“You’re in Canada now and a Canadian citizen, why do you care about the Philippines?”
“You have privileges in Canada, how can you understand the struggles back home?”
“So, why did you leave?”
“We’re so far, what can we even do?"
These are just some of the common questions that come from fellow Filipinos when issues in the Philippines are talked about.
Earlier this year in January, the Taal volcano eruption which affected around 480,000 people in Batangas, Quezon, Laguna and Cavite brought Filipinos around the world together to help and send support to our kababayan in the Philippines. In Toronto, the Sagip Taal benefit concert was held by the joint efforts of the Filipino youth, activists, artists, students, other community members, and allies. $3000 was raised and all proceeds went to Sagip Migrante, Migrante Interntational’s relief program.
World-wide community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that has and continue to affect Filipinos especially frontline workers show our ability to unite and support one another. In the Philippines, there are currently 200,000+ COVID-19 cases, yet there is still no concrete plan to address the pandemic including free mass testing. This pandemic revealed the intense corruption of government institutions and deep cracks in the systems. While the majority of Filipinos back home are starving, struggling, and risking their lives to continue working, the Anti-Terror Law was signed. The Anti-Terror Law also caused outrage and fear to Filipinos even outside of the country because the Philippine government has made it clear that no one is exempted from being silenced in expressing dissent. The leading broadcasting network, ABS-CBN, was shut down when nation-wide, trustworthy information is needed the most. Almost every week, we hear and read about news alerts of illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, and intensified militaristic responses to the needs of the people. Many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are stranded in their host countries and are not receiving government support while those who were able to return to the Philippines are also stranded and found sleeping on the walkways near the airport.
These current events in the Philippines and to Filipinos around the world further expose the unjust system that results in forced migration. But more than ever, these events also revealed that as Filipinos overseas, we are not entirely detached from what is happening in the Philippines and that there is a strong willingness to unite in order to support our kababayans.
The Philippines is rich but the Filipino people are poor
Have you ever visited the clear blue beaches of Boracay, Palawan, or Siargao? Gone snorkeling and seen the biodiversity and coral reefs? Have you stared at vast lands like the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Cordilleras or Chocolate Hills in Bohol? Tourism is a major industry in the Philippines and is a main source of income and livelihood for many locals. The Philippines is rich in natural resources but farmers are still using carabaos and low technology to till land they do not own. Lumadnon (Indigenous people) are still fighting against displacement, militarization, and foreign corporations such as Canadian mining companies are extracting resources from their lands.
But who benefits? Who owns and controls the means of production? The lack of job opportunities and livelihoods especially in rural areas (provinces) is one of the main reasons that forces people to move to cities such as Metro Manila and outside of the country.
Our struggles in Canada are linked and rooted from struggles in the Philippines
Every day, 6,500 Filipinos leave the Philippines and there are 11 million Overseas Filipino Workers around the world. Why do they leave? Why did you and/or your family leave? A common answer is that we all want better opportunities or a better life for us and our families. Migrating has become the most viable option because of the ongoing struggles in the Philippines. People leave because of the socioeconomic and political conditions that are not for the interests of the people, especially the peasants, poor, and the working class.
Issues in Canada such as deprofessionalization, precarious work, and family separation and reunification exist because of labour export policies that benefit both the Philippine and Canadian governments. OFWs come to Canada but are treated as cheap labour and are not fully protected by the state because of their status as migrant workers. Despite being the third largest immigrant group in Canada, Filipinos are both invisible and hyper visible which have its own consequences in the cultural, economic, political, and social aspects of living.
Reclaiming our identities as Filipinos
What does it mean to be a Filipino in Canada? It is common to connect with our roots through food, dancing, karaoke, and learning/speaking Tagalog. But what does it mean if we do not address the material conditions in the Philippines? Why are we proud of being Filipino?
It is a privilege to be able to “choose” an aspect of being Filipino when many Filipinos back home continue to struggle and are being silenced, harassed, and even killed for fighting for basic human rights. It is also important to remember that the Philippine culture and experiences are not monolithic and we come from different ancestries. Our struggles with our identities and culture as Filipinos in Canada are also rooted from our own histories of migration. This is why we must be mindful and do our research when claiming certain practices, symbols, words, etc. especially from the Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines.
When reclaiming our identities as Filipinos, it is impossible to do so without having a connection with the motherland. To reclaim being Filipino is to expand our understanding beyond cultural stereotypes. It is learning about the Filipinos around us, including their varying situations and complex struggles, while recognizing that our migration stories and experiences are not all the same.
Although there might be some conflicting feelings being in Canada and the United States because we are too far from the motherland, let’s ask ourselves, how can we be more aware of what is happening back home? As Filipinos in the diaspora, how can we amplify and expose the worsening conditions in the Philippines? What is our role as part of the international community? How can we concretely support the struggle for liberation of the Filipino people in the Philippines and other parts of the world? Are there groups or people’s organizations who already have connections in the Philippines that can provide these kinds of information and resources? How can we genuinely support the efforts of these groups abroad and back home?
No matter how established you are outside of the Philippines or if you’ve never even been there, this is where your roots are.
Many Filipinos still have families, friends, and loved ones to go back to. Some go back to understand what is really happening by connecting and integrating with the people. Some go back in search of their own histories and identities. For many, there is a reason to go back.
If we still want to have a Philippines to visit and return to, then we need to care about what is happening to our people now and do our best to contribute in the struggle for genuine freedom and just and lasting peace in the Philippines.
About the Author:
Stef Martin is a first-generation queer Filipino born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines. She is currently based in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada. Stef is an emerging archivist and received her Master of Information specializing in Archives and Records Management at the University of Toronto. She is also currently the chairperson of Anakbayan Toronto, a comprehensive national democratic mass organization working to engage Filipino youth on issues in Canada and the Philippines.