Book Launches and Brainstorms
The term Balikbayan
refers to Philippine nationals who reside permanently outside of the Philippines. I was born in Canada and hold only a Canadian passport. The first time I entered the Philippines in 2002, I was stamped entry as a foreigner. I didn’t think twice. According to official immigration status, I am not Filipino. I am Canadian.
The second time I entered the Philippines, three months later, the customs officer asked me the routine questions about the length of stay and purpose of visit. In my accent free English, I told him that I was Filipino-Canadian and had intentions to marry my French-Canadian fiancée in the country of my parental roots. That day, I was stamped in as a Balikbayan
. I think of this event more and more as I delve further into my exploration of the Filipino-Toronto community and as a result into my own identity. I am a Filipino-Canadian in Canada. I am a Canadian in France, Japan and any other country outside of Canada. But I am a Balikbayan
(sometimes) in the Philippines. I like Filipino food, but I am a vegetarian. I can barely speak Tagalog, but my "native speaker" fluency in English has allowed me to teach and travel in Asia and Europe. What defines nationhood for those of us who have equally strong ties with more than one country?
Last week I was discussing issues of identity with members of the Kapisanan Philippine Centre-- a cultural and artistic centre focusing on the needs of second-generation Filipinos, youths and newcomers to the Toronto community. Things discussed were: methods of expression for the community, the idea of cultural shame, history, education, the police killing of Jeffrey Reodica, and the split between the needs of second generation Filipinos, those of their parents and those of newly arrived immigrants.
The sense I was getting, was that although Toronto is home to the largest Filipino community in Canada (population of 150,000 according to Statistics Canada), community cohesiveness is scattered. When team Italy won the Fifa World Cup in 2006, there was no shortage of Italian flag-waving or people with faces painted in red, white and green. In a 2001 survey by Statistics Canada, predicting immigration patterns into 2017, the Italian community did not make the list, yet the current visual presence of the community on Toronto's landscape is unquestionable. Pockets around the city from St. Clair and Bathurst, Vaughn and Corso Italia on College have become ingrained in Toronto’s identity. I find myself questioning where is "Little Philippines" or why can’t I remember the last time the Philippine flag was waved down Yonge Street. Would my fellow Torontonians even know what one looked like? Is it because we don’t play soccer? Could be. Is it because the Philippine community is relatively newly arrived? Probably not.
The newly arrived Toronto Hindu community (population of 191, 305) boasts the publicized erection of a ‘remarkable marvel of architecture’, a stone carved temple on HWY 427 and Finch Ave. According to Toronto Star’s Urban Affair Columnist, Christopher Hume, “the local Hindu community, which paid for the $40 million building without any public or foundation funding and provided 400 volunteer workers, wants the world to know it has arrived…(and) there is no chance its presence will go unnoticed.” Although considered a “new immigrant community”, Filipino immigration to Canada started in 1931 and has been peaking since the seventies with the Family Reunification Program and further in the eighties with the Live-in Caregiver Program. So why is it that this particular community has had such a meek presence on the visual landscape of Toronto?
On the evening of July 12, in a small hall at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), a modest reception was held to launch two seminal studies that have been recently made on the Filipino community. The first being “Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement”, a report by York University’s Dr. Philip Kelly who used government data from censuses and immigration statistics to create a portrait of the Philippine community. Some conclusions Kelly made were that although the community comes to Canada relatively well-prepared (specifically in education and language proficiency) with expectations that they will do quite well, the reality is that upon arrival, the job market and prospective futures of Filipino immigrants are limited. He also mentioned that the Philippine community hasn’t had the political voice to assert itself proportionate to its numbers.
Milla Astorga-Garcia’s study “The Road to Empowerment in the Filipino Community: Moving from Crisis to Community Capacity Building”, documents the killing of 17 year old Filipino Jeffrey Reodica in 2004, and how the event helped to unite the community. Astorga-Garcia’s documents and references community events and organizations such as the Justice for Jeffrey campaign and Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ). But more importantly, Astorga-Garcia has come to represent a voice in the Filipino-Canadian community who is calling for community cohesion.
