Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Filipinos thrive, put down roots

'We are a close family system'

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It's Winnipeg's largest visible minority community, more than 38,000 at last census count -- not bad for a group that could count its members on one hand five decades ago.

From the quartet of nurses who set foot here in 1959, Winnipeg's Filipino community has boomed to become not only one of the fastest growing minority groups in the city, but the largest Filipino group in Canada per capita.

That's thanks in part to a combination of policies and recruitment efforts that saw nurses, doctors, teachers, garment workers and other Canadian hopefuls make Winnipeg their home, and later bring their families along for the ride.

The professionals who arrived in 1959 often came after living for a time in the U.S. Strict immigration laws meant they had to leave that country before being allowed to renew their visas, Darlyne Bautista said. She's the volunteer curator of a current exhibit on Filipino history in Winnipeg at the Manitoba Museum, and a member of Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan, an organization of Filipino young professionals.

Out of the first wave, some stayed. But the biggest group to come to Winnipeg included the hundreds of garment workers recruited from the Philippines starting in the late 1960s and continuing into the 1980s, some arriving by way of the Netherlands.

The population kept growing with the federal family-reunification program, which let those already here sponsor family members to join them, and another federal program that brought in domestic workers.

Manitoba's last big wave started in 1999, and is still rolling in. The provincial nominee program has drawn thousands of skilled immigrants from the Philippines.

Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba president and Filipino Journal editor Rod Cantiveros came to Canada in 1974, leaving the unstable political climate in his home country behind. He recalls discussing the enigma that was Winnipeg with his late wife Linda on their journey. They wondered if they might have to track down a Chinese grocery store to buy rice. He said he was surprised to find a thriving community here.

There's no one reason why the community is so strong in Winnipeg, but Bautista pointed out travel is part of life for many families in the Philippines, where many kids grow up with both parents working abroad. "It's so entrenched. It's so deep," she said.

Cantiveros points to the ability of Filipino culture to both integrate into the mainstream and remain distinct. "The (Filipino) culture is a hodgepodge of different cultures," he said, pointing to Spanish, American, Chinese, Arabic, Malaysian, and other influences.

Some immigrants to Winnipeg leave for opportunities in bigger Canadian cities, but that seems to be less common in the Filipino community, said Cantiveros. "We are a close family system," he said.

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2010 B3

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