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Medisina at Politika by Dr. Rey Pagtakhan

Bayanihan and Belonging

Filipinos in Manitoba

By Dr. Rey Pagtakhan

Bayanihan and Belonging: Filipinos in Manitoba is the title of an article by Professor Alison Marshall of Brandon University featured in the Fall 2014 issue of the journal Manitoba History, which was launched on November 19 by the Manitoba Historical Society at the McNally Robinson bookstore in the Grant Park Shopping Centre.

I am glad that, even with the outdoor temperature below zero, I attended together with other members of our community and heard the award-winning author personally introduce the results of her research and learned that this article is part of her continuing research project.

Filipino Canadians – first and second generations – have been creating history, step by step, in our province and country in many spheres of human endeavour. To witness first-hand the presentation of such a serious study of our community by a social sciences and humanities specialist in Asian studies was, indeed, a gratifying experience. Equally gratifying was to discover the perspective she has brought to her method of study, analysis of the participants’ narratives, and presentation of her findings as well as the insight she has brought to connect our community’s distinctive socio-cultural values to our social integration in the adopted homeland.

Parenthetically, I received a bonus gift during the evening journal launch – the chance to meet with the newly installed Brandon U president, Dr. Gervan Fearon and his wife, Kathy Moscou, and to hear my nephew, the newly appointed Winnipeg Deputy Mayor Mike Pagtakhan, bring his official greetings and those of His Worship Brian Bowman to the occasion.

SSHRC as sponsor and national significance

The first footnote to this article indicates the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada funded Professor Marshall’s scholarly work. Since this Council is the major federal research funding body that promotes and supports research in the humanities and social sciences to foster excellence in these fields and, thereby, “deepen, widen and increase our collective understanding of individuals and societies, as well as to inform the search for solutions to societal challenges” – this piece of work assumes even greater importance in the context of human understanding and citizenry participation not only in Manitoba but also far beyond its geographic limits.

Rising to the challenge and enjoyable reading

Bayanihan and Belonging: Filipinos in Manitoba rises to such a challenge and would help inform public policy-makers and contribute to societal well being.

First, the author’s goals:

  1. to study the factors that lead into Filipino migration, settlement, belonging and leadership, and;
  2. to highlight and better understand the cultural distinctiveness of Filipino Canadians within an increasingly Asian Manitoba – are laudable, indeed.

Worth noting, too, is the folksy and conversational approach to her presentation of the text that is at once evident as one reads the introductory paragraph. It makes for enjoyable reading of our community’s history in Manitoba.

Second, the author not only reviewed relevant publications of Filipino and non-Filipino writers, locally and beyond, but also drew from her decade-and-a-half historical research experience in the field of prairie cultural diversity. Moreover, she did fieldwork in the Philippines before interviewing Filipino Manitobans as research participants. To gather them, she attended Filipino community events and applied the so-called snowball sampling technique. That is, subjects with desired traits or characteristics give names of further appropriate subjects. While this technique has the limitation of not knowing whether the sample of participants included was representative of the Filipino community, she interviewed a varied range of male and female participants from varied walks of life from both the rural and urban settings. To ensure accuracy of factual information, avoid misunderstanding of the tape-recorded oral narrative, and simultaneously safeguard personal privacy of the participants, she encouraged them to make any desired changes to the shared interview transcripts. She preserved the researcher’s duty to truth and objectivity, tempered by her self-imposed professional commitment “to sometimes omit stories” that she perceives “inflame disunity to the community, or racism toward it.” She hopes to engage many more subject-participants in her ongoing project.

Resonance of common themes

In addition to identifying the varied reasons for Filipino migration, the article articulated some common struggles faced such as racial discrimination, sense of kinship in advocacy, religious fervour practised, abiding faith placed on the value of education and multiculturalism, and stories of adaptation and success shared.

Socio-cultural values distilled and highlighted

While details of the participants’ narratives will be profiled in Part 2 of this article scheduled for publication in the next issue of Manitoba History, Professor Alison Marshall has already distilled and highlighted three salutary socio-cultural values – namely:

  1. matibay at sumusunod katulad ng kawayan (being resilient and pliant like bamboo;
  2. bahala na (whatever happens; leave it up to God), and;
  3. bayanihan spirit (communal unity) – as keys to understanding the participants’ vignettes of adaptation and achievement. She holds these collective values as the sinews that bind Filipino Manitobans one among themselves and with the greater Manitoba community and nurture their deep sense of belonging to our province. Aptly, she concludes Part 1 with quotes from Filipino Manitoban lyricist Levy Abad to convey a Filipino migrant’s journey and search for belonging and global citizenship:

And here we are scattered and trying to rise up
And so we gather strength through bonds of living hope
Care for one another to build a better world.

Indeed, I find Bayanihan and Belonging: Filipinos in Manitoba insightful, and enjoyable to read.

Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, widely lectured and published, is a retired physician and professor and a former Member of Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and senior federal minister in the Government of Canada.

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