I am a part of the Filipino-Canadian community. I am also a government-funded digital artist whose work pertains to the Filipino-Toronto community. As I start this project I find myself questioning, reflecting and brainstorming on all the possible angles that I could/should take. What is the Filipino-Toronto community? How is it best visually represented? Is it different from other transnational communities and if so how or why? Furthermore how can digital art be used as a vehicle for expression and representation for this community?
I have just been asked to write an article for the online journal www.panoptique.com
where some of these questions regarding digital art and the transnational community will be addressed. Please stay tuned. ;)
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Below is an email from an old friend and shining light. Thank you Eoghan and keep up the good fight ;) Mon, 2 Jul 2007 01:48:48 -0600, Eoghan Moriarty wrote:
On our nation's day let us not forget:
That sovereignty like freedom possesses an
Most spoken of covetously and yearningly
After its somehow impossible demise.
The corporatocracy that animates the thin veneer
of shiny wool
That drapes resplendant, fat and marvelous, over
our Etch A Sketch consciences.
Laughs deeply, resoundingly from within their
Far beyond the reach of mere mortals protected by
the full power and
apparatus of the state.
While the walls of the cage steadily retract
vanquishing personal freedoms
Given up unbeknownst to their dimwitted owners .
It is not enough to say that Canada will never be
like the USA.
Worldwide there is no distinction between the 2.
And soon there will be no difference whatsoever.
Only zero control over our own sovereignty,
resources and security.
Under terms of NAFTA, the USA can extract bulk
water resources from
Canada if it is deemed a national security
concern. Do some research
on shrinking water resources in the US and you
will learn just how
incredibly desperate the US is for water.
The US Northern Command is already in control of
security for the
entire continent and has been for years. Does
this not worry anyone?
Look at our "Nation Building" exercise in
For our population we have the equivalent of
25000 US soldiers serving there.
There is no difference between Afghanistan and
NATO has become an offensive force worldwide.
Deploying ABMs on Russia's west flank
antagonizing the world's largest
Our governments collectively sold our nation to
our big, bully of a
neighbor for nothing more than personal gain.
1) Free Trade Agreement
2) North America Free Trade Agreement
And finally, initiated & implemented by Paul
Martin's Liberals and
continued behind the scenes by our wee Yankee lad
Harper the next
irrevocable step in the process of "Deep
3) Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North
This minor soon to be forgotten fuss over the No
Fly List is but a
taste of the last gasps of our sovereignty being
absorbed into the US.
Look at Atlantica on the east coast.
The average person in the Atlantic provinces will
benefit from deeper
integration with the NE USA?
The music has already stopped and there are no
chairs for us.
And somehow we're toiling away in our basement
cleaning up after the
partywe were not even allowed to attend wondering
What about the plans for the Amero?
Who stands to benefit the most from an
amalgamation of the 3 currencies?
Who is the most indebted country on Earth?
And who has no intention whatsoever of repaying
The Israeli company that is building the wall in
Palestine got the
contract for building the barrier between the US
The SPP was created from a framework developed by
the CEOs of the
largest companies in North America whose mandate
was to make their
lives as easy and profitable as possible and
specifically to benefit
the US most of all.
How come there has been no mention of the SPP in
Who are we kidding? The only real objective media
left is the alternative one.
Huge changes need to be made.
But our politicians have no intention of rocking
Our only option is to get educated and bide our
Its a good thing that any kind of political
demonstration can treated
as a terrorist act, no? You have to admit that
the entire slide into
fascism has been a master work of propaganda and
Goebbels would have been proud.
Wake up and shrug off tinsel town.
Get educated about what is going on.
Check out these websites:www.globalresearch.cawww.canadianactionparty.cawww.democracynow.orgwww.freepress.netwww.bandepleteduranium.org
Google Ron Paul and see the power of a real
campaign by someone who has real answers for
Check out the Canadian Action Party.
I could go on for day and days.
But I wouldn't read it either.
Canada is an incredible country.
Part of what makes it great is the distinction
between the USA and us.
We will never get back the good will of the world
and strangely will
wonder why people hate us because of our freedom?
Being a proud Canadian is not enough.
It requires action through self education and
Banish the Etch A Sketch and choose to remember.
Eoghan Nations grown corrupt
Love bondage more than liberty;
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.
