin.

Community in the Philippines is defined by Barangay (barrio or village) solidarity and status, along with religious belonging to Catholic, Protestant, or, for example, Rizalista churches where Dr. José Rizal has attained god-like status. Filipino Manitobans as these stories show may no longer define themselves by the barangay in which they live but many Filipinos continue to maintain strong ties to their regional heritage and status through membership in scores of different associations and brotherhoods. Religion is also different in Filipino Canada. Filipinos have expanded their own networked religious lives in the Philippines and drawn on religious connections to churches to reach into new economic and social markets of promise in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Korea, Hawaii and Manitoba, Canada. In Manitoba, Filipinos continue to be predominantly Catholic though some join Protestant Filipino Christian congregations after migration and a few are atheists. As of yet, there are no Rizalista churches in Manitoba but there is a sizeable chapter of the Knights of Rizal who recognize Dr. José Rizal as national hero.

Paulo Ercia

Paulo Ercia (b 1974) is co-owner of the Wow! Mabuhaygift store in Riding Mountain National Park. Born in the province of Laguna, Philippines, outside Metro Manila, he has five sisters. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, Paulo had difficulty obtaining work in his field: “There had been so much rejection in the Philippines when trying to get a job—so many graduates and so little work.” Although he knew of friends who were unsuccessful in their immigration applications to Canada, in 1997 he applied to immigrate, shortly after his graduation. Four years later, Paulo received the news that his application had been successful. He arrived in Winnipeg in the summer of 2001.

Paulo Ercia and Joey Adamowski at the opening of Wow! Mabuhay at Winnipeg’s Forks Market, 15 November 2014.
Source: A. Marshall

Paulo stayed with his cousins, joined a Catholic church in Winnipeg, and established himself with a bayanihan spirit. Through his cousin’s sister-in-law he found work at a printing company, and took on evening shifts at a restaurant, a call centre and a grocery store. Six years later, he found a part-time job at Canada Post. In 2009, a friend suggested he come to Dauphin, Manitoba, and he was able to transfer there as a letter carrier. [3]

Later that year, Paulo returned to the Philippines and had an idea to bring back shell bracelets and necklaces from Cebu Island to sell in Canada. He brought them back and was astonished that within a few days, all 300 pieces sold. He continued to work at Canada Post, but took on additional work at Dauphin’s Fiddle Lore Store. He eventually partnered with the owner to convert part of it to a Filipino gift shop and Asian food store. In 2012, the pair opened Wow! Mabuhay. Three years later, they opened a Winnipeg location at the Fork’s Market.

The Honourable Reynaldo (Rey) Pagtakhan, P.C. [4]

The Honourable Reynaldo (Rey) Pagtakhan, P.C. (b 1935) grew up in the town of Bacoor in the province of Cavite, just outside Manila. He was one of 11 children and a Catholic. His father was a self-taught accountant who also worked as a jeepney (bus) driver. His mother sold second-hand goods. As Rey got older, the family operated a bakery for which everyone helped deliver bread by bicycle. “The town had a population then of about 17,000. Children went to school more often barefooted than not.... It was very rural then. Hard work, perseverance, discipline and sense of responsibility were instilled in all of us. We were always reminded to read and study.” The area’s high schools were accessible by tuition fee, which the family could not afford, or by bursary for the best students. Growing up, Rey was advised to work hard so that the family would not have to pay for school. He was an exemplary student.

Rey and Gloria Pagtakhan celebrate Philippine Independence Day at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, 12 June 1970.
Source: Rey Pagtakhan

Rey persevered and completed medical school in 1961. He became a research associate and published an award-winning article. By 1963, his success in medical research earned him a prestigious residency at the Children’s Hospital at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. In 1968, he chose to come to Canada:

The reasons for Canada were (1) to do a fellowship in children’s lung diseases ... and (2) to earn and save funds with which to equip my planned clinic [in the Philippines]. My visa under the U.S. exchange-visitor program was expiring in June of 1968. ... So I searched the Canadian Medical Association Journal for opportunities and I saw the name of Dr. Victor Chernik, who had just received the Queen Elizabeth II Scientist Award.... I wrote him and received a reply within a week: ‘You have a position ready, provided your references are favourable.’ I arrived in Winnipeg on January 6, 1968. ... I came to work at the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital and my wife eventually became a therapeutic dietician there.

Dr. Joseph Du, leader of Winnipeg’s Chinese community from the late 1960s to today, had arrived a few years before and the two became close. There were about 100 to 150 Filipino families in the city. At first Rey and his family lived near the hospital on William Avenue, but by 1972 they had purchased a home on the same street as Du in St. Vital, where they raised their four boys: “We had made the decision to permanently settle in Winnipeg. Moreover, we knew we would be sponsoring brothers and a sister and their families. There was a year when we would have 21 living at home in St. Vital. The neighbours were telling us, ‘What a big family!’”

