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Immigration Stories:

Celebrating immigrant women through theatre

Ava Jerao
   
 
 
Clara Orallo

This year, FemFest 2012: Staging Identity, a Winnipeg theatre festival celebrating women playwrights, will feature a play celebrating the immigrant women of Canada. Immigration Stories is based on the true experiences of seven senior immigrant women; six of them will also be acting in the production, many for the first time. The group of senior women attended workshops to develop their stories into a play led by Hope McIntyre, Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions and Director of the play. “It was an exciting prospect as it would fulfill both our goals of working with the community and using theatre to increase human understanding. Since FemFest is dedicated to women playwrights and Immigration Stories was written collaboratively by a group of women, it was a perfect fit,” stated McIntyre. The Philippines is one of the largest places of origins of immigrants to Canada; it was only fitting for McIntyre, to include a Filipino perspective in the new play, “Winnipeg has a vibrant Filipino community and historically immigration from the Philippines has been extremely valuable to both the economy and cultural life in the city. It was crucial to include this perspective in a play documenting the immigrant experience.

Clara Orallo, a registered nurse from northern Luzon, lived and worked in America for four years before moving to Winnipeg in 1962 with her husband, Dr. Paulino Orallo, as part of the first wave of Filipino immigrants to fulfill healthcare shortages in the province. Orallo will be acting out her experiences in Immigration Stories. “The Immigration Women’s Association of Manitoba asked us to write our stories about our struggles in Canada. At the time, immigrating to Canada was not a problem because of our medical profession,” said Orallo. Orallo, now 78 years old, has never acted in front of an audience before but is not shy of the spotlight. Orallo is a trained classical singer and has performed with the Harmonic Symphony Choir. “It is a very new experience to me and is very physically challenging.” In the play, Orallo will be acting a scene in which she denounces her Filipino citizenship in order to gain her Canadian citizenship “It took a lot of practice to not cry, it always reminds me of how much I felt that I was betraying the Philippines.”

Orallo hopes that everyone sees Immigration Stories to learn from the struggles she and the other women experienced as new immigrants in Canada in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Orallo hopes to be a role model for the younger generation of Filipinos and wants them to take pride in the struggles her generation had gone through to establish Filipino culture in Canada. “Many Canadians don’t even know where the Philippines is! We want to make sure we are known here,” says Orallo.

Immigration Stories includes the stories of immigrant women from places such as Italy, Portugal, India and Vietnam. Orallo says it was a very enlightening experience working with such a diverse group of women “I advise that all immigrant senior citizens speak of how they’ve struggled.”

Beatrice Watson, Past President of the Immigration Women’s Association of Manitoba Inc. (IWAM) is the originator of the project funded by a New Horizons for Seniors Project government grant “I think people love to hear stories, especially stories of immigration. It is the basic way we communicate as humans and all this is about storytelling.”

Watson hopes that viewers will gain a better understanding of Canada’s multicultural society and immigrant communities, “I hope that people will learn that we are all human with the same hopes, fears and concerns for our children, our future, and want to work hard for what we want. We are not a burden to Canada but a blessing because we gave our children to help build a better Canada.”

FemFest 2012: Staging Identity will be taking place from September 15-22, 2012 at the Asper Centre of Theatre and Film (at the University of Winnipeg, 400 Colony Street). Immigration Stories will be showing on Thursday September 20th and Saturday September 22nd at 7PM. For more information, please visit www.femfest.ca