Filipino Canadians:
a Growing Community

By: Rosalina E. Bustamante

From: Polyphony Vol.6, 1984 pp. 168-171
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

The sixties and the seventies were the decades that witnessed a great surge in the growth of the City of Toronto. The seventies saw this great city becoming the chief metropolis and economic centre for all of Canada. It is very interesting to note that the influx of Filipino immigration to Canada coincided with the peak period of the city's growth. It was in the late seventies when Toronto finally overcame Montreal in size and when (1975-77) the Philippines was among the first top ten native countries of immigrants to Canada.

This observation becomes more significant when we look at immigration statistics and find that more than 50 per cent of Filipino immigrants every year come to Ontario and that the majority of them settle in Toronto and its suburbs. There are about 80,000 Canadian residents of Filipino origin, according to the latest estimates, and about 35,000 of them reside in Toronto and its environs.

Available records show that the first Filipino immigrant to Canada entered the country in 1931. Up to the early 1950s only ten Filipino immigrants to this country had been recorded. From 1946-64 the number totalled 770. Then in 1965 alone, 1,767 Filipinos entered Canada. Interviews with a considerable number of these Filipinos, predominantly females, who arrived in the middle sixties and settled in Toronto, revealed that most of them were nurses, laboratory technicians, office workers and a few doctors. Very few among them came directly from the Philippines. The majority were nurses who were members of the American-Philippines Exchange Program, whose work visas in the United States had expired and had heard of the great demand for their work skills in Toronto. The rapid growth of the population at the time necessitated the opening of more hospital units and other health services. The local labour pool could not sufficiently provide for the demand in hospitals and health clinics . These were the positions that Filipino nurses conveniently filled.

Thus started the steady growth of Filipino immigration to Toronto from the United States and in the later sixties and seventies, directly from the Philippines. The newcomers were mostly young people, who were professionals, trained in colleges and universities in their home country, but who could not find the opportunities they sought in the Philippines. This exodus of professionals from the Philippines has continued up to the present time.

A large number of Filipinos who had come to Toronto between the mid-sixties and early seventies made their homes in the apartments on Maitland Street, near the main thoroughfare -Yonge Street-in the downtown. Some preferred the St. Jamestown area near Sherbourne and Wellesley, while others settled in the southwest of the city, in the Jameson-Queen-King Streets area. The choice of area of residence has been influenced by several factors: proximity to the hospitals and business offices, where most of the Filipinos worked, and the location of Catholic churches in the vicinity-St. Basil's Church on Bay Street, Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Sherbourne and the Holy Family Church on King Street near Jameson. Most of these Filipinos were young female Catholics who came from highly protective families in their home country. The nearness to a Catholic church offered them a certain feeling of security. These girls banded together for company as well as for economy. They lived in twos or threes in each apartment unit. They went to church and to social functions together; they double-dated with male friends. Many of them have developed lasting bonds with each other and still bring their families together for reunions during the Christmas holidays.

Most of these first Filipino immigrants found jobs in Toronto with relative ease. Used to a frugal life, they were able to live comfortably and still set aside some money, which they sent home to their families to help their parents, brothers and sisters. But there were needs that could not be satisfied materially. Having come from closely knit families, these young girls suffered from loneliness and lack of family support, which even a city of bright lights could not satisfy. It was a strange place with people of varied cultures. There were very few young unattached male Filipinos they could go out with. They were quite hesitant and unsure about going out with men from other cultural groups. They found that the mores of conduct between the sexes here in North America were very different from what they were brought up with in the Philippines. These conflicts in cultural values brought about emotional problems and entanglements for some of them at the time, which have left lasting scars.

Filipinos as a people are known for their great capacity to adjust to situations, no matter how unfavourable. They find a way out of their problems without complaining. And these Filipinos in Toronto were no exception. They avoided loneliness by working long hours, moonlighting. This could easily be done during the late sixties and early seventies because of the shortage of hospital and office workers in Toronto.

Then, during their long holidays, many of these young females went home to the Philippines for a visit and got engaged. Some of them already had boy-friends in the Philippines before they immigrated to Canada. They then sponsored the immigration of their fiancés to this country and got married here according to immigration laws governing sponsorship. A considerable number of the immigrant girls had also later married here to men of different cultural backgrounds.

The seventies, especially the latter half, had been years of Filipino family immigration to Canada. These were the years that saw the dramatic increase of Filipino senior citizens in Toronto. The extended family is a cherished Filipino cultural value, which includes the grandparents as members of the immediate family. Hence, Filipino parents in their fifties and sixties have been sponsored here by their children. Their coming has served two purposes as far as their children are concerned: they provided moral support, and they helped in looking after the home and the children of their married daughters or sons.

Toronto Filipinos, in their quiet and unobtrusive ways, have now created a niche for themselves in this city quite different from their earlier lifestyles in the sixties. Mostly married and with children, they now live in their suburban homes, but still work in hospitals and offices in Toronto. Male Filipinos are mostly employed as skilled workers, office employees, key punchers and computer programmers. Some of the immigrants-both male and female-have gone up the business ladder and are now holding positions of responsibility in their work places.

