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Filipino community leaders urge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support new cultural centre in Vancouver

Filipino community leaders in Vancouver
Davey Samuel Calderon, Khristine Cariño, Lina Vargas, Joy Neri, and RJ Aquino are hoping that the federal government offers tangible support for a Filipino cultural centre in Vancouver. Photo by Charlie Smith.

Davey Samuel Calderon describes himself as a proud Filipinx theatre artist. At a recent news conference in Vancouver, the cofounder of the New(to)Town Collective declared that he and others are eager to share their traditions, cultural practices, and languages. According to Calderon, these remind Filipino Canadians that they have resiliently emerged from deep and complex histories.

“Our artists express those cultural artifacts through dance, music, theatre, performance, visual arts, fashion, cuisine, traditional craft, and other modes of inspiration,” said Calderon, who’s also with the Playwrights Theatre Centre.

He added that facilitators and artists are not complacent to just represent their Filipinx identity. Rather, they also aim “to inspire a community to stay connected to our roots, to transform our traditions, [and] to create relationship with our communities and the Indigenous nations”.

Calderon emphasized that Filipinx artists have been doing all of this without a dedicated community space in Metro Vancouver.

“We work really hard; we make it work,” he said. “But not having a central gathering place for us has been a struggle, so we need a Filipino cultural centre.”

Calderon was one of several speakers at the news conference, which demonstrated broad community support for a provincial Filipino cultural centre in Vancouver. The speakers stepped forward after the B.C. government granted $250,000 to the non-profit Mabuhay House Society to launch planning and public engagement on such a facility.

Another speaker, Rafael (“RJ”) Aquino, is director of Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society. He expressed gratitude to the provincial government for the grant to “kickstart the establishment of this cultural centre”. He also mentioned that Vancouver mayor Ken Sim has expressed support.

“It’s very exciting,” Aquino said. “The community has gotten together and has mobilized.”

Mabuhay House
This image seeking volunteers is on the Mabuhay House Society website.

Groups put cultural centre on federal agenda

Aquino is one of three signatories to an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to support the centre. The other two signatories are Filco-operative One Housing Society president Angeles “Jody” Flores and Cebuano Society of Canada president Antonio Ortega.

“As you know, the Filipino population in B.C. has grown significantly in recent years to nearly 175,000, making up 3.6 percent of the total population, according to latest census data,” the letter states. “A cultural centre would provide a space for Filipino Canadians to connect with their roots, share their traditions, and celebrate their culture with others.”

Another speaker at the news conference was Joy Neri. She spoke on behalf of the housing society and the One Filipino Cooperative of B.C.

Neri pointed out that the both organizations have been holding orientation sessions, capacity-building events, general assemblies, anniversaries, and Christmas celebrations in different locations.

“So we see in the Filipino cultural centre a potential venue for all the above activities,” she stated.

Moreover, Neri revealed that a petition drive in support of the centre has attracted more than 3,000 signatures. And she expects more names to be added now that it’s been posted—along with the open letter to Trudeau—on a new website, Filipinobc.com.

In addition, Neri said that the housing society has been advocating and negotiating for affordable, accessible, safe, and inclusive housing for middle-income Filipinos and other Canadians in B.C. The society’s directors hope that a new cultural centre can be part of a mixed-use project with nonmarket and market housing.

“We are actively involved also in the campaign for the Filipino cultural centre for a very practical reason,” Neri said.

Five years ago, Justin Trudeau was mobbed by admirers at a Jollibee in Manila.

STEM advocate talks about economic benefits

Another speaker with a practical message was Khristine Cariño, past president of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. Like the others, she thanked the provincial government for earmarking $250,000 for planning and public engagement.

“As a national leader in the women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] movement, I champion equitable access to digital technology,” Cariño said. “And I am therefore excited to learn the cultural centre will not only celebrate the rich culture and heritage of the Filipino community, but will also serve as a multipurpose space, including an innovation and learning hub.

“An innovation hub will provide Filipinos access to resources and support we need to develop new skills, explore emerging technologies, and build innovative businesses,” she continued.

Cariño added that she can’t wait to see how a “maker space” in the centre will raise awareness about careers in high-growth industries.

“I look forward to tech upskilling programs for adults shifting careers from the service industry—of which a majority of us Filipinos currently work in low-level, low-paying jobs—so that we will move to high-growth, high-paying jobs,” she declared. “I look forward to increasing the range of jobs for Filipinos and breaking out of the stereotypes that limit us.”

She also sees opportunities for more Filipino Canadians to become “leaders in the knowledge economy”.

“And an innovation hub will provide a much needed launching pad for Philippine talent to thrive and help build a more prosperous and inclusive Canada,” Cariño said.

Banding together for change

Lina Vargas, founder and president of the Diversity and Inclusion Support Group of B.C., was another community advocate adding her voice to the campaign. At the news conference, she said that a Filipino cultural centre would provide an inclusive space to celebrate diversity intergenerationally.

“As a community which has past experience of colonization, the building of the Filipino cultural centre is also space where we can engage in our own process of reconciliation among Indigenous nations and people here—and within our own communities,” Vargas stated.

She ended her speech with an emotionally charged message, focusing on making the community’s dream a reality.

“Let us band together for change,” Vargas said. “Let us leave a legacy for our children and grandkids to remember the positive things we accomplished while we still have the opportunity.”

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.