Almost immediately, Rey and his wife Gloria became involved in Manitoba’s growing Filipino community and Asian multicultural projects. [5] During the 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Roland Guzman and his wife Dr. Irene Guzman led Winnipeg’s pioneer Filipino-Canadian Association (Fil-Can), founded in 1960.

By 1967, another social club for younger, newer Filipinos called the Kayumanggi (Brown) Club had formed. Rey joined and was appointed editor-in-chief of its monthly newsletter, writing an editorial headlined: “A Challenge to Unity.” The Kayumanggi Club organized New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day celebrations. The Fil-Can club handled Philippine Independence Day celebrations. In 1970, the two clubs merged into the Philippine Association of Manitoba (PAM).

Rey continued to be a leader in the Filipino and Asian communities and by the late 1980s, his attention turned to politics. In 1988, representing Winnipeg North, Rey became the first Filipino-born Canadian ever elected to the House of Commons. During his nearly 16 years as a Member of Parliament, Rey served at various times as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Minister of Veterans Affairs and of Western Economic Diversification, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development and for Asia Pacific, as well as senior federal minister for Manitoba. Since his defeat in 2004, he has remained active in volunteer work. Many members of the community call him “Dr. Rey” and revere him as an elder. Rey’s self-identity, like many of the leaders in this study, was intertwined with religion. To him, multiculturalism was a sacred part of Canadian heritage:

Multiculturalism is a classic Canadian symphony of differences and similarities, all for the greater good. There is a sense of pride and sense of humility. When I speak about multiculturalism, I think of it as Canada’s sum total of life experience. It persuades us to see the contributions fellow Canadians share. ... [Canadians] have a collective, and not individualistic, vision of society.

Virgina “Jean” Gonzales Guiang

Virgina “Jean” Gonzales Guiang (b 1940s) is from the City of Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. [6] The family had 10 children. Jean’s mother was a homemaker and part-time butcher who also made and sold crocheted goods. Jean’s father was a school principal and then a municipal worker. Jean graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City with an education degree. In 1969, she came to Winnipeg.

I was met by these three ladies, nurses, Adelaida and two other friends of hers. ... One hour before my arrival, she recounted that she found the postcard I had sent her amongst papers that had fallen on the floor. When she saw the postcard, she read the message that I was arriving that very day in an hour. So, with her friends, she took a taxi to the airport. When I was coming down the escalator, there were three uniformed ladies; they were smiling at me, and I smiled back. I looked around and I was the only Filipino.

Jean relied on the help of Adelaida (who was a friend of a friend) and on relationships she established through that friendship, and at Francis Friary, a Catholic church, in downtown Winnipeg, until she found library work at the University of Manitoba. Eventually she coordinated the shelving work of the seven unit libraries of the entire university. Jean sponsored her mother, two sisters and a niece to come to Canada. Her mother later returned to her homeland, afraid to die in Winnipeg apart from her husband, who had been buried in the family mausoleum. After her parents died, Jean continued to observe Filipino custom and honour them on their birthdays: “You offer them a special meal. It’s also asking for a blessing from them and guidance. When I succeed in anything I do, I always say, ‘Dad, thank you; Mom, thank you, I know you are looking down on me.’”

When Jean first arrived in Winnipeg, she also got involved in the International Centre of the Citizenship Council of Manitoba. She got to know Sonja Roeder and a Mrs. Panaro. Together, they formed the Cosmopolitan Group of Winnipeg. It included newly arrived immigrants from all over the world, including Czechoslovakia, Germany, Portugal, Estonia, the Philippines, China and Japan.

In 1983 along with Elizabeth Wilcock, Jean helped to organize the Immigrant Women Association of Manitoba (which included Chinese Canadian members Dorothy Choy and May Yoh) [7] to provide immigrant outreach to those across the province. The group also mounted a photographic exhibition called Images of Our Past, showcasing the region’s diverse history.

In 1988, Jean, along with Rey Pagtakham, organized the Filipino Domestic Workers’ Association of Manitoba, with 150 members. She had attended a conference in Ottawa and heard the stories of live-in caregivers. When she returned to Winnipeg, she was determined to reach out to live-in caregivers, if there were any. One evening she organized an information session. Four domestic workers attended and over time Jean gathered the names of others who might be interested in an organization that would provide services to domestic workers who had been abused and exploited: “I invited Rey Pagtakhan to attend that meeting, and before I could even open my mouth, one of them stood up and said, ‘I think we would like to be organized with your help,’ and so, I said, ‘Okay.’ The first thing that happened was to select and vote for a name for the intended organization and they chose the name FIDWAM, an acronym for Filipino Domestic Workers’ Association of Manitoba.”

