CASJ focus group reveals immigrants’ woes

Community News & Features Oct 16, 2004 at 11:24 am

JOVEL PATRICIO arrived in Canada in year 2000 armed with a college degree and a proven track of record as an outstanding social worker. She had high expectations of Canada including the dream of better job opportunities and better quality of life.

Speaking in front of 25 participants during an focus group session held recently as part of an ongoing program organized by the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), Patricio talked about how her dream of a better life slowly diminished during her initial years as an immigrant. She thought that her diploma and work experience in the Philippines were adequate to achieve a high-salaried job. Little did she know that all her certificates were worth next to nothing in her search of proper employment.

After a few months of remaining unemployed, she got a call from one of the reputable companies in Toronto and was hired as one of the administrative staff. Finally, her faith took off. However, her enthusiasm was suddenly shattered because she experienced the most humiliating job she had ever done in her life. “I was made to clean the toilet!” she recalled. “I could not believe that I was hired as an administrative staff and ended up cleaning toilets. I could not hold back my tears while I was doing the job. It was demoralizing. I know many foreigners thought all Filipinos are poor and would take any job to survive. I am a professional. In fact, I had a good paying job back home in the Philippines. But like everyone else, I tried to look for greener pastures.”

Mortified by her predicament, she added, “I did it at first but my pride could not accept it. After a few days of working, I wrote a letter to the manager and explained the situation. First of all, it was not part of my duty. I felt abused and discriminated. I knew just because I was “colored” I was made to do such menial work. My manager later apologized.”

As a staunch supporter of human rights, Patricio believed that in order to be heard, one has to speak out. Apparently, she voiced out her concerns that helped her earn the respect of the management. She explained: “It is the nature of Filipinos not to be assertive. We are afraid to say No which gives others the opportunity to abuse us.”

Patricio’s predicament is simply one of the hundreds of unfair labor practices that Filipino immigrants encounter in Canada. Her case and many others had supported reports from various human rights organizations and government agencies that indicate that inspite of the Filipino immigrant’s university degree, there is still an extreme degree of discrimination in employment access. Most of the men end up working in janitorial and cleaning services while many women are confined to childcare and household work. As an immigrant and migrant community, Filipinos suffer from the impacts of deskilling, racism and discrimination and the general economic crisis in Canada.

Predominant among the workforce are the domestic helpers who face long working hours, low or no wages, physical and emotional abuse, isolation and low self-esteem.

Butch Galicia is another newcomer who had high hopes to becoming successful in Canada. He arrived a few months ago. Talking about his new found job with amusement, he said “In the Philippines, I was an editor. Here in Canada, I am a janitor. It is humiliating but what can I do? My family and I have to survive.”

Faced with numerous challenges that the newcomers experience each day, they are learning to exercise patience to the utmost. However, patience has already started to wear out for Jinky Quano who arrived January of this year. Coming from an affluent family in Cebu City, she finds her lifestyle in Canada as a constant struggle. Jinky and her husband are already making plans to go back home. It is still very difficult for her to accept that her husband who used to work as one of the engineers in Global Philippines has ended up working as general laborer.

With the dramatic rise in social justice issues and work dissatisfaction being experienced by many Filipinos in Canada, the newcomers in particular, there has been a wide concern among the Filipino community to search for solutions. These issues range from labor-related problems, work discrimination, family disorientation, and unemployment.

The Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), is one community organization which has made noble efforts to help their countrymen. The forum held recently at the Metro Hall in Toronto is in preparation for a one-day national consultation conference with the Filipino community on social justice issues to be held on Saturday, October 30 at Metro Hall.

The focus groups were conducted among various sectors of the community namely, youth, seniors, workers, caregivers, lesbian-gay transgender community, professionals and trade sectors. The whole community is invited to attend this significant event that will serve as an platform to address various social justice issues.

During the interactive forum, all participants shared their views on several issues that affect the immigrants. They were divided into two groups: the ones who came before 1990 and those who arrived after. Nora Angeles, who engaged the participants in a question and answer discussion, was the facilitator. Participants were asked questions like: What were their expectations before they came to Canada? Where do these expectations come from? What problems have they encountered in finding a job in their chosen field of profession? What are the barriers to their success?

Most of the participants expected to have a good lifestyle and income considering Canada is one of the world’s developed economies. Their expectations came from the notion that Canada can help in providing them the right employment opportunities that they did not have in the Philippines. They realized later that Canadian employers require a minimum of one year Canadian experience along with accreditation certificates. But the laborious task in obtaining a proper license and experience hampers their ability to succeed in the labor market.

The forum also cited cases of Filipino Canadians who have been living in Canada for more than 20 years, whose unfulfilled dreams and expectations result in depression, lack of self-esteem and family disintegration. They are aware of the government’s policy of promoting multiculturalism but they feel such policy does not impact their lives since they still have very limited access to opportunities. Some have concluded that there is a glass ceiling for promotions in their workplaces.

The forum wrapped up with Nora Angeles’s positive approach for survival: Either you sink or you swim. She encouraged everyone to be assertive of his or her rights. “Yes, we are different. But we have the numbers (referring to the big population of Filipinos). We have to work as one family. We have to be united in our common cause to achieve the justice that we deserve. Yes, we may have certain differences but we can channel these differences into positive ways through hard work and unity. We have to move on as a community. We have to recognize that we have the power because we are plenty. And because we are plenty we need to be heard.”