Living Up to the Call of Continuing Our Legacy of Resistance
Communique for Palakasin II: Palakasin ang Ugnayan, Tuloy ang Laban! Filipino Youth Continue the Legacy of Resistance
December 17, 2009
Toronto, ON – On November 28th, 2009, members from Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance of Ontario (UKPC/FCYA–ON) gathered together for a one day conference titled Palakasin II: “Palakasin ang Ugnayan, Tuloy ang Laban! Filipino Youth Continue the Legacy of Resistance.” Over 50 Filipino youth, women, and workers forged their solidarity through panels and workshops that contextualized the community’s need for community-based action and resistance.
The first panel focused on our history of migration, along with presentations on Canadian Multiculturalism and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. The second panel shifted the focus on violence against women and the experience of young Filipinos as workers and children of live-in caregivers. Aside from being a celebration of UKPC/FCYA-ON’s two-year history of community organizing, a resounding call for the community’s just and genuine settlement and integration in Canada also formed the core of the day’s activities.
Alleben Purugganan and Aila Comilang, members of the Magkaisa Centre, started off the day by welcoming all participants. Kim Abis and Mervyn Mabini then proceeded on to highlight UKPC–ON’s activities for the past two years. The past two years have been rife with activities, including Palakasin! ang Tunay na Ugnayan: Strengthen our Youth Unite for Freedom (2007), Balik sa Ugat, Balik sa Komunidad Workshop Series (2008), Filipino Women’s Studies Workshop Series (2009), and the beginning of the Anti-Racism Education Research Project (2009), to name a few.
In beginning, to address the Filipino community’s need for a just and genuine settlement and integration, it is important to examine Filipino-Canadian history and its ties to Canadian immigration policy. Qara Clemente of the Philippine Women Centre presented the history of Filipino migration into Canada, as related to Canada’s labour needs and the economic conditions in the Philippines. Following this, Reuben Sarumugam of UKPC–ON presented a slide show on the history of Canada’s multiculturalism policy. He emphasized the need to critically examine multiculturalism policy amidst the backdrop of immigration policies that have historically been racist, classist and gendered. He ended with a call to action titled “Moving Forward by Exercising Our Citizenship Rights.” He stated, “we have to exercise our democratic rights here in Canada, speak for ourselves and fight for our genuine settlement, integration and full entitlement in Canada.” Joy Sioson concluded the first panel by elaborating on the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). These government programs have direct, and often negative, impacts on the community, especially in the aspects of women’s equality, human rights and development, economic marginalization, systemic racism and social exclusion. Because of stringent work requirements, violent and abusive work experiences in the LCP and a lack of social infrastructure for the needs of these workers, programs such as the LCP and TFWP virtually legislate Filipino families into poverty. Furthermore, the impacts also trickle down to the youth, as live-in caregivers are separated from their families for an average of over nine years. “These are complex issues that must be matched with an even more comprehensive framework for action. It is the task of the new generation to undertake these tasks, while staying sharp and keeping in mind the interrelated struggles of combating systemic racism, overcoming poverty, making Filipino youth count in our future and enhancing Filipino women’s equality,” Sioson concluded.
While the first panel set the context for the history of Filipino-Canadians, the second panel focused on the stories of community members, whose lived experiences are a testament to the ever-pressing need for resistance. Edelyn Pineda, member of SIKLAB–ON, shared her experiences of working as a live-in caregiver. After paying thousands of dollars to a placement agency, she found herself stranded in Vancouver airport and without an employer; eventually becoming jobless in Toronto. “I am only one of many Filipino women who come to Canada through the LCP who find themselves going through the same traumatic experience. We have to question under what circumstances Filipino women are entering Canada, and how the LCP promotes these conditions,” Pineda said. She continues to speak out about her experience and questions the Canadian government’s interests in promoting the program.
Linked with the struggles of women in the LCP were its direct impacts on Filipino youth, as presented by Ken Santos and Bryan Taguba, both children of live-in caregivers and members of UKPC-ON and SIKLAB-ON. In particular, Santos shared his experience of empowerment after realizing how systemic structures, such as the LCP in Canada and the Labour Export Policy in the Philippines, had direct impacts on himself and his family. “Family separation happens when your family is working so much that they hardly see each other, your mother is still working as a nanny after finishing the LCP, and your brothers drop out of school because their Philippine education is not accredited,” he shared. Both Santos and Taguba see the importance of their role as youth organizers in tackling the issues not only of their families, but also for the settlement and integration of the community as a whole.
The second panel also featured Marylou David and Jarelle Gabison from UKPC–ON and the PWC–ON’s Young Women’s Collective. Both women emphasized the importance of incorporating the women’s perspective in organizing work and the significant role that young women play in leading a movement. Jarelle Gabison highlighted the significance of PWC-ON’s Filipino Women’s Studies Course in educating, organizing and mobilizing around the legacy of Filipino women’s resistance in the Philippines and especially in Canada.
The second half of the day continued with workshops on “The Role of Young Women in Organizing” and “Racism in the Workplace and Education System.” Discussions and actions plans around topics such as women’s resistance, the contextualization of men’s role in women’s liberation and the systemic aspect of racism were brought up. In the workshop on “The Role of Young Women in Organizing,” Kelly Botengan, member of SIKLAB–ON and former live-in caregiver, stressed the need to redefine feminism and the debates around gender for Filipino women. “Our struggles do not simply revolve around relationships and pay equity,” she said. Filipino women in Canada, a majority of whom are young women, are currently trapped in dead-end jobs and experience a lack of social and economic opportunities for expressing and empowering themselves. The workshop ended on a high note, with an emphasis on the rich history of Filipino women’s organizing and resistance in Canada.
In the “Racism in the Workplace and Education System” workshop, facilitators Jean-Marc Daga of SIKLAB–ON and Aia Furigay, a member of UKPC–ON, drew relationships between the different types of racism experienced by workshop participants. The participants’ collective experiences of racism pointed the need to link these experiences to systemic racism. Instead of personalizing and individualizing these experiences, it was important to connect them back to the racist practices embedded within institutions such as schools, the justice system, and the workplace. Anchoring racism’s root causes in something concrete allowed participants to see how they can begin to tackle issues that seem ambiguous. Overall, the youth were challenged to continue the work that has been done by Filipinos in Canada, especially by Filipino women.
The day’s celebrations concluded with a solidarity concert that showcased pieces that incorporated messages of resistance, collective consciousness and empowerment. Audience members found themselves listening intently and singing along to the performances that carried the themes discussed by everyone throughout the day. The night ended off with a round of assessments, where participants gave their insights on the event and shared ideas for concrete action. “Seeing youth gathering for a good cause with such passion and dedication was inspiring. It strengthened my belief that change can and will happen,” commented Joyce Bondoc, a UKPC–ON member.
Armed with the knowledge of their history, current reality and concrete steps for mobilization and action, the Filipino youth and community members who participated in this one-day event were united towards advancing the struggle of the Filipino community in Canada.