Jean retired in 1999 and had more time to be actively involved in the religious life that had always guided her community leadership and values. Today she is a lector and communion minister at her church. She is also the volunteer spokesperson for the Filipino Domestic Workers’ Association of Manitoba, which has about 50 members. Reflecting on the attraction of Winnipeg to Filipinos, Jean adds: “We may not be as rich as Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver, but there is something about Winnipeg that pulls us back here.... It’s been said by most Filipino families here that Winnipeg is the best place to raise children, the best place to connect with their own people, the best place to have jobs, even if they were not really good.... We are happy here. We feel comfortable. Everyone is friendly.”

Perla Javate

Perla Javate (b 1940s) grew up with seven siblings in the City of Cauayan in the Province of Isabela. Her mother operated a drugstore in front of the family home and her father was a businessman. In 1965, Perla graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in social work. In 1973, she went to the Netherlands: “I was hired to look after the papers of 56 garment workers [from the Philippines], prepare them for departure, and orient them about group life in the Netherlands.” When the company folded, Perla helped with the negotiations to find the group a placement in Winnipeg.

She arrived in Canada in the summer of 1976, lived in Toronto briefly, and then chose to settle in Winnipeg, which at the time had several thousand Filipinos. When Filipinos arrive in Manitoba, one of the first things they do is find a church. Perla, being strongly Catholic, was no different. Since 1984, she has been the Filipino Community Liaison Officer for Winnipeg School Division. She has been an active leader in the Filipino community for three decades through her involvements with Magdaragat Philippines Inc. (1984-1990), Mabuhay Serenaders (1986-2008), the Coalition of Filipino-Canadians for Stronger Families (1998-2004) and as president of the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba Inc., from 2004 to the present. She describes the flurry of cultural activity during Philippine Heritage Week each June, which focuses upon the faith and religious roots of most newcomers to Manitoba:

“We work together to celebrate who we are. ... We usually start with a mass. Sometimes the festivities include a religious parade that includes two Saints: Santacruzan and Santo Niño. All the events have music. We organize the Independence Day Ball and a picnic in Assiniboine Park.... We provide free lunch for all the guests with food from Filipino restaurants. Normally, we have at least five roast pigs for the occasion. We usually have one for picture-taking [on a spit with an apple in its mouth], and there’ll be people assigned to do the chopping. It’s a big job in itself. People come and go from 10 till about 5. I would say, about 500 people. It is open to the public.”

Mike Pagtakhan

Mike Pagtakhan (b 1970) was born in the town of Bacoor, in the province of Cavite, Philippines. His father Rafael had been working for a short time after university as an accountant in 1972 when martial law was instituted. Rafael’s brother, Rey Paktakhan, sponsored the family to come to Canada in 1973: “My parents decided to move because they didn’t want us to experience martial law. They didn’t want us to fight with the People’s Republic army and they wanted us to live a free life and have maximum opportunity. My Uncle Rey was here. He was telling us about how great it was.... He said, ‘Now is the time, because Canada is accepting immigrants.’ So my parents saved money and borrowed some from another uncle, and they came here to Canada.”

Mike Pagtakhan in front of his family’s Halo Halo tent with friends at the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival, 24 August 2013.
Source: A. Marshall

In Winnipeg, Rafael worked as a comptroller at a bank, and Mike’s mother, Alice, initially stayed home with the children. Eventually she became a hospital dietary aide. For the first three months, the family lived at Mike’s uncle Rey’s house on Salme Drive in St. Vital, and then purchased a home in the same area. In the early years, the extended family shared bus rides throughout the city, learning where to shop, what to buy for the winter and about Canadian culture. They got involved in the religious community, where they saw other Filipinos. But there were no Filipinos in Mike’s school classes:

We grew up in St. Vital, and the Filipinos who came during that time moved into the West End, or into the Maples and Tyndall Park area. When I was seven, eight and nine years old, kids would remind me of that: ‘Hey, you look different, you’re from China, or you’re from Japan.’ And I would say, ‘I’m from the Philippines.’ They said, ‘Where is that?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s its own country, the Philippines.’ They said, ‘No, you’re from China, we know you’re from China.’ My brother and I were starting to doubt it, so we asked our parents, ‘Where is the Philippines in China?’ And they said, ‘No, it’s its own country.’

Mike graduated from Dakota Collegiate and went on to complete a degree in Anthropology and Native Studies at the University of Manitoba in 1991. Upon graduation, he worked at Manitoba Hydro until 2002, when he was elected Point Douglas’s City Councillor. Helping on his uncle Rey’s campaigns had led Mike to consider politics as something he, too, might do to serve his community.

By 2002, Mike was married to Mina and had two children: “I met Mina at Folklorama. She had just come from the Philippines. It was my second year dancing with the Folklorama [troupe]. I wanted to practise Tagalog, so I actually said, ‘Just speak to me in Tagalog, and I’m pretty sure I can understand you.’ So we just sort of hit it off that way.”