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Reminder to self:
Reminder to Self & Project Updates
This blog is an organic forum where I can digitally record and hash out ANY thoughts on the project. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT AN AUDIENCE. This is for YOU, Rod Dioso! Notes about the project at hand:
I have been fortunate enough to receive an OAC Grant for the Filipino-Torontonian Diaspora Community Project (I must come up with a better title for this). Completion of this project connects nicely with the MA work I will be doing in London studying the PI-UK community. I wish to incorporate more academic theory in the artistic process as I feel the integrity of the project depends on it and research will inevitably add to my growth as an artist. To achieve this, I have made connections the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR). I have also joined York University’s Professor Philip Kelly’s Philippine Study Group which will commence meetings in September of this year. The next tasks in order of priority are to make connections with the Filipino community and to further research digital art history and theory. Aspects of the project to be considered:
Through my work I wish to visually represent aspects of these communities that are transnational in nature. What has been retained from the Philippines? In what ways has change occurred? Why has it changed? How do I hypothesize the Filipino community in London will be different from that of Toronto? Below are possible themes of the community I wish to explore:
1.The culture of food as a vehicle for socialization
2.Photos taken by community members rather than by the artist
3.Differences in language/dialects and fluency of English between members of the community
4.Class divisions between members of the community
5.Attitudes of regionalism brought from the Philippines
I am realizing this is bigger than I imagined. I have more work ahead of me than I anticipated. That said, the work is engaging, stimulating and personal to my specific skills and experiences. It is an understatement to say that I am very excited to see the successful completion of the project.
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Lost blog entry, lost memory and a visit to my Lola's
I am devastated! I’ve just lost all the writing I’ve been doing for the last hour. I think it’s fitting that the blog entry that I was composing, about the loss and redefinition of cultural and linguistic memory, was erased by a careless click of the mouse. Sue tells me that I should just let go and write it again. She says it will surely be better the second time around. She’s right, (deep breath), so here it goes…
I’ve just come back from a pizza dinner visit with my 91 year-old grandmother. My Lola Cherry earned her fruity nickname because as a toddler I couldn’t pronounce the “ng” sound in her actual name, “Charing”, and what I was saying instead must have sounded like the yummy red fruit that is currently in season. As a child I was fluent in Tagalog, albeit ill-pronunced as the “ng” is crucial. When I started school, I seemed to have replaced all speaking memory of Tagalog for English. I believe it was a sort of defence mechanism as I was the only brown kid in the playground and I couldn’t speak a stich of English. I quickly learned English and just as quickly lost my ability to speak in Tagalog. I say this because although I can fully understand the rapid Tagalog in family gatherings and popular Pinoy movies like “Mano Po”, I was at a loss when forced to ask for directions in the Philippines. Somehow the memory of the language I knew as a child was locked in my head. I have currently enrolled in Tagalog classes (start date in the Fall) to release this lost memory from my mind.
My Lola is also experiencing challenges of memory. She had shown signs of slight forgetfullness before I left for Paris in January, but since my return her short-term memory has degraded considerably. She asked me about the wonderful cheeses in Paris and if it was very expensive to live there. She asked me how long I stayed there and if I had plans to travel again. After answering each of these questions she’d repeat the series of questions once more as if it were the first time she had asked it. This happened at least half a dozen times throughout the course of our dinner. Those of us in the family who see her most worry that she is in the first stages of dementia. As with most problems in my family, the issue is never actually talked about but the gravity of the situation is always alluded to. I’ve learned from my mother, my Titas and my Lola that when things are serious it is better to say nothing than to tell everything. Despite the fact that our conversation was in a loop, my lola was still as charming as ever and we had a more meaningful exchange because I could really see certain aspects of her personality in the repetition. Although she confuses the names of her daughters she is still the meticulous perfectionist who will cut her mangoes as close to the bone as possible. She doesn’t remember to take her medication but hasn’t forgotten that eggplants are bad for her gout. She remembers how to speak Spanish although she hasn’t used it in over 30 years. She offered me a parting gift of mangoes, the ones I just brought to her house.
My Lola’s first cousin suffered from dementia before she died. Although she was fluent in both English and Tagalog throughout her life, she spent her last days speaking only Tagalog and not being able to communicate with her American husband. I wonder if my Lola will also lose her memory of English, and if so, will she lose her memory of Canada? Where do I fit in that memory? Am I a part of her Canada or her Philippines? Will I ever find my childhood Tagalog? Will restoring this memory make me more Filipino? I am reminded that some things have to be said several times before they can become real and remembered, how some things take only once and how some things will never become real.
