Filipino-Canadian community’s stories of migration unravels at the arrival of the Maleta

//Filipino-Canadian community’s stories of migration unravels at the arrival of the Maleta

Filipino-Canadian community’s stories of migration unravels at the arrival of the Maleta

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Toronto, ON – March 24, 2010 – On the evening of March 20, 2010, over 180 Filipino women, workers, youth and allies linked arms in welcoming the arrival of the much-anticipated Maleta (Suitcase) Project in Toronto. Entitled “End the Exploitation, March for Liberation: The Maleta Project Launch,” the multi-media arts exhibit and cultural show unpacked the Filipino-Canadian community’s maletas before the public, exposing their rich history of migration. With a particular focus on enhancing women’s equality, human rights and genuine development, the launch was a milestone event for the Magkaisa Centre’s organizing work with the community.

The exhibit featured art produced by the member organizations of the Magkaisa Centre: the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario; SIKLAB-Ontario (a Filipino-Canadian workers organization); and Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance-Ontario (UKPC/FCYA-ON). Drawing an overcapacity crowd of community members, academics, artists, trade unionists and members of other progressive organizations, the launch was a celebration of a unique form of creativity expressed with strong social content, setting the spotlight on a community that strives to define and produce a dynamic culture that is truly empowering and transformative.

The night opened with a song performed by Sinag Bayan Ontario entitled “Bangon Maria,” a call to women’s uprising and liberation. Joy Sioson, Chairperson of the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario (PWC-ON) welcomed everyone as she announced the arrival of the Maleta Project in Toronto, ushering in another phase in Filipino women’s organizing towards full participation and entitlement in Canadian society. She also marked the day as the beginning of the celebration of PWC’s 10 years of organizing work in Ontario.

Messages of solidarity were read from the Kalayaan Centre in British Columbia and the Kapit Bisig Centre in Quebec, followed by a keynote speech from Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC). Diocson shared the journey of her maleta when she migrated in the 1970’s. “I only had one suitcase. Being a landed immigrant and a nurse, I knew what I had in my maleta – a dozen of nursing uniforms and nursing caps. I was ready for work,” she narrates, illustrating how the migration of the Filipino community in Canada has always been in response to the economy’s labour demands. For her, the maleta represented both the community’s history and its future as the 4th largest community in Canada. She encouraged the audience to unpack more maletas through documenting our women’s oral histories to further reveal the community’s inspiring stories of struggle and resistance.

Artist/Educator Marissa Largo shared her experiences and valuable insights as a community artist who works with women and youth in Toronto and in Montreal. She emphasized that the use of Participatory Action Research methodology in the art-making process is rooted in genuine community participation and driven by the passion for social change. “Everyone was involved in every stage, from the conceptualization to the art-making,” comments Mark Serrano, a member of UKPC/FCYA-ON. “As participants of the project, working and integrating with others allowed me to connect my personal experiences to our community’s common struggles.” He discovered that the true contents of the maletas were these actual narratives. “Otherwise, art without social relevance is hollow, like an empty suitcase,” he further states.

The closing remarks were delivered by Alleben Purugganan, member of the PWC-ON. Posing the question, “What do art and women’s liberation have in common?” She challenged dominant notions of freedom in a world where systemic barriers continually hinder Filipino women from achieving genuine equality. As both an artist and a community organizer, she described Maleta as a larger project of redefining culture – one that is for the people and raises a collective consciousness. “Art for the people is for liberation,” she emphasizes. The volunteers and participants of the project then returned on stage to perform a song called “Wavin Flag” expressing the community’s strength and their continuing struggle for freedom.

“Interweaved through years of educating, organizing and mobilizing, the Maleta Project not only makes our task of community building more fun and engaging but, more importantly, reclaims the central role of women as producers of history and innovators of creative expression,” explains Stephanie Sanchez, a UKPC/FCYA-ON and PWC-ON member. “We may not be what the mainstream perceives as artists, but the collective process allowed us to creatively harness our particular struggles and resistance. We were able to make art that our community can really relate to” she adds.

Many were impressed by the ingenuity and beauty of the art pieces, noting the clear conveyance of the issues that they shed light on. Topics ranged from the Live-in Caregiver Program, traumas of migration, family separation, racism and access to healthcare. The fact that people could relate to the Maleta Project is a testament to the effectiveness of the collective process through which the project was conceived. “It was so fun getting involved with something like this for the first time, especially when I hear people say how good and well-organized the exhibit is,” says Meryll Aguila, who is currently in high school and is one of the project’s participants. She continues, “ang gaan gaan sa pakiramdam pagkatapos ng pagod at hirap [It feels good after all that hard work]”

A groundbreaking and historic evening for the Filipino community, the night marked the beginning of the Magkaisa Centre’s seven-month long art and culture initiative. “The launching just gave us all a glimpse of the bigger and better things that will come out of the Maleta Project,” said Sanchez. The Magkaisa Centre knows Filipinos will continue to arrive with their maletas: there will be more stories to be told, and more battles to be fought. Sanchez states, “The Maleta is the story of our lives. It is the tangible manifestation of our assertion of making the Filipino community count in Canada.”

Members of the Magkaisa Centre are getting ready for another round of workshops, research projects and community mobilizations – together envisioning Filipinos as empowered members of this society. Members of the Magkaisa Centre concluded the night with the statement that ‘the Maleta project siginifies the beginning of a new paradigm for our community.’


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By | 2017-08-29T23:32:22+00:00 March 24th, 2010|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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