In 2005, Mike travelled to the Philippines with Mayor Sam Katz and key leaders in Winnipeg’s Filipino community. It was the first time he had returned since he emigrated more than 30 years earlier. Mike organized the trip to mark the 25th anniversary of Winnipeg’s twinning with Manila. One goal of the trip was to deliver 1,000 books that students at Winnipeg’s Tyndall Park School had collected for Manila’s Maria Guerro School. Mike recalls:

I stepped off the airplane. The first thing I experienced was the smell of diesel fuel, and the first thing I felt was the incredible humidity. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is my home country?’ (Laughs) Then, it was interesting ... when you see Filipinos everywhere—on the bus, and in a taxi, or in a grocery store—this is a neat feeling. ... I had always identified myself as a Canadian, and my lens was people from all over the world, all different nationalities, and I wasn’t used to seeing everyone who looked like me.

One of Mike’s many community involvements has been with the Filipino Youth Initiative. Throughout his discussion of this involvement and other community projects, Mike repeatedly referred to a Filipino spirit of bayanihan that kept the community strong and well connected. As President of the Bacoor Association of Manitoba, a group of people with roots in his hometown of Bacoor, he talked about metaphors of bayanihan and in particular the halo-halo that the group served each year at the Filipino Street Festival:

Halo-halo literally means ‘mix-mix.’ It’s a fruit parfait with ice in it and milk. And it can have some sweet red beans. It will have some jackfruit, and palm nuts, and corn in it. It will have what’s called ube (purple yam) in it, and some shaved ice. Then you put milk on it, and a little bit of sugar and maybe some ice cream and it’s really, really good. Halo-halo for me symbolizes the entirety of the Philippines. It’s really a mix of languages, a mix of cultures, a mix of foods. ... It reflects the cosmopolitan nature of Filipino culture.

Tom Colina

Tom Colina (b 1964) grew up in the City of Marikina, Rizal Province, just outside Metro Manila. His mother stayed home with the children, while his father worked as an auto mechanic at the US Naval base in Guam:

I hardly saw my father growing up. Like many Filipinos overseas at the time, he worked and then sent money home. One of the main reasons my dad was really keen on getting out was that during that period of time Marcos had instituted martial law. ... As a child, I recall that martial law involved the rationing of food, as well as instituting curfews. This was done so Marcos could control the population. Once, when my dad was visiting with us, he was caught out after curfew, and he spent an evening in jail for not being in the house at a certain time. That is probably a pivotal event in his decision to leave the country.

Rolando Yorobe, his mother’s cousin, sponsored Tom’s father Penticostes to come to Brandon, Manitoba in 1975. Penticostes in turn sponsored his family. In July, 1976, Tom, and his mother and sisters arrived. At the time, there were four other families living in Brandon and perhaps 20 Filipinos in total. [8] As the chart “Brandon’s Filipino Migration” shows, the small community had grown through chain migration, beginning in 1962.

Arthur Conde arrived in Brandon in 1962, practised medicine in the city for a year, sponsored relatives, and then migrated to Texas. Children from the five families joined Catholic youth groups and their parents socialized with the broader community at church events. But aside from that, Brandon’s early small Filipino community members didn’t belong to service organizations such as the Shriners, Lion’s Club or Freemasons. Work and family took up most of their time. The five families were spread out throughout the City of Brandon but got together frequently for potluck dinners and other gatherings.

Diagram of Filipino migration to Brandon, created by Cezar Gonzales and Penticostes Colina.

Tom excelled at Brandon’s Neelin High School, attended Brandon University and then in 1985 entered the dentistry program at the University of Manitoba. To finance his education, he enlisted and became the sole Filipino in the Canadian Forces Dental Officer Training Program. The military paid for him to go to school and in return he worked for them during the summers. While working in Ottawa, Tom met his wife Sharon, who coincidentally was also from Brandon. They moved to Winnipeg to be near family. Having served his time in the military, Tom was now free to go into private practice. He was the first Filipino graduate in dentistry from the University of Manitoba and the first Filipino to open a dental practice in Winnipeg. [9] Within a year, Tom was invited to join the Winnipeg chapter of the Order of the Knights of Rizal, an international fraternal organization based in the Philippines. He remembers:

That same year, the Knights of Rizal had an international assembly. These international assemblies were usually held in bigger cities, but the Manitoba doctors in the Knights of Rizal—Dr. Guzman, Dr. Pagtakhan, Dr. Padua, Dr. Narvis, Dr. Malabanan and Dr. Violago—had managed to bring everything together, and all these Knights from around the world had converged in the city. So, I was initiated during the assembly. It was a big event.

Tom has held various leadership positions in the Knights of Rizal and today he is the area commander for Western Canada. The Knights carry out projects to help youth, seniors and other community members. Since 1997, for example, they have fundraised to provide annual scholarships to promising Grade 12 Filipino students: “We provide an evening of celebration for them on December 30, the anniversary of Rizal’s execution. We hand them a prize. It also reminds them of José Rizal’s high regard for education.”

