The B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training has appointed Rene-John Nicolas to the Board of Governors of the Vancouver Community College (VCC).
Nicolas is the first Canadian of Filipino heritage to have been appointed to the ruling body of B.C. post-secondary institution.
The eldest son of Renato and Remedios Nicolas, originally from Minalin, Pampanga, Nicolas earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and Juris Doctor from the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Nicolas is a tireless advocate of workers’ rights. He currently serves as an advocacy staff representative for the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.
Asked where this particular drive came from, Nicolas points to UBC. “That was the first place that I really had to think about my “Filipinoness” because I did not really see myself being represented on campus. When you don’t often see people like yourself, it makes you want to find and explore that part of yourself that you don’t see in your surroundings,” he recalls.
While socializing with fellow Canadian Filipinos at the UBC campus, Nicolas found a broader community, mostly second-generation Filipinos, in Kababayan UBC, a student organization dedicated to promoting Filipino culture, traditions and heritage and exploring the Filipino Canadian identity.
According to Nicolas, what started out as social outings began to formalize into organizations. He remembers that those social outings “led to deeper conversations situating ourselves in the larger community and in turn situating ourselves and our community in the broader Canadian society”.
It was through Kababayan UBC that Nicolas was introduced to other Filipino organizations like Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada based in the Kalayaan Centre, which housed several organizations doing specific work in various sectors of the Filipino community. Working with those organizations revealed to him key issues within the Filipino community, like the plight of live-in caregivers as well as Filipino youth who experience difficulties in navigating the Canadian education system.
A former Kalayaan Centre director with whom he had conversations about uniquely Filipino issues prompted Nicolas to consider studying law. “It was conversations with her that inspired me to consider pursuing law school as a means of potentially working on some of those issues.”
Nicolas also met his wife Maureen through Kababayan UBC. Together with other UBC colleagues, they founded the Kababayan Academic Mentorship Program (KAMP) which aims to help Filipino teens through programs that include academic tutoring, support in learning English and personal development.
Nicolas describes his parents’ immigration story as “pretty typical”. His maternal grandmother raised her children on her own after her husband’s early death. The eldest daughter, armed with a nursing degree, immigrated to Canada in the 60s. “One by one, she sponsored the rest of her siblings, including my mom, to come to Canada,” Nicolas related.
His father worked in Saudi Arabia prior to eventually following his mother to Canada. “They are classic products of the Philippines’ labour export policy,” Nicolas describes his parents’ Canadian journey. Nicolas has two younger siblings.
As a member of VCC’s Board of Governors, Nicolas hopes to bring his experiences working with immigrant youth groups and labour organizations to the table.
“I believe those experiences help me connect with two key stakeholder groups in the VCC community: students and staff/faculty.” Nicolas adds, “I hope those connections will in turn inform my responses to the decisions I will be faced with as a member of the Board of Governors.”