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Filipino? Canadian? Striking a balance

Our heritage runs deep in Winnipeg. We are the children (both adopted and naturally born) of the Filipino-Canadian community's early pioneers -- the nurses, doctors, and garment industry recruits.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, you couldn't miss us. We were springing up in the North and West Ends, especially as the first wave of Filipino-Canadian children. We spoke flawless English and, depending on the schools we attended, we also spoke French. We sprinkled our vocabulary with the Filipino languages and dialects we heard at home -- Tagalog, Ilocano, Visaya, Kapampangan, Ilongo, or Pangasinan (the list goes on).

We also picked up the language of our neighbourhoods. For a North End girl like me, this meant celebrating the blend of Ukrainian, Polish, Portuguese, German, Ojibwe and Cree that greeted me from the corner store where I bought my candy to the playground where I shared them.

We were Canadian kids with young and hopeful Filipino-Canadian roots in Winnipeg.

As a kid, I was oblivious to the struggles our young immigrant community faced.

We were growing up at a time when the industries that employed our parents were being outsourced overseas.

It was also a time when dialog was limited and misunderstandings were rampant. Filipino-Canadian concerns over unemployment, under-employment, discrimination and racism were what surfaced onto the mainstream media. Within Filipino-Canadian households, parents also faced a new fear. They saw their children slipping away into a culture they could not relate to.

Their Canadian kid with the Filipino skin and assertive mind hardly resembled the disciplined and pious youth they enjoyed when reminiscing of the Philippines. For a Filipino-Canadian kid, this was often the confusing introduction to the homeland they hardly knew. Yet, because their physical features betrayed them as Canadians, Filipino-Canadian kids had little choice but to face what being Filipino in Winnipeg actually meant.

As the decades progressed and immigration initiatives, like the Manitoba provincial nominee program, began to take place throughout the 1990s and 2000s, we Filipino-Canadian youth broadened in diversity.

The second-hand memory of being 'Filipino' in Winnipeg was beginning to compliment a new reality as more young people arrived with fresh, actual Filipino experiences from the Philippines. This time, the language of being Filipino-Canadian involved a fluency and fluidity between their Filipino dialect and American English. This new wave of Filipino-Canadians arrived as confident Filipinos at the cost of being reluctant Canadians.

These were the kids with little say in what brought them and their family to Winnipeg. They were now here to adjust without the only extended family and friends they knew. Suddenly, the better life they were promised appeared empty amidst the fear, anger, uncertainty and resentment that weighed on their minds.

Day by day, with each new friend and experience, the Canadian in this Filipino-Canadian emerges. If the proper supports are in place and the time is right, both cultural identities will eventually grow to embrace one another.

The interaction between Canadian-born and immigrant Filipino-Canadian youth is an interesting reflection of how we perceive ourselves. That hyphen between those two identities, the Filipino and the Canadian, should actually look more like a see-saw. One cultural identity is weighted against the other as our feelings of acceptance change with each relationship in our communities and our society. Some may identify at one end of either spectrum where a negative experience may have worked to alienate the other. Or, a balanced experience of both good and bad in either world has found them identifying somewhere in the middle. Each Filipino-Canadian child is unique and different. We each have our own journey through this Filipino-Canadian identity at differing starting points and destinations. Together, we long to belong in the Winnipeg we identify in and the heritage we carry forward.


Darlyne Bautista, a founding member of the non-profit Aksyon ng Ating Kabataan (ANAK) Inc., is a trustee for the Winnipeg School Division in Ward 3. She is currently involved in the Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada project, the first-ever national study to investigate the educational and employment experiences of Filipino-Canadian youth. To become a part of this important study visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 J15


Updated on Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 5:31 PM CST: Adds "languages and" to second graph

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