Through the efforts of the Knights and their partner organization, the Ladies of the Knights of Rizal, 21 June 2014 marked the opening of Dr. José Rizal Park in northwest Winnipeg where a monument was unveiled paying tribute to this Filipino hero who has inspired generations to fight for social justice. [10]

The Honourable Florfina Marcelino

The Honourable Florfina (Flor) Marcelino (b 1951) was born in Metro Manila, Philippines. Her father was an ordained minister. Her mother had not been formally educated because she was female, but later learned to read and write from her husband. Flor’s father was a formative figure in her life. [11] He died when she was 10 years old. “His last instruction to my mother was to ensure that all his children obtained education.”

Flor graduated with high honours from the University of the Philippines, married Orli Marcelino in the late 1970s and in 1980, Orli’s brother Ted Marcelino, now a Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, migrated to Canada. He sponsored Flor, Orli, and their two children a few years later. They arrived in Winnipeg in the summer of 1982:

Winnipeg was a quiet place with very few inhabitants. I liked that there was hardly any traffic congestion on the streets and not too many tall buildings. I noticed right away the warmth and friendliness of people—from our [Filipino] community and the mainstream community as well.

Flor and Orli would have another two children in Winnipeg. She immediately found a job as a secretary at a garment factory. Later, she was employed as a support staff member at Red River College for 17 years. And in 1996, Flor and Orli started The Philippine Times, a newspaper they operated as publishers and editors for 12 years. For years, Flor had been an unofficial resource person for new immigrants trying to access government services. Guided by Protestant Christian religious values, and a deep sense of bayanihan, Flor helped newcomers find housing and jobs and to apply for health care. She also helped them network: “Within Filipino society, people are considered to be friends and relatives, as uncle, auntie, brother, sister, father, mother, older brother, older sister, which helps in creating big networks. When newcomers arrive we introduce them to our network.”

Flor had noticed that most Filipinos arriving in Manitoba were highly qualified workers who were often under-employed. Engineers or lawyers, for instance, could not work in Canada in their chosen professions until they received accreditation. For newly migrated Filipinos who needed to support family in Canada and in the Philippines, accreditation and bridge courses were expensive and time-consuming. While some Filipinos managed to juggle school and work, many settled for entry-level jobs that fell short of their aspirations.

The fall 2007 provincial election campaign period was already in its second week when NDP party officials approached Flor and asked her to be their candidate in Winnipeg’s Logan riding. Many people in the Filipino community had run for political office and failed. Flor knew that she would need a strong base of support and volunteers to be elected. She asked her pastor for advice and he encouraged her to run.

Flor was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the NDP and two years later she joined the cabinet, where she remains today as the minister responsible for Multiculturalism and Literacy. She was the first woman of colour to be elected to Manitoba’s legislature. In 2013, Orli became the Honourary Consul General for the Manitoba Philippine community. [12]

I asked Flor what makes Filipinos so resilient in Manitoba: “It doesn’t take much to make Filipinos happy. An attitude of balaha na, or come what may, is very much in the Filipino psyche. I grew up very poor. As a child, I laughed a lot and enjoyed the company of friends. We would meet at the church, and would have a party with just tea and bread. As we became teenagers, we named our group The Organization of the Starved. When I return to the Philippines we still get together and reminisce about those years. We are fascinated by how we survived. Over time, I have learned to take things in stride, and have aimed to be a better person. I am not anchored by material things. Happiness comes through serving others.”

Diwa Marcelino

Diwa Marcelino was born on 2 October 1981 and migrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1982 when he was 8 months old. He’s the son of Flor and Orlando Marcelino, and today, Diwa is program coordinator for Migrante Manitoba, which is an unpaid position. He works at a courier company in the evenings to make a living and to support his volunteer activism/case work during the day.

More than a decade ago Diwa’s goal had been to be a chief executive officer. But while living in Toronto he attended a human rights event: “I heard about the extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines. That was my introduction to activist life in Toronto and where I began learning about the plight of migrant workers—mostly live-in caregivers.” In 2009 Diwa returned to Winnipeg.

Migrante was formed in 1996 in response to the execution of a Filipina domestic worker in Singapore. In 2010, the Migrante Canada chapter formed with 19 affiliated organizations. Diwa adds:

Migrante Manitoba is one of the affiliated organizations with Migrante Canada. Most of the organizations that make up Migrante Canada started decades before under different names but affiliated with Migrante Canada when the alliance formed. UFCW provides different migrant worker programming and has developed a partnership with Migrante Manitoba. We have an office located in the UFCW Training Centre donated by them.

