Learned Fil-Can community gathers for landmark symposium

Community News & Features Oct 30, 2009 at 3:16 pm
Youth Panel: Conely de Leon, Christine Balmes, Maureen Mendoza, John Paul Catungal.

Youth Panel: Conely de Leon, Christine Balmes, Maureen Mendoza, John Paul Catungal.

NORA ANGELES, University of British Columbia

NORA ANGELES, University of British Columbia

Friday October 23, 2009 was a watershed day for Filipino-Canadian research. The near capacity crowd of Filipinos and others participated in the National Symposium at the University of Toronto called “Spectres of In/Visibility: Filipina/o Lives in Canada.”

The daylong conference was the first of its kind in terms of the scope of issues discussed and the academic representation. The three panels covered “Gender, Migration, and Citizenship,” “Representation and Its Discontent,” and “Youth Spaces and Subjectivities.”

Roland Sintos Coloma of U of T.

Roland Sintos Coloma of U of T.

The speakers were predominantly Filipina/o professors or PhD candidates. Established academics, the next generation of academe, and community members presented papers, photos, a short film, artwork, and spoken word to the predominantly Filipina/o audience of around 150 people throughout the day.
The Symposium fittingly began and ended with one of its initiators, Prof. Roland Sintos Coloma, of the University of Toronto (U of T). The conference’s origin is as a dream of a group called Kritical Kolectibo, started by him and Prof. Bonnie McElhinny, also of the U of T. The group’s main objective is to develop the field of Filipino studies.

ALEX FELIPE

ALEX FELIPE

Kim Abis and Catherine M. Febria were thanked as the main student facilitators. Prof. Sintos Coloma then emphasized community participation stating academia is only relevant if it is joined with the community. Indeed, nearly all of the thankful audience members who spoke or asked questions identified themselves as members of some kind of community group. A delicious Filipino lunch and merienda was cooked and served by volunteers from the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario (PWC).

Josephine Eric of Migrant Workers Family Resource Centre, in Hamilton, Ontario.

Josephine Eric of Migrant Workers Family Resource Centre, in Hamilton, Ontario.

The importance of story telling was repeated several times at “Spectres of In/Visibility.” Telling one’s story was cited as one of the ways Filipinos can move away from the spectre of invisibility to substantial visibility. With this in mind, the full array of voices that spoke at the Symposium is represented in this article.

Participants in the symposium “Spectres of In/Visibility: Filipina/o Lives in Canada”. See page i0 for story.

Participants in the symposium “Spectres of In/Visibility: Filipina/o Lives in Canada”.

Keynote speaker, Prof. Eleanor Ty of Wilfred Laurier University (Laurier), discussed the preconceptions or stereotypes that come into play when you recognize someone as Filipino. Instead of the servile persona, she declared, Filipinos need to highlight and celebrate their successes, for example in leadership, academia, and activism.

In the first panel, Valerie Damasco, discussed her research into the recorded influx of Filipino immigrants to Canada in the 1960s and the policies involved. Lisa Davidson discussed how the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) is sometimes used as a means for family reunification. She also described the blurring of the distinctions between a domestic helper (a.k.a. yaya) and a domestic worker.
Ethel Tungohan called for LCP workers to act as full political agents. Liwliwa Rose Ann Torres spoke of working at a centre helping women escape oppression. But being overworked and under-paid herself, she came to realize she was one of those women. The discussant, Prof. Leonora C. Angeles of the University of British Columbia (UBC), addressed each of the papers. She also spoke to the title of the Symposium, stating Filipinos are invisible as professionals, but are visible in domestic-like roles in the service sector, and this needs to change.

A STUDENT of York U

A STUDENT of York U

The moderator for the second panel, called “Representation and Its Discontent,” was Celia Correa, whose social-realist artworks depicting the plight of migrants were on display. The “human zoo setting” of the around 1200 Filipinos living on a reserve on display at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis was chronicled by Prof. McElhinny. She stressed the juxtaposition of ‘civilization’ and ‘savagery’ implicit in the display. The current exhibition at the ROM displaying artifacts from this Fair was criticized for not moving past primitivism also.

Photos of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo and her friends were accompanied by the good-humored telling of her advocacy efforts on lesbian, Filipino-Canadian identity. Librarian, Vernon R. Totanes, publicized his research on the Toronto Public Library’s stock of materials in the “under-represented” Tagalog section.
He showed how collections might not always be strategically placed, for example the small collection at the branch near St. Jamestown.

JEAN MARC DAGS delivers a spoken word piece.

JEAN MARC DAGA delivers a spoken word piece.

Prof. Sintos Coloma criticized the lack of representation of the racism experienced by Asian Canadians in textbooks. He refuted the multicultural ideals cited in the textbooks, and contended the absence of Filipinos in Canadian narratives represents a failure of those ideals.

The panel ended with a short film named after a controversial stance and slogan advocated by some, including the PWC. Scrap the LCP: The Struggle Filipino’s Women’s Liberation in Canada caused a heated debate on the issue. The slogan was criticized and defended, and a call to hear the voices of LCP workers who do not want the entire program removed, rather extensively revised, was raised. The need for drastic changes to the LCP, including landed status for caregivers, was a common call.

The youth of the Filipino-Canadian community were the speakers and theme of the third panel. John Paul C. Catungal examined the societal implications in the high profile, violent deaths of Filipino youth, Mao Jomar Lanot, Jeffrey Reodica, Deeward Ponte, and Charle Dalde. Christine Balmes presented the Balikbayan Renaissance, a term coined in 2003 by a member of the Kapisanan Centre in Toronto, Carmen Leilani de Jesus. The term refers to the recent resurgence of Filipino youth of the Diaspora interested in their cultural roots and the creative ways they are expressing their heritage. Maureen Mendoza recounted her case study on the Filipino student experience at the UBC.

Conely de Leon performed a spoken word piece on the Filipino associations to light and dark skin and was mirrored by a live painting of white words on a black canvas performed alongside her. She followed with highlights from her study surveying youths’ perceived differences between Mississauga and Scarborough peers.

Prof. Jeffrey Aguinaldo of Laurier was the last speaker and acted as a Discussant. He warned, “The language that we use to describe ourselves has costs and benefits… What we do to other Filipinos, we do to ourselves.” Jean Marc Daga ended the night with a spoken word piece. Participants were invited to dinner and drinks at the Duke of York.

This writer points again to the importance of story telling, but another reason all the official speakers are named in this article is because of my story. As a graduate With Distinction from the U of T, with degrees in English and Political Science, I have been captivated by Post-Modern and Post-Colonial Theory before. But it was not until last Friday that I was privileged to hear so many ideas expressed in the context of these theories, with respect to Filipinos and the Filipino Diaspora.

This article may be a lengthy roll call of the Symposium’s speakers, but it captures only mere glimpses to the wealth of ideas shared that day. Like other participants, this writer favors diversity, multiplicity, and more sharing of our accomplishments!