In May 2002, the Government of Canada declared May as Asian Heritage Month. The move was meant to give all Canadians the opportunity to learn about the history of Asian Canadians, and to celebrate their contributions to Canadian society.
Throughout the month of May there are programs to recognize the achievements and contributions of people of Asian descent in Canada who excel in politics, media, the arts and business, while collectively and individually contributing to Canada’s socio-cultural fabric and prosperity. Asian Canadians not only physically helped to build Canada, but also culturally enriched its diversity, which has become an important and widely admired characteristic of Canada.
The history of Asians in Canada is long and filled with hardship. It includes some of Canada’s darkest moments in history with laws, rules and a white society that oppressed Asian people. Canada’s need for more immigrants to sustain its growth and economic development has improved the situation for Asian immigrants in general but racial discrimination continues to be a struggle for many Canadians of Asian descent to this day.
The late Paulina Corpuz, who initiated the move to declare June as Filipino Heritage Month across Canada, lamented the fact that although Filipinos are the fastest growing immigrant group in Canada, they remain invisible in places such as around the governing tables where policies affecting their daily lives are made by elected officials. She can now rest in peace because the last few years have seen a remarkable diminishing of Filipino invisibility in politics, thanks to Filipino women power!
In 2020 Mable Elmore won her fourth term as MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. In 2023 she was appointed by BC Premier David Eby as the province’s Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives – a position that, among other responsibilities, allows Elmore to support the establishment of a BC provincial Filipino cultural centre.
In the October 2021 election, several Filipino women caught the voting public ‘s attention. Rechie Valdez was the first Filipino woman elected as Member of Parliament representing the riding of Mississauaga-Streetsville in Ontario. Stephanie Valenzuela , a daughter of immigrant Filipinos was elected to the city council of Montreal, Quebec. Even in small towns, Filipino women were making a difference. Rowena Santos and Lisa Abarquez Bower were the first Filipino women elected in city Councils of Brampton and Ajax in Ontario. Yvonne Clark was the first Filipino elected member of the legislative assembly of Porter Creek, Yukon and Jocelyn Curteanu became the first Canadian Filipino to win a seat on the city council of Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon.
In 2021 two Filipino lawyers made history when Gail L. Gatchalian, Queen’s Counsel was appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and L. Bernette Ho was named to the Court of Appeal of Alberta, the highest court in the province.
In 2022 Dr. Flordeliz Osler was the first Filipino woman appointed senator by Prime Minister Trudeau. An internationally renowned surgeon, she was named to the Red Chamber to fill the seat for Manitoba. In that same year