Migrante Manitoba’s branch has a crew of about 20 volunteers and funds its operating costs through a nominal membership fee per month of 10 dollars and fundraising activities that include educational film nights. Volunteer social workers reach out to Manitoba’s most vulnerable newcomers, supported by the bayanihan spirit of Filipinos who give generously to the organization:

While we do encounter migrant workers experiencing severe issues with employers (death threats, injury, wrongful dismissal, fraud, etc.), many of the problems migrant workers face are associated with the systemic issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program such as difficulties accessing pathways to permanent residence and labour mobility issues. It’s important that our organization exists because migrant workers themselves feel that they can’t speak to their employers, or even speak to politicians, or find an advocate or lobby government officials ... to make changes because they are fearful, because their status is sort of precarious and they, I guess they fear reprisal, especially from their employer, a reprisal constantly from the government if they make too much noise for their situation. If the desperation level wasn’t as high, then they would probably assert their rights, or they would feel fine not sending remittances to their family for a month or two while they looked for another job, but the situation is terrible in the Philippines. They can’t afford to miss a paycheque. Laws in Manitoba, like Worker Recruitment and Protection Act (WRAPA), make it easier for migrant workers by regulating/monitoring employers and placement agencies.. Also, we have fairly strong collective bargaining laws here in Winnipeg. So most of the workers here are registered with unions and that helps a lot.

Jorie Sawatsky

The eighth of nine children, Jorie Sawatsky (b 1969) grew up in the Philippines’ second-largest city, Cebu. She graduated from the University of Cebu with a degree in secretarial administration and then worked in sales. Jorie’s best friend’s sister had married a Canadian and this is how she came to know about Canada. In 1995 she arrived as a pen pal bride:

So, it was just through a friend that got married, a Canadian as well, and it’s just random that she sent names to me, and it was just for fun. Then I start writing to people, and then it was just that ... I landed in Winnipeg. I married a person who was a miner...and then we moved to a place where he worked. And then it didn’t take long—our marriage wasn’t really that great, because ... after I had a child, I found out it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him that I had known as a pen pal. He was a different person. It changed the whole story.

By 2001, Jorie and her husband had separated for the final time. She was a new immigrant and single mother without a job, virtually alone. Everything she had hoped and planned for didn’t happen: “The crisis line was actually the first thing that helped me, to guide me through, to put my head together and decide what to do next.”

Jorie enrolled at Red River College and found a job in a pharmaceutical company. It was strenuous work and after two years she quit. Not knowing where to turn, Jorie called a couple she had met who lived in Steinbach. They invited her to come and live with them. “I lived with them for a month. They helped me find an apartment, and because I didn’t have a job, they helped me find my way with social assistance and other things until I figured out what I was going to do with my life.”

Jorie became friends with the two other Filipinos in Steinbach. One of them worked at the local newspaper and the other worked in a pharmaceutical company. Life was much easier in Steinbach: “Even though I didn’t know anybody, even though I was an immigrant with different colour skin, I found work, made friends easily and found good childcare for my son.”

Then, in 2005 Jorie was offered a job with Sun Life Assurance by an insurance advisor who noticed her talent as a Mary Kay cosmetics salesperson. Since at least the 1930s, Sun Life has recruited Asians to sell insurance to co-ethnics. [13] Insurance agents travel throughout the province, sharing conversation, coffee and meals with co-ethnics who buy life insurance from them. [14]

Today, Jorie is an insurance advisor to a mostly Filipino clientele, not only in Steinbach but also in Killarney, Brandon, Winnipeg and towns in between. She travels to meet with clients and their friends mostly in the summer months, when driving conditions are better: “They phone me, ‘Can you come over? I have friends who need insurance,’ and they give me a bedroom. They give me a nice bed to sleep. They cook food for me while I’m doing my sales. The next day I’ll go home, and I don’t even stay in a motel.”

In 2006, Jorie and others started the Southeastman Filipino Association to provide events for newcomers in the region, such as summer picnics and a Christmas party. Jorie, a former Catholic, is also passionate about her immigrant ministry work at Steinbach’s Southland Church. When Filipinos arrive in the community, she and a few others visit them with a package of food to welcome them and let them know they are there to help. Her strong faith, resilience and salvation through community relationships were constant themes in the interview:

Relationships are key with Filipinos because if they move to a place where they don’t have friends, or connections with the same Filipino people, it will be tough for them. They feel so alone. That’s why welcoming newcomers, introducing yourself as a Filipino, is a big thing. When you ask Filipinos, it’s mostly because of friends and family that they stay. In my family we were taught that you treat the visitor well. If someone sleeps over, you will give them the best—bed, blanket, your best everything. This is part of hospitality in Filipino culture.

Joan Duhaylungsod

Joan Duhaylungsod (b 1987) grew up with two older brothers in a Santa Cruz barangay, in the province of Davao del Sur. Her father was a firefighter and her mother a health statistician. A bright and hardworking student, Joan graduated with a nursing degree from San Pedro College. She worked for almost two years at Davao del Sur Provincial Hospital before she was recruited by a Manitoba government team in 2008. They selected 2,000 registered nurses, and then interviewed, tested and short-listed 1,000 of them. Ultimately, 130 were chosen to come to Manitoba. Joan was one of two nurses assigned to work in Pilot Mound, Manitoba. In 2009, she became the first one in her family to leave the Philippines: “I did not really have any idea about Canada, what the way of life is. I just knew it was cold, but not really this cold. ... When we arrived in Pilot Mound, I learned there were only 800 people. That was one block in my former city. But it was a really good change. The people were so warm.”

