Parliament adopts June as Filipino Heritage Month

Community News & Features Nov 9, 2018 at 6:02 pm
Filipino community celebrating with the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 30. (Photo courtesy of Gary Anandasangaree)

Filipino community celebrating with the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 30. (Photo courtesy of Gary Anandasangaree)

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

They came by the busload to witness the official announcement in Ottawa and to express appreciation of the Filipino community, celebrating after the passage of Motion 155.

Several groups, from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, joined the receptions at the Parliament Hill with dignitaries that include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and MP Salma Zahid, who introduced Private Members’ Motion 155, or M-155. The motion passed third and final reading in the House of Commons on October 30. The vote was unanimous.

Every June will be Filipino Heritage Month throughout Canada.

Seated with the beaming audience, Elle Galupo, 23, was teary-eyed at that moment she heard the announcement. In some ways, she said, the move would bridge better relations between Filipinos and other multicultural communities.

“The government has grants for heritage months recognized by Parliament, so that increases our capacity to organize more activities,” Galupo said, adding that in other ways it’s still a long way to go towards a more equitable and just society.

“I felt joy that my eyes were brimming with tears, because I was thinking back at the sacrifices my own mother who was once a nanny and she was looked down upon by her employer,” she said. “I was thinking back when I first came to Canada and resenting the fact that I was not born here. I would’ve had an easier time adjusting to the culture.”

MPs Raj Saini, Chandra Arya, Marco Mendicino, Ruby Sahota,  Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Salma Zahid, Jean Yip, Francesco Sorbara, Ali Ehsassi

MPs Raj Saini, Chandra Arya, Marco Mendicino, Ruby Sahota,
Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Salma Zahid, Jean Yip, Francesco Sorbara, Ali Ehsassi

Setting the Motion

The text of M-155 says the Canadian government “should recognize the contributions that Filipino-Canadians have made to Canadian society, the richness of the Filipino language and culture, and the importance of reflecting upon Filipino heritage for future generations by declaring June, every year, Filipino Heritage Month.”

It is important to note that a motion is different from a bill, which, if approved by the Parliament and the Senate, is enacted as a law of the land.

According to the the office of Salma Zahid, heritage month motions are not usually made into law. “This is the case for Islamic Heritage Month, Tamil Heritage Month, and most others. A law would have no real different effect, other than taking much longer to pass through Parliament,” wrote Zahid’s executive assistant Jeff Jedras in an email.

“Our next step is to work with the Filipino communities across Canada to support their efforts to make this real next June with celebrations of the first Filipino Heritage Month from coast to coast to coast. We want it to be a real community-led effort to make it a great celebration.”

From left:   MP Salma  Zahid, Aguido de la Cruz, Faye  Arellano, MP Bill Blair, Joy and Tony San Juan at the reception on the passage of Motion 155. (Photo: Suzy Llanera).

From left: MP Salma
Zahid, Aguido de la Cruz, Faye Arellano, MP Bill Blair, Joy and Tony San Juan at the reception on the passage of Motion 155.
(Photo: Suzy Llanera).

‘Politics of recognition’

Elsewhere in Canada, The Philippine Reporter had a chance to ask some people their reactions. Phebe Ferrer, student at the University of British Columbia, said she is remaining skeptical while happy about this ritual-laden process that “Filipinos are rendered visible.”

“However then this brings up the question, did we need this to be visible? Why did we need this? Or more precisely, who among the community wanted and/or needed this? I’m also concerned that this may also take on the flaws in the politics of recognition,” Ferrer said.

Moreover, Ferrer, whose major is in International Relations, pointed out that Filipino Heritage Month coincides with Indigenous Heritage Month that for her “feels like we’re competing for recognition.”

Ted Alcuitas, editor and publisher of Vancouver’s Philippine-Canadian News, also noted while it is good to be recognized, it is up to the Filipino community to bring forward historical and cultural values. “With respect to those who worked for this, I hope it will not be just another ‘song and dance’ for the politicians who are gloating to be ‘seen’ in this growing political constituency,” he said.

For Jocelyn Curteanu, Whitehorse’s first Filipina city councillor, the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report raised more awareness among the Filipinos in the western arctic region that bore actions to improve relations with the indigenous people in Canada.

“In the process, it has been noted that the First Nations culture bears many similarities to the Filipino culture in terms of their family values, their respect for elders, their sense of community and their strong faith and resilience. Yukon also has a number of Filipinos married into First Nations families and living in rural communities,” she wrote in an email.

Curteanu added that the rapid influx of immigrants to Yukon consequently created “apprehension” for some First Nations people. In response, projects were carried out like “Tlingipino Bingo” interaction through storytelling and songs have opened up channels of communication between Tlingit people and Filipino migrants in northern Canada.

Pinays in the Prairies

In the Canadian Prairies, similar efforts for cultural exchange have also heightened in the past year. A Filipino bilingual elementary school program has been proposed in Seven Oaks Division in Winnipeg.

The program is registering kindergarten to third-grade students with a curriculum split between English and Filipino languages. Organizer Cory Juan, a former teacher and school trustee, notes the program would start by the beginning of the next school year.

The curriculum will be 40 percent in Filipino, and 60 percent in English. Social studies will focus on Philippine history, heritage and culture.

Meanwhile, the Filipino Heritage School in Saskatoon continues to act on its mandate in “Filipino language preservation by offering Tagalog classes to children ages 5 to 13” enrolled in their program, which has been operational since 2006.

Felicitas Santos-Vargas, who teaches at the school, quips that because of colonial influence, many words in Filipino are more commonly spoken in English; for example, the word “proud” is quite a challenge to translate to some.

“It’s not heard or said often, but there is a direct translation (for the phrase),” she said. “Ipinagmamalaki kita.”

Plans ahead

“This (Parliamentary gesture) will inspire every Filipino knowing their resiliency to be proud and continue showcasing the rich culture and traditions away from home,” said Jun Cacayuran, president of Town of Banff’s Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains or FORM.

“FORM is planning to celebrate this historic event this coming year in collaboration with [other] Filipino community groups in this part of Alberta,” he said.

Prior to M-155, June was already designated Filipino Heritage Month annually in in the province of Alberta, in the cities of Montreal and Toronto, and by the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Philippine Ambassador to Canada Petronila Garcia announced that June 2019 celebrations will coincide with the commemoration of the 70th year of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

According to the Philippine Embassy’s press release, Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen spoke at the receptions on behalf of the federal government. Hussen assured the Filipino-Canadian community that a pathway towards permanent residency will always be made available to Filipino immigrants, it said.

There are more than 900,000 Filipinos in Canada, the second largest figure after the Filipino diaspora in the United States, it added.