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It's Father’s Day and in keeping with the theme I thought I'd recount a story that I heard just last week. A childhood tale from Tatay that took place in San Pablo.
This is a story of my Dad’s banlon shirt. Banlon was a very rare material in the Philippines when my dad was a teenager. Those few who could afford to wear banlon were given automatic status and respect within the community. Like most men in San Pablo, my Lolo valued what others thought and how he looked in the community. His eldest son was an extension of his own image. Although he had two other boys he gave my dad (the oldest) a beautiful, white, banlon shirt to match the one he bought for himself. My teeenage father wore it with pride and was the envy of his peers. He said he could feel the eyes on him when he wore it, and I could tell by the way he said it, he was surprisingly impressed by the power it possessed over his neighbours and friends.
One day, soon after my father received this rare top, his Tito Popoy asked to borrow the shirt. Popoy was only twelve years his senior and although he was my father's uncle, he was quite close to my dad and was seen more as an older brother than a Tito. My father, although hesitant, couldn't refuse Popoy's request.
So Popoy used the banlon shirt for a local BBQ he was attending. I’m guessing that Popoy was either quite arrogant in wearing the shirt or that he was at a terribly unfriendly party because this was to be the last day that the shirt would hold its magical powers.
Apparently as the story goes, a jealous friend "accidentally" poked Popoy with a greasy hot BBQ fork and pierced the beautiful white shirt. (Popoy was unharmed as I know for a fact that my Tito is still out and about and attending plenty more BBQs in San Pablo). My Dad told me this in tears of laughter touching the side of his ribs where the shirt would have been ruined, demonstrating the jabbing motions of the stick in mock jealousy.
After the party, my father tried wearing the shirt but soon realized that the large stained hole took away its charm. As much as he wanted to, he could no longer wear the shirt. He had to eventually lie to his own father about the shirt and say that he was the cause of its ruin as telling the truth would be a betrayal to Popoy and partly to himself who allowed it to be borrowed. We laughed hysterically about this magic shirt story but I'm sure that it was a cause of much stress when my dad was going through it.
I'm reminded of just how important social relations are in the Filipino mentality. Ideas of loyalty and social status are complex but essential systems that are learned young. In this story of the banlon shirt, my father communicated to me the importance of appearances to the Filipino male. As well as the age-based hierarchy that existed between men when he was growing up. Of course this dynamic wasn't carried directly into my own upbringing but some remnants of these ideals still permeate my life.
As we speak I have a few beautiful Pierre Cardin ties, gifts of my father, in my closet and an expensive Italian suit once owned by my late Lolo. My Lolo was a small man and I hold on to the suit even though it doesn't fit, nor ever will fit my large Canadian-fed frame. I keep these things, I think, because of cultural memories and values that my own father has passed on to me and that I may eventually pass on to my children. Even up to now, my father carries a stylish vanity that keeps him youthful-looking in his sixties.
In a way, the Filipino male as the proud handsome rooster, is an analogy that I too have taken to heart and revel in from time to time. Although I don’t like shopping, I have been known to indulge in a few hand-tailored goodies (a made-to-fit silk AoDai from Hanoi, a Parisian pinstriped 2-piece suit, Italian leather sneakers, among others). Like Lolo and my dad, I also like to look good. And why not? When you got it, strut it, pare! ;)
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For lack of a better title this is "The First Entry". In keeping with the increasingly popular phenomenon of self-publishing, self-revealing digital-extroversion fuelled by sites like facebook.com and blogspot.com, I have decided to start a blog of my own. I like the informal, organic nature of this digital forum and I hope to use this blog to document my thoughts and findings as I begin my artistic project of documenting the visual representations of the Filipino community in Toronto.
Although the project has just begun I feel there a few people whom I should thank. I wish to thank the Ontario Arts Council for providing the initial funding for this project, my parents who have provided me support and interest of which have been invaluable, and most importantly my wife, of which this project would have merely remained yet another great idea that never saw fruition. Thank you Suzy, you are the sunshine to this growing shoot. I am certain as I continue in my exploration of this project the list of people to thank will grow.
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