In December 2009, Joan and the other 129 nurses chosen to come to Manitoba were invited to Manitoba’s Legislative Building, where they were thanked for their contribution to the province. Joan, who had been involved in student politics in high school and university, was made spokesperson of the group. The nurses have remained close ever since, even though they are spread around the province.

Religious involvements that were available to others in Manitoba were not possible for Joan in Pilot Mound’s small community. The region’s priest travelled from town to town each week and so Joan who was accustomed to attending church weekly went to an online church to hear the Gospel. Her faith wasn’t shaken. When her mother was diagnosed with stage-four cancer just a year after she arrived, she subscribed to the Filipino channel and watched the Eucharist celebration from her living room.

Aside from Joan and her co-worker, there was only one other Filipino in the region. She worked at the same care home but lived in Manitou, a 20-minute drive away by car. She had met her husband fifteen years prior through an advertisement she saw in a Philippines newspaper. Eventually, she came to Canada as a pen-pal bride. Life was quiet but comfortable in Pilot Mound and after three years, Joan, who was still in her early twenties and unmarried, wanted to challenge herself. She applied and was later hired to work in a Winnipeg hospital. Once she settled in Winnipeg, she got involved in the local Filipino nurses community.

I had a friend who invited me to a Nurses’ Association meeting [in 2012]. I became a member, and the next day I was the President. The current President said, ‘I can’t take this anymore. It’s just so stressful.’... The internationally educated nurses in general are struggling right now because of the new processes set by the College of Registered Nurses in Manitoba. Unlike when I came, applying to work in Canada costs up to $500 just to open a file. Then there is a competency assessment. ... I didn’t go through that. I took the language test, they evaluated my papers, believed I was competent, and then I got to work.

There are roughly 100 members in the Filipino Nurses’ Association of Manitoba. As President of the organization, Joan has written articles in the Filipino Journal, met with politicians to raise the profile of the group, and voiced nurses’ concerns. She also helps nurses who are suspended from their jobs or denied eligibility in Canada. I mentioned to Joan that research participants had been discussing the values of resilience, bayanihan and bahala na in their leadership and integration experiences. Unlike others, Joan thought bahala na was most important in Manitoba:

I would really say being very resilient is what enables Filipinos to cope well with so many struggles. It’s a Filipino characteristic. Migrants are by themselves, but they don’t get depressed. We have this phrase, ‘bahala na Batman.’ It means, ‘Whatever, Batman,’ and so you leave it up to Batman, or you leave it up to God. You give it up to your faith. ... After a calamity like a typhoon, people will still go to church. They will not hate God, they will just pray for help to survive. That’s something that I see in Filipinos, and which I admire, and which I am proud of, too. We cope well, and we know how to handle situations.

Emelinda Pong-Olarte

Emelinda Pong-Olarte (b 1969) is from a poor family with six children. She grew up in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. Her mother had to wake up early each morning to sell flowers, fish, mangoes and even used clothing to earn enough money to put food on the table. Her father was a sales agent who seldom received a commission. Education was important in the family and the six children worked their way through university. Ema graduated with a commerce degree in 1999, after majoring in marketing at Xavier University.

Olartes at Russell. Left to Right: Eme, Jeffrey, Pauline, and Paul Olarte, March 2013.
Source: Eme Olartes

She worked in the field of hotel management in the Philippines, but had heard good things about Canada and a better life for her children. She applied to come to Canada. Two years later, in 2010, Eme came to work at the Russell Inn in Manitoba. In 2012, Eme became a permanent resident and then applied to sponsor her husband, son and daughter. In March 2013, they arrived, and now the family lives in a new house in Russell.

Today, Eme is Russell Inn’s front-desk manager and a Filipino community leader in the town. In our email correspondence and telephone conversations, Eme recounted her church involvements and community fundraising efforts. To her, the most important value seemed to be a spirit of bayanihan:

My first participation in community events was the Beef & Barley, a one-week Russell celebration in 2010. Part of the celebrationwas to showcase traditions and culture. ... During the celebration,we served our famous delicacies and organized dancers to perform. Every time there was an activity in our community, I attended the meetings and disseminated the information to my Filipino colleagues. We raised funds for the typhoon victims back in the Philippines. ... It was an overwhelming feeling to see how the people in Russell and nearby towns came to give their support and extended their prayers to our countrymen.


The structures and processes that led to Filipino migration, settlement, belonging and leadership in Manitoba are unique. Little more than 50 years after the first wave of migration, elements of Filipino culture are increasingly woven into life in the province. Filipino migrants continue to see and pursue opportunity in Manitoba. Countrymen who have come before them seem to hold out an elastic welcoming net of bayanihan, both softening landings and providing a springboard to successful integration for many but not all. During my research, I was unable to interview Manitoba’s temporary Filipino workers. Those with whom I spoke briefly were too fearful of retribution by their employers or co-workers. They lived with uncertain futures and bridges to permanent Canadian residency and employment.

