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Filipino community ready to break down cultural barriers

“There are a lot of Filipinos in the Bow Valley but this is a great way for us to be seen and for people to learn a little more about us.”

CANMORE – Bayanihan is a Filipino word that encompasses the spirit of communal unity and helping others to achieve a certain goal without expecting rewards.

“It’s just natural for us to help each other – we want to be heroes for each other. Not a hero in the Western-idea like Superman, but just in little ways. It’s installed in our hearts to help each other,” said Jyn San Miguel, a Filipino resident of the Bow Valley for the past five years.

June is a special month for the Filipino community as it is Filipino Heritage Month and June 12 is Filipino Independence Day. The tight-knit community typically celebrates June by practising bayanihan, by giving back to the Bow Valley.

Last year, the Canmore Filipino Canadian Society partnered with the Town of Canmore in a cleanup event to pick up litter in the community. The Bow Valley Food Alliance also worked with the society to offer a $2,000 grant to provide 450 lunches to frontline and essential workers.

This year the society wanted to do something a little different. In partnership with Settlement Services in the Bow Valley and artsPlace, the trio will host an online cultural learning circle with a focus on Filipino culture on Wednesday (June 2).

“The cultural learning circle is important because it helps to disentangle some of those misunderstandings and helps us to better understand each other,” said Nicole Fougère, program director at artsPlace.

San Miguel will be a speaker at the free online event and will share stories and songs from the Philippines. He will also share his experiences with discrimination in the Bow Valley and consider ways to promote inclusion.

“There are a lot of Filipinos in the Bow Valley, but this is a great way for us to be seen and for people to learn a little more about us.”

San Miguel is an artist and singer. In the Philippines, he led a choir of 300 singers. Since arriving in Canada 12 years ago, he said he has constantly had to prove himself, from rigorous auditioning to being asked for a music degree in order to work with a choir.

“In my experience, in Canada, if you don’t have degrees or certifications – you are not recognized. Back home if you have the talent and passion people will recognize that,” San Miguel said.

That led San Miguel to start the Canmore Singers, an inclusive choir group in the Bow Valley. During the event on June 2, San Miguel will lead the Canmore Singers in a performance of a Filipino folk song.

In the Philippines, work is hard to come by. San Miguel said people emigrate to Canada for the bountiful work opportunities. He added in Canada, now that people are able to have a stable job, they are starting to look outward and want to make a positive impact in the community.

He said the Filipino community is striving to become more involved in the broader community and wants to break down the cultural barriers that exist.

“I have felt discriminated plenty of times,” said San Miguel. “People are shocked when I say it happens in the Bow Valley.”

He said the discrimination tends to happen most at the workplace – from both management and customers.

“We want to end the stereotypes. We get stereotyped because we might not speak perfect English or because we have different customs and cultural values,” San Miguel said.

Fougère acknowledges these are difficult topics to talk about, but is adamant about creating a safe space to share stories about discrimination with respect.

“There were many things that caused the world to shake itself awake last year and that means acknowledging some very hard and sad things in our general culture," she said. "It empowers me, in my job at artsPlace, to create a platform to help others to be better community members and be actively anti-rascist.”

Instead of resenting those that discriminate, San Miguel wants to have an open discussion to promote synergy between the different cultures as the negative emotions surrounding discrimination can lead to mental health issues for all.

“It’s not just the victims that struggle, it’s those who are discriminatory too. When you discriminate against someone after a few days you’re going to look back and feel what you did was wrong and that will have a negative impact," he said.

San Miguel said this event is just one small step toward a more inclusive Bow Valley.

The online event will be delivered in a Zoom meeting, and those interested can register online.

“Kindness is the cookie-cutter for everything. We can come up with art, music and these special events to feel included but at the end of the day it boils down to kindness. Be kind. Be understanding,” said San Miguel.

Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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