Taking root and building a home: Filipino Canadians gathered in Vancouver for the 2nd Counterspin conference
July 20, 2011
The weekend of June 18th to 19th marked a monumental point in the history of Filipino Canadian community, as over 60 Filipino Canadians asserted their right to take root and build a home here in Canada. Sponsored by the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues and in collaboration with the Philippine Studies Series, the Congress of Progressive Filipino Canadians (CPFC) made their impact in the West Coast through the weekend conference titled “Counterspin: Taking root and building a home, deepening our understanding of genuine settlement and integration.” As Filipinos have been entering Canada for over 50 years since the 1960s, emergence of a new path towards genuine settlement and integration is both urgent and timely. Counterspin was originally launched in Montreal in May last year and the CPFC was formed as a result of the conference. Counterspin is a historical landmark for Filipino Canadians as it represents a national movement towards the community’s full participation and entitlement.
Five panel presentations with three speakers on each panel were the educational components of Counterspin, which took place during the first day of the conference. The second day was reserved for action-planning to address issues and research that were highlighted on the first day.
Beginning the 1st day of panels, “Creating and nurturing a new path” introduced the history and experience of the Filipino Canadian community as a transnational community, whose struggles are directly shaped by the vagaries of neoliberal globalization. As elaborated by speakers Ninotchka Rosca, Dr. Geraldine Pratt and Emmanuel Sayo, the basic challenges of settlement and integration faced by Filipino Canadians can only be genuinely addressed by creating their own history in their new home. Instead of privileging other people’s struggles, the Filipino Canadian community’s own struggle is now being wrought based on their own experiences to combat the low wage, dead-end and temporary conditions they are relegated to.
The second panel, “The leading force: makers of history,” continued by describing how the present neoliberal system thrives on the blood and sweat of the working class. Arlene Oropel’s sharing of her experiences as a former domestic worker was beyond a mere exposé of issues under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) but also represented a forward-looking challenge to all workers to demand their full entitlement. Ending their exploitation as workers under the LCP is to call for its scrapping, wherein they can arrive as permanent residents and accredited workers and demand for the creation of universal childcare. Joy Alarcon, founding member of Kabataang Montreal and vice-chairperson of PWC-Quebec, encouraged all workers to look beyond their own issues and forge alliances with other oppressed communities to fully realize the interconnectedness of our struggles for community-building and to take united action as members of the Canadian working class. Bryan Taguba, member of SIKLAB-ON and UKPC/FCYA-ON, boldly spoke of how community organizing empowered him to further look into the conditions of young workers in Canada and to challenge the circular pattern of migration. Aptly demonstrated by the panelists and representatives of various chapters of SIKLAB, workers from the Global South, majority of who are women, have great potential and experience for becoming a leading force in transforming society and making history.
The women’s panel, called “Something else, something fierce: new perspective in our women’s organizing,” featured PWC members Charlene Sayo, Qara Clemente and Krystle Alarcon. Sayo’s presentation challenged young women to cultivate a new culture of sisterhood based on class as is necessary in creating a militant women’s movement. By exposing the links between consumerist and shallow relationships among women as built upon capitalism’s dividing nature, she highlighted how the root causes of young women’s issues can be surmounted by comprehensively addressing the situation of women in the community and in society as a whole. Clemente presented on the new revolutionary road that young women should take in community development and a struggle for genuine equality and liberation. Alarcon expanded on Clemente’s presentation by focusing particularly on the media. She said that youth should take it upon themselves to “counterspin” how the media spins Filipino Canadian issues. “We should no longer be subjects,” she asserted, because of the power of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to spark social movements. With the new perspective illustrated by this panel, the road ahead for all Filipino Canadian women can be an empowered one.
The youth panel, titled “Sharpening our tools for our future,” demonstrated the capacity of Filipino Canadian youth to harness their own tools as liberating mechanisms towards social transformation. Carlo Sayo, Chairperson of UKPC-BC, showed how youth apathy and alienation in relation to consumerist culture was at play during the June 15 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. In stark contrast to such actions, the achievements of youth movements around the world, as locally exemplified by UKPC-BC, have instead uncovered the wellspring of transformative action within youth who are asserting their full participation in society. Reuben Sarumugam’s presentation brought the history of UKPC-Ontario’s benchmarks in youth organizing to life by demonstrating how their relentless efforts in community-based research and organizing is committed to making Filipino Canadian youth count in Ontario and beyond. Neil Castro’s presentation ended the panel by challenging all youth to be critical thinkers and doers. Instead of passively accepting their continued isolation and underdevelopment, he calls on all youth to acknowledge their realities as marginalized youth and to create their own homegrown perspectives and forms of resistance, as demonstrated through his experience with UKPC-Kabataang Montreal.
As tantamount to becoming full participants in Canadian society, the last panel on social services and the lack thereof for the Filipino Canadian community began to create a progressive understanding of the myriad possibilities of a self-sufficient and developed community. Ilyan Ferrer, a PhD student in McGill University and member of Kabataang Montreal demonstrated the workings of social services in Canada and its endemic barriers in accessibility, such as lack of awareness, language, and the current system’s inherently individualizing tendency. Shauna Butterwick, a UBC professor in Educational Studies and long-time supporter of the NAPWC, bolstered Ferrer’s presentation by reiterating how neoliberal policy reforms in Canada have made social services more market-driven and restrictive. Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC), put in the last word on the panel and the 1st day’s proceedings by linking the all-around impacts of neoliberal budget cuts and immigration policies on the community’s ability to access social services and their overall awareness in demanding for their full entitlement.
Counterspin delegates then made their way to Simply Delicious Galleria where cultural performances by different members of UKPC, PWC and SIKLAB showed their national solidarity by singing, rapping and performing spoken word pieces. Everyone was cheering and dancing to progressive lyrics and chanted “end the exploitation, march for liberation!” at the end of the show. Some youth members even came up with performances on the spot about transnationalism and economic marginalization, already showing how the conference inspired them. More members have also joined the Kalayaan Centre’s Tinig ng Masa radio show and have been very vocal about the issues they have learnt at Counterspin and continue to advocate for the genuine settlement and integration of Filipino Canadians.
During the last day of the conference, the previous day’s proceedings were put into action as youth and workers gathered into their own sectoral groups to create national action plans that are particular to their situation. Their collective visioning and planning generated concrete ideas for advancing the call for the community’s just and genuine settlement and integration.
With a deeper understanding and a broader vision of the steps ahead in community organizing, the CPFC will continue to pave and lead the path towards the Filipino Canadian community’s just and genuine settlement and integration.
For photos of the conference, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/pwcontario/sets/72157627062745205/
Issued by the Counterspin Conference Secretariat
Vancouver, British Columbia
July 20, 2011