For the Filipinos I spoke with, the socio-cultural values of “resiliency like bamboo,” “bahala na” and, particularly, the “bayanihan spirit,” coupled with a deep Christian faith, have enabled them to overcome obstacles, become rooted, give back to broader society, and especially the community’s most vulnerable foreign workers. Faith, or a hopeful religious affect, in a country where more than 23 million are homeless, connects people to horizons of new beginnings and possibilities, including differently understood configurations of family life and work. For centuries, family ties have been flexible and maintained as mothers and fathers have sought work in distant provinces, and across continents. Individual migrants have been joined by chains of others and together diaspora Filipinos have persevered and often prospered because of this religious affect and their cultivated connections through church and associations. In the process they have become channels for cultural, social, political and religious change transformation back home in the Philippines. It is impossible to consider religion in the Philippines without due consideration to the colonial, cultural, capitalist and Christian forces that have shaped Filipino conceptions of heaven, home and host nation. Guided by compassion for kin and community, Filipinos have integrated through family ties, religion and work, as well as affiliation and service to professional and other networks. They have revitalized Christianity and transformed Manitoba’s religious terrain.

While they give Canada undivided loyalty, Filipino attachment to birthplace is strong. This is displayed through yearly festivals, formal costume, the annual celebration of Philippine Independence Day, the singing of the Philippine National Anthem and regular vacations to the Philippines. To many research participants, the multiculturalism policy that promotes Philippine Independence week and Folklorama is a sacred part of Canadian heritage. [15] It offers ways to act out the bayanihan spirit uniting family and linking kin to community.

Like other Asian immigrants, Filipinos have come to the province and lived in the shadows of discrimination as recruited migrants, independent applicants, and via chain migration through family ties and mutual support networks. Current migrants continue to believe that Canada offers a brighter future for themselves and their families, including opportunities to shape Canada’s socio-economic and political fabric. Filipino culture is shifting Manitobans’ historical understanding of what it means to be Asian. Manitoba’s Wow! Mabuhay celebrates Filipino accomplishments and Migrante Manitoba shows the limits of Canada’s welcoming net.


1. Evelyn Hu DeHart, “The Fujianese Community of Spanish Manila,” ISSCO, June 2011, Hong Kong. See also Rudy P. Guevarra, “Filipinos in Nueva Espana: Filipino-Mexican Relations, Mestizaje, and Identity in Colonial and Contemporary Mexico,” Journal of Asian American Studies, 14. 3, October 2011: 389–416.

2. See Alison Marshall, “Bayanihan and Belonging, Part 1Manitoba History, vol. 76 (2014).

3. The earliest Filipino migrants to Dauphin, Manitoba, were nurses. See James Bejar, “Filipino Nurses in Rural Manitoba: 1965–1970.” MA Thesis, Ryerson University, 2006.

4. I interviewed Rey Pagtakhan on 10 March 2014, and subsequently by email multiple times in April 2014. In this section, I draw on interview materials as well as documents shared with me from Rey’s personal archive and my interactions and observations as a director of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre. See also Lesley Hughes, We Chose Canada: Eleven Profiles from Manitoba’s Mosaic. Teulon, MB: Aivilo Press, pp. 76–87.

5. For a time Rey was a board member of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, and today his son sits on the board.

6. Jean Guiang, interview, 20 March 2014. See also Pinay on the Prairies, p. 167; and The First Filipino Migrants in Manitoba (1959-1975), p. 75.

7. Dorothy Choy was the wife of Winnipeg’s Chinese United Church Minister, Reverend Samuel Choo, and May Yoh was Brandon University’s first female Chinese professor.

8. The four other families in Brandon were those of Teddy and Lito Aytona, Rolando and Adoracion Yorobe, Cezar and Rosalinda Gonzales, and Ric and Carmen Paggao.

9. Angel Visarra was a dentist trained in the Philippines who worked for Indian Affairs as a dentist in Northern Canadian communities.

10. “Memorializing a Hero: Local Group Working toward establishing Dr. José Rizal Park” The Canstar Times, 11 November 2013. Accessed 14 April 2014.

11. 151284935.html?&utm_source=wfp&utm_medium=nextArticleDirect&utm_campaign=/local.


13. 1930s Sun Life Agent, Frank Chan, is discussed in Marshall, Cultivating Connections, Chapter 3.

14. Welcome to the Manitoba West Financial Centre Advisors. Accessed 11 April 2014. Telephone conversation, Connie Couvier, 11 April 2014.

15. Some criticize multiculturalism for its creation of policies and programs that reward power brokers and fix cultural difference. See for instance, Kenan Malik, Multiculturalism and Its Discontents. London: Seagull, 2014.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 5 April 2020

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