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It's All History by Jon Malek

Towards forging a Filipino Town in Winnipeg

by Jon Malek

In June 2021, I asked why Winnipeg did not have a Filipino Town after sixty years of community growth. There are certainly potential sites or areas that could serve as a base for such an ethnic centre, such as sites of Filipino cultural performance, buildings where community groups have met (such as the old Filipino centre on Juno or the current PCCM on Keewatin, just for an example); areas that have seen Filipinos settle such as Notre Dame, the Maples, or Tyndall Park; or the formation of a new centre for the community, one that would house a cultural display, a Filipino library, and a space for activities and group meetings. Personally, I don’t think there is a lack of desire, but perhaps a lack of communication among community leaders. One individual or group could not establish this alone, as there would be many steps necessary, as well as significant funds, and overall community unity. But together, a unified push could make things happen.

I return to this again because I believe in its viability, its necessity, and because I’ve seen how energized the community has become. My new research project on Filipino food and culture has quickly exposed me to several trends of which I had not been aware, and I feel that the Winnipeg Filipino community has been going through a sort of a cultural renaissance lately. What started well before the pandemic, is once again blossoming as public health restrictions ease and society returns to some sort of a normal.

I’ll point out only a few examples, and their choice has not been an act of judging their merit. My first observation of this was the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival, whose first celebration I reported on in 2013. This was not the first Filipino festival, but it had a distinct flare to it and has gained a lot of attention in the community over the years. It has also reached out beyond the Filipino community to engage others in the Manitoban ethnic mosaic. Along these lines, Foodtrip Market has also showcased local Filipino culinary talents, given a fighting chance for new and established food outlets to showcase their offerings. The unique model of the Foodtrip Market, held three times this summer, is an innovative approach to the idea of collaboration and appears to show no sign of slowing down. The Kultivation Festival is another excellent example, one which received significant interest from the CBC. This brings together a dynamic and inventive group of Filipino entrepreneurs and creators to showcase the avant garde of Filipino culture in the city, and indeed the Filipino diaspora. It is, after all, at this Festival that its popular Halo-halo beer made its appearance (and let’s hope it shows up again, somewhere in the city). A final note to the semi-mysterious Manila Nights pop-up phenomenon that has pushed the boundaries of Filipino cuisine.

This past June saw several nights of Filipino performances that showcased the brilliant cultural talents of the community. Thinking beyond the Philippine Independence Ball – itself a time-honoured institution of the community – I focus on the cultural presentation of the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers, Inc. (MAFTI, of which I have been a board member since 2019), which showcased both youth and adult performers, or Musica: An evening of Kundiman & Philippine Art Songs held at the PCCM. This last event exposed me to a new segment of the community’s exceptional musical talent. The rendition of Sa Ugoy ng Duyan still echoes in my memory. This year also saw the rejuvenation of the Pinoy Pop Star competition in a final night of performances on August 26th that were amazing to watch. To say there was only one winner is a difficult statement to make, as every artist demonstrated exceptional skill. I’d also like to point to the Filipino Music & Arts Association of Canada, Inc., which has provided a further venue to Winnipeg’s Filipino musical talent. Each of these cultural outlets highlight a unique section of the community’s talent ­­– it is not the same group of artists performing in different events, but rather a unique range of venues showcasing the variety of artistry within the Filipino community.

MAFTI has for long been a preserver of Filipino heritage in the city since its inception forty-five years ago. It introduces Winnipeg’s youth to Filipino culture through its after-school heritage program – which grew incredibly over the pandemic – and adult language classes, of which I have been blessed to partake. Most notably, MAFTI has also secured with the Winnipeg School Division (WSD) the introduction of a Filipino Bilingual program, starting in 2023-2024. This adds to that already offered by the Seven Oaks School Division, but the enthusiasm with which the WSD has supported the program is a sign of how much its administrators recognize the value of a Filipino bilingual program in Winnipeg, which is itself a testament to the decades-long advocacy of Filipino teachers in the division.

Finally, I’d like to point to the publishing activities of ANAK, whose hard work and collaboration with Filipino authors has created a dynamic library of titles that celebrate and explain Filipino culture.

These are only a smattering of events and activities, and this list is not intended to be definitive but rather representative. All of this is evidence of the enthusiasm of the Filipino community, and of an energy that comes from a belief in the value of the preservation and spread of Filipino culture. As a historian, I know that the community has long engaged in these activities, but at the same time I see new elements emerging. In particular, the engagement of Filipino youth – especially those who were born in Canada – is adding to the dynamism of the community.

I believe the energy to re-create a Filipino Town in Winnipeg is there, and it will come about with the coming together of Winnipeg’s various Filipino groups. There is much leadership, so much desire for change, and so much pride in Filipino culture in the community that there is no real reason it cannot happen. Given the per capita concentration of the Filipinos in Winnipeg compared to other cities in Canada, there is no reason Winnipeg cannot become a national leader and even an international centre of Filipino culture. I hope to see this happen, and to happen soon.

And why not? Let’s make it happen.

Jon Malek received his PhD from Western University and currently teaches history at the University of Manitoba. He is working on a book manuscript on the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community.