St. Jamestown and the Jameson-King-Queen area have remained favourite settlement areas for Filipinos in Toronto. Crescent Town and Massey Square in the Victoria Park-Danforth Avenue area and Thorncliffe Park near Don Mills also have considerable numbers of Filipino families.

The growth of the Filipino community in Toronto has given rise to businesses that cater to their needs. Some of them have succeeded; others have failed to survive. Evidence of the rise and fall of Filipino business can be observed along the west side of Queen Street where food stores, craft shops, travel agencies, hair salons and even a theatre showing Filipino films can easily be spotted by passers-by. A considerable number of these enterprises have come and gone. The mobility of the Filipino population in Toronto has been partly responsible for the failure of some of these businesses to establish a permanent clientele. Filipino Canadian businessmen, it appears, also need to promote their goods to members of other cultural groups in the city if they hope to succeed in the competitive Toronto market.

Since the late sixties, Filipino Canadians in this city have formed a variety of organisations. The earliest had been heterogeneous in nature-as long as one was from the Philippines, he or she was eligible for membership. As the number of Filipinos increased, the associations tended to have acquired more precise membership criteria. Among them have been organizations of Filipinos coming from the same region or city in the Philippines, like the Circulo Ilongo, the San Pablenyos, the Bohol Association of Canada, the Anac Ti Batac Association and the United Aklanon Association. Graduates of certain universities in the Philippines have also banded together in associations. There are two groups from the state university -U.P. Alumni Association and U.P. Club of Ontario. There are as well the F.E.U. Alumni Association and the U.S.T. College of Nursing Alumni Association. Filipinos are generally very loyal to the institution of learning they graduated from and take pride in being identified with the school, part of the high value they place on a college or university education. There are also professional organisations, such as the Association of Operating Engineers and the Association of Filipino-Canadian Accountants.

With the growth of the Filipino senior citizen population in the city in the seventies, organisations have also been formed. Among them are the Pillars, the Sampaguita Senior Citizens Club, the Filipino Parents Association of Metropolitan Toronto, the Filipino Senior Citizens' Club of Metro Toronto and the Filipino-Canadian Senior Citizens' Centre of Metro Toronto.

While there are quite a number of groups making cultural presentations now and then, two of them appear to be better organised and have survived the test of time-the Fiesta Filipina, which makes the annual presentation in the Manila Pavilion of the Metro Toronto Caravan, and the Folklorico Filipino, which thousands of Torontonians have seen during the Philippine Day celebration at Harbourfront every year. Both groups have toured Canada and the United States on invitation. The founders and organisers of Fiesta Filipina have moved to the suburbs, but most of the members of the troupe are still Toronto residents.

There are three volunteer organizations in Toronto that help newcomers from the Philippines with the usual problems of newly arrived immigrants, as well as those who have been here for some time and still need assistance integrating into the multicultural community of this city. These are the Silayan Community Centre and Our Lady of Lourdes Multicultural Centre in the east end of the city, and the Kababayan Community Centre in the west end.

There are still other organisations that do not fall into the categories previously mentioned-sports, religious and political groups. In the First Conference of Filipinos in Ontario, held at the Holiday Inn in Toronto on November 18-19, 1983, thirty-seven organisations participated. Seventeen of them were from Toronto, another seventeen from adjacent cities, and the other three were from Brantford, Hamilton and Kingston.

Since the institution of martial law in the Philippines in 1972, Filipino immigrants to Canada have included some who left the country because they could not tolerate the existing form of government, or to avoid political persecution. Some members of this group have settled in Toronto and its suburbs. The atmosphere of political freedom enjoyed by residents in this city and in this country as a whole has provided an opportunity for this segment of the community to air their views about government policies in the homeland and rally other Filipinos to unite with them in bringing back a democratic system to the Philippines. The Coalition Against Marcos Dictatorship/Philippines Solidarity Network has led in this movement. The recent assassination of Benigno Aquino, who was considered the most powerful opponent of the incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos, has added fuel to the fire of the anti-Philippine government movement among Filipinos in this city. The sad event seems to have had a unifying influence.

The year 1984 will mark two decades of consistent growth of the Filipino community in Toronto. It has been a part of the development of this city during the last twenty years. Filipino culture and heritage have enriched the city s multicultural mosaic. While retaining their culture, a majority of Filipinos has easily integrated into the life of this metropolis.

Comparatively speaking, the Filipino community is one of the youngest in the city. And just like other cultural groups in Toronto, they had and still have multifarious problems to surmount-between them and established institutions in the city, as well as among themselves. Preoccupied mostly with improving their individual lifestyles, their civic and political participation appears to be limited. Slowly the Filipinos in Toronto and its suburbs are coming together to face the common issues that confront them. Having failed, on the whole, in their individual efforts to have their academic achievements and professional experience in the Philippines recognized in Ontario, they have started to bind together to form group representations to be heard on this issue. They have gained minor victories in these efforts, encouraging them to carry on.

Filipinos brought with them to Toronto two important heritage traits-patience and perseverance. They will keep on working with all other cultural groups here to surmount any barriers in their way. Toronto is indeed a fast-growing city; so is its Filipino Canadian community.

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