In the little Anglican church at Hodgson, two hours' drive north of Winnipeg, the day we attended the service there a couple of years ago, the hymns were accompanied on the piano by a young woman of Asian appearance. She and my wife fell into conversation on the church steps afterwards and quickly found out they were both born in the Philippines.
A surprise for both, since there aren't a whole lot of Filipinos in Hodgson. The vast majority of Filipinos in Manitoba are Roman Catholics. So the chances of two Filipinas encountering each other one summer morning at the Anglican church in Hodgson should be about a zillion to one. They laughed together at the delightful surprise.
She lived there because her husband, also a Filipino, was managing a nearby hog barn. My wife, Violeta, was there because we were visiting the Anglican churches of the Diocese of Rupert's Land, to meet readers of Rupert's Land News, the newspaper I edit. But these days, you can't go anywhere in Manitoba without running into Filipinos.
The Philippine community of Winnipeg is about 60,000 people -- smaller than the 80,000 Filipinos in Vancouver or the 180,000 in Toronto. But it's a huge community in Winnipeg, more than the Chinese, more than the south Asians -- by far the largest visible minority community in the city. Winnipeg has far more Poles, far more Ukrainians, far more Irish -- but these groups, in the curious way we talk about these things, are not visible minorities. The Filipinos are visible.
They are also very skilful socially. Filipinos grow up knowing how to organize a party, how to receive guests, how to put people at ease. They laugh easily. Their facial muscles are made for smiling. They know how a gentle joke and a bit of generous recognition can ease a tense social situation.
A Philippine family picnic is a sight to behold. On the Sunday afternoon nearest June 12, the Philippine national day, it's worth the visit to stroll through the picnic ground in one of our public parks to see the Filipino families with their gas barbecues, lashings of food, games for the kids, music, dancing, lawn furniture for the grannies. Do these people know how to do a picnic? Go and see for yourself.
They also love politics and they practise politics with mastery. They love to campaign and they love to vote. When my wife watched her first federal election in Canada years ago, she wondered where the election was. There should be brass bands marching through the streets, sound trucks calling people to huge meetings. Slowly she got the hang of the subdued style of Canadian elections.
If you're running for election in the northwest part of Winnipeg, you should either be a Filipino or know a whole lot of Filipinos. All the parties know that.
In Tyndall Park, for the Manitoba election last fall, the Liberals ran Roldan Sevillano and the Tories ran Chris Aglugub. The winner was New Democrat Ted Marcelino, brother-in-law of Flor Marcelino, the minister of culture, heritage and tourism, who retained Logan for the NDP in that same election.
The federal electoral map has divided the Filipino community between two large Winnipeg districts. In the 2011 federal election, no party ran a Filipino in either Winnipeg North, Dr. Rey Pagtakhan's old seat (1988 to 2004) or Winnipeg Centre. Mike Pagtakhan, Dr. Rey's nephew, has held the Point Douglas seat on city council since 2002.
Like other Asians, the Filipinos are hungry for education and will make great sacrifices to raise children above their parents in schooling. The big influx of Filipinos to Winnipeg consisted of textile workers who came in the 1970s. Already the average educational level of the Canadian Filipinos has exceeded the average for Canadians, according to Statistics Canada's analysis of census data.
The incomes of the Canadian Filipinos don't yet reflect their qualifications, but give them another generation and they will be well ahead.
When we lived in Montreal, there used to be a perpetual mah-jongg game in the back room of a small Philippine grocery store near the hospital belt along C¥te-des-Neiges Road. The game always broke up briefly just before three o'clock each afternoon because the men had to go and drive their wives from the day shift in one hospital to the evening shift at another. The men had their dignity to think of. They were over-qualified for the work offered them, and so they were reduced to playing mah-jongg between chauffeur services.
In the personal care homes of Winnipeg, you will see many Filipinos among the staff but very few among the residents. Where are the elderly Filipinos? They're at home with their children and their grandchildren. The Filipinos are reluctant to put their aging parents in an institution. It's just not right. But they are good at caring for other people's aging parents. How would we staff the hospitals and nursing homes of Winnipeg without them?
When my mom needed help at home, we hired Linda, a Filipina freelance home-care aide, to bathe and dress her. She liked Linda. Later, when she moved to a nursing home, she was desperately unhappy and refused to eat at mealtimes. It turned out Linda's full-time work was in the kitchen of that same nursing home. So Linda came to her room sometimes after meals bringing food and saying, "Mary, I prepared this for you," and for Linda's sake, she ate.
We were lucky Mary had in her life at that moment a person with those human relations skills. Winnipeg is lucky to have a large community of people like that in our midst.
Terence Moore, retired Free Press comment editor, edits Rupert's Land News.