NOTEBOOK: Reporter’s 20th year sees awakening of Toronto Filipino youth

Community Opinion & Analysis Mar 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

IT WAS LONG in coming. I’m not talking about the 20th anniversary of The Philippine Reporter, which is this month of March 2009. I’m talking about the awakening of the Filipino youth in Toronto as indicated by what transpired in the State of the Filipino Union (SOFU) forum last Thursday, Feb. 26, at William Doo Auditorium, University of Toronto.

The event was organized to serve as a dialogue between the youth and some of their elder community leaders to probe the important issues and concerns the youth have found disturbing. Issues like the fragmented state of the community, the gap between the newcomer youth (FOBs) and the “bacons” (Canada -born youth), the lack of a cultural identity among the youth and their alienation from the mainstream Canadian youth.

For sure, most of these issues have been raised and discussed among a few youth and student groups in Toronto since a few years back. But the SOFU event extended the sense of concern to youth of diverse political, cultural, student and religious groups and persuasions.

The panelists consisted of 17 youth and students and 16 elder community leaders and personalities, including Consul General Alejandro Mosquera. Each one was given two and a half minutes to articulate his or her issues of concern and experiences regarding the Filipino community, racism, cultural identity, ethnic youth alienation from the mainstream society, and similar topics.

Myk Miranda, one of the organizers, set the tone with a fiery speech presenting the predicament of the Filipino youth who feel neither Filipino nor Canadian. His obviously angry tone and his profound longing for an explanation to the Toronto Filipino youth’s strong sense of cultural alienation could be a jarring wake up call to the older generation present in the forum. At one point he said his elders imitate white people and the youth, in a form of reaction, imitate black people. He said it’s not easy to be a Filipino in Canada.

But he expressed hope that from that day on, with the dialogue that’s being started between the youth and their parents’ generation, all these would start to change.

The youth panelists, most of whom come from cultural groups and professions, a few from migrant support groups and student associations, spoke with candor along the same themes. A few said they were once ashamed to be Filipino but later became proud of it when they understood more about their culture and heritage.

For the elders who were present, especially those who were hearing this for the first time, it was an experience totally different from the community events they’re used to, where speakers mouth motherhood statements about being Filipino, unity in the community, charity and love for everything Filipino, and integration to Canada, their adopted country, and helping the poor in their beloved home country.

As a caveat, many Filipino associations and groups have genuinely and generously helped the poor and victims of disasters in the Philippines and many are doing it on their own personal initiative. But these new voices from our youth bring a new insight into the reality of immigrants’ lives in a foreign land.

It is not only about immigrants having good jobs and prospering in the new country, and many or even the majority do not even experience this. It is not only about sending kids to good schools, and these so-called good schools do not even treat our youth equally with Canada born white youth.

Now it is more about whether our youth feel accepted in society given the color of their skin, their cultural background, their accent, the food that they eat and their initial shyness because English is not their first language. It is about our youth understanding their history and feeling good about their cultural identity so that they can feel proud about it while relating with the youth of other backgrounds.
It is a tremendous responsibility for the parents and the elders in our community to understand the sense of cultural disorientation among our youth. It could be difficult for them to profoundly feel what the youth are saying since the elder generation grew up in the Philippines and there’s no mistaking their identity. In fact, maybe their cultural arteries (or attitudes) have hardened so much, many of them would not attempt to understand or tolerate other cultures. But since the youth have spoken, and in a passionate and organized manner at that, they cannot say now or in the future that they have not been forewarned.

On other hand, maybe there is also a need for our elder generation to start some kind of a cultural and historical education to be able to correctly orient our youth. If you look at most of the major events in our community, you will see how the leaders see our culture and our history. I couldn’t forget a Filipino parade where one wore a Gen. MacArthur costume beaming the victory sign reminiscent of the “liberation” of the Philippines by the Americans. And the independence day festival where a huge mural portraying the Christianization of the Philippines dominated the stage. Need we say more?