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Filipinos find a home in Winnipeg as family ties drive immigration in Manitoba




Sarah Petz

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The National Post

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Cecile Beltran still runs in to some of her old students in the streets of Winnipeg years after she stopped teaching. But Ms. Beltran didn’t teach at the University of Winnipeg or Manitoba — it was at a campus in the Philippines.

Ms. Beltran, a software developer, immigrated to Winnipeg from the Philippines with her family in October, 2012. Since settling in Manitoba, she’s joined community groups of Filipinos from her hometown, and even found alumni associations from her university in the Philippines.

“I’ve had a lot of former students here, so everywhere I go I actually have familiar faces that I run into,” she said.

The latest census data shows that the Philippines have been Canada’s largest source of immigration since 2006. Nowhere is this new wave of immigration more evident than in Winnipeg.

Tagalog is now the second most-spoken language in the city. In sheer numbers, there are more Filipinos in Toronto and Vancouver, yet the Filipino community makes up a larger percentage of the population of Winnipeg — 8% — than any other visible minority.

This concentration has lead to the Filipino population becoming a significant part of city life in a way that hasn’t occurred in larger centres, said Philip Kelly, director of the Centre for Asian Research at York University in Toronto. Mr. Kelly is currently conducting research on Filipino youth in Canada, comparing Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

“It’s a very different scene in Winnipeg where the community is prominent, is a big part of the city’s life in a way that there’s a great deal more visibility,” he said.

“When I was there doing my research, the Blue Bombers were playing the Argonauts and it was Filipino night at the stadium. You’d never find a Filipino night at the Argonauts.”

Running down the list of first Filipino politicians in Canada, almost all were elected in Manitoba, mostly from Winnipeg’s North End neighbourhoods.

“You can find electoral ridings in the North End that are 20% Filipino electorates, and that’s why you see Filipino candidates getting elected by their community. If you look at civic life in Toronto or Vancouver, there’s nobody,” Mr. Kelly said.
The majority of Filipino immigrants to Manitoba have come through the family stream of the provincial nominee program — Manitoba is one of the only provinces to still have such a stream, for which immigrants don’t have to have a job offer or previous work experience in the province to apply.

Existing ties to the province through friends and family have been a large driver of immigration, as the size of the community has made it easier to attract Filipino immigrants and make them feel at home, said Reis Pagtakhan, an immigration lawyer based in Winnipeg and the son of former Winnipeg-North MP Rey Pagtakhan, the only Filipino-Canadian MP and cabinet minister. (Rey’s nephew, Mike Pagtakhan, is one of the only Filipino city councillors in Canada.)

“When there are more of them, you’ve got all of these various community organizations and social organizations that make people feel at home,” he said.

Manitoba boasts more Filipino community organizations than any other province. In some neighbourhoods of Winnipeg, streets have been named for national Filipino heroes, like Jose Rizal Way, one of the leaders of the Philippine revolution.

And yet, Winnipeg has no little Manila. Jino Distasio, director of urban studies at the University of Winnipeg, said that’s largely a matter of timing.

Historically, ethnic enclaves were formed out of oppression or social isolation, and became a refuge. The Filipinos started arriving in great numbers late — with barely 17,000 in 1986, but nearly triple that 25 years later, in 2011.
“I think with the Filipino community that began to arrive at a period in the 1970s and onward, it wasn’t the same type of occupation of cities like we saw before, with very marginalized, socially disadvantaged groups clustering together for mutual benefit,” he said.

Filipinos who have immigrated to Winnipeg haven’t experienced the degree of de-professionalization that Filipinos in other provinces have, Mr. Kelly said.

Only 3% of Filipino immigrants have come to Manitoba through the caregiver program. Most Filipino immigrants to Toronto and Vancouver have come through the live-in caregiver program, a stream that brings in nannies and caregivers for children and the elderly.


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