Pinoy-Canadian students get on Parliament Hill
Pinoy-Canadian students get on Parliament Hill
By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter
OTTAWA (02/26/2019) — In April 2018, political science student Lhori Webster sat with fellow students in Toronto with the hope that other Filipino youth succeed in a variety of professional fields.
Out of those conversations and the backing of their newly-established FILSAUO, or Filipino Students Association of the University of Ottawa, came Pinoys on Parliament (PoP). More than ninety students from “all walks of Canada” either flew in or hit the road to a two-day leadership conference during the weekend of February 23rd at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa.
To bring as many young people together, Webster said they seek pathways to help each other succeed in different fields of work, including representation in government; thus, the political leaning to the event. Thought leaders such as Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, the first Filipino elected to Canada’s House of Commons; Flor Marcelino, first woman of colour member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly; and Amelita Armit, former Health Canada’s Assistant Deputy Minister were among the speakers who touched on their experiences working in the Canadian parliament. With them were academicians both from McGill University — Vanier scholar and social work doctoral student Monica Batac, and Associate Professor Eric Kuhonta of the Department of Political Science, who moderated the first panel.
The Filipino community has a large minority population across Canada. According to the 2016 federal census, Tagalog is the fastest growing non-official spoken language in Canada — after English and French — and more than 851,000 people identify as Filipino. However, it hasn’t traditionally had the proportional number of elected officials to represent in government in the same manner as other major ethnic groups in Canada.
As Marko de Guzman, political science student, explained the issue still haunts the community. For de Guzman, oraganizing PoP is “to recognize our spectres of (in)visibility, disturb it, and contemplate new collective spaces for our fellow youth to become change-makers and champions for their own respective community.”
“We really wanted to focus not only on politics but also on a diverse array of fields so Filipinos can see themselves wherever field they wanted to go into or whatever they’re studying,” said Webster. “To know that they can reach out to leaders and mentors and to have somebody that shares a cultural and heritage background …they can see themselves reflected in the institutions.”
Ottawa-based artist and educator Melanie Yugo also brought some halo-halo flavour as the inaugural PoP artist-in-residence. Through a collage workshop, Yugo invited students to illustrate the popular Filipino dessert as a point of discussion on the diverse identities of the participants aged 17 to 34. Some even touched on how Filipinos are seen and what they expect out of the conference theme “Lift While You Climb.”
“We should celebrate our own and each other’s successes,” remarked public relations professional Abby Albino, who was part of the second panel on navigating diverse industries. With her were other distinctive panelists including celebrated video content creator Elle Mills, entrepreneur Michael Siervo, and clinic operator Kris Salumbides. They shared their experiences as the audience tuned into the panel moderated by TV show host Melissa Grelo. “If there is a Filipino woman who wants to enter my industry, it is my goal to find her, empower her, and raise her up with me,” said Grelo taking on the opportunities to share her identity and to change stereotypes of Filipinas.
Aside from the talks, PoP participants went on a tour inside the buildings that house the Canadian Parliament. The students were welcomed inside the Visitor Welcome Centre, the first new building to be constructed on The Hill in over 100 years as the Centre Block are off-limits to the general public for a decade-long renovation.
Down the hill, the students also visited the new facility of the Philippine Embassy in Canada at 30 Murray Street where a briefing was led by Consul Greg Marie Mariño fielding issues on overseas voting, dual citizenship, and other consular matters and Canada-Philippine relations. The Saturday activities were capped with an open-mic night as students broke out in heartily singing of Filipino and English medley of sounds.
For some youth the conference was profuse with positive vibes.
Mentorship is seen as key to solicit leaders and role models, regardless of geographical distance, and to build linkages across the country of young Filipino-Canadian leaders.
Julia Miraflores, communications student and one of the organizers, expressed hope that participants will be able to bring the things they learned in the conference back to their own local areas.
“It’s really helped us connect and network with other students, young Filipino students,” said Miraflores.
“Forging bonds across the country with our peers is what it’s all about,” said participant Kristian Pacpaco, chemical engineering student.