Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rallying cry

Shoplifting accusation galvanized Winnipeg's Filipino community to rise up against racism

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In half a century, Winnipeg's Filipino community has grown to become Winnipeg's largest ethnic group and its strongest politically, with elected officials in all levels of government.

That didn't happen overnight.

Like so many newcomers before them, Filipino Winnipeggers have experienced the burn and humiliation of racism and discrimination.

A pivotal incident less than 20 years ago brought community members together to rally for change.

It happened after a grocery store clerk accused Filipinos of being thieves, recalled Pilipino Express editor Emmie Joaquin. A cashier wrongly accused a six-year-old boy, who was standing in line with his mother, of stealing gum. The cashier searched the boy's jacket without the mother's permission and didn't find any gum.

When the Superstore cashier realized his mistake, he didn't apologize but made a racist remark about all Filipinos being thieves that other customers in line heard, Joaquin said.

In 1993, to a community fed up with racism and being singled out as shoplifting suspects, those were fighting words.

"I called for a boycott and the listeners did just that," said Joaquin, who hosted Good Morning Philippines on CKJS radio at the time. There were public meetings and an eight-hour rally that drew more than 1,000 people to the McPhillips Street store. Management later apologized for the search, but denied a slur was uttered against Filipinos.

At the time, it wasn't the only business that treated Filipinos differently, recalls Canadian-born Darlyne Bautista.

"I know what it's like to be followed in a store for no good reason," said the 30-year-old who grew up in the North End with people from many cultural backgrounds.

To support Filipino youth, Bautista helped launch ANAK, Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan, or Filipino Youth in Action Inc. a few years ago. The non-profit organization works to bridge gaps inside and outside Winnipeg's Filipino-Canadian community. ANAK started a publishing co-operative to generate income so it can offer scholarships.

Its young adult volunteers are Filipino-Canadian role models for the newcomers, something Bautista's generation didn't have.

Things have improved, but there's still bias out there. She still hears terms like "FOB" (an old acronym for "fresh off the boat") as well as "CB" ("Canadian-born" Filipino).

ANAK is helping to preserve their culture and strengthen their Filipino-Canadian identities, she said. Taking newcomers skating is a great field trip for that.

"They have to hold onto each other," she said.

Bautista would like to see more planning for all kids newly arrived in Canada. The annual increase in the number of newcomers to Manitoba is expected to continue and reach the provincial target of 20,000 a year by 2017.

Bautista, a Winnipeg School Division trustee, wants the province to better prepare schools with the numbers of dependents arriving through the nominee program. It may be an economic program, but there should be an infrastructure ready and in place to make sure kids have a successful outcome, too. Often, children have little say in their immigration, said Bautista.

An unexpected influx of kids arriving can affect schools. "If we're not prepared, the cost has to be made up somehow," she said, and it's a worry that new kids could be blamed if there are cuts.

Much has changed since the Filipino community responded to xenophobia in 1993, said Rod Cantiveros. He and his late wife Linda started the community's first newspaper, the Filipino Journal, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

"We were going through the same thing as there is now with the Muslims," Cantiveros said. "I think every ethnic group has to undergo a challenge."

Nearly two decades after Filipinos were treated with fear and contempt, his son Ron's smiling face appears on Festival du Voyageur billboards in Winnipeg, he said, a sure sign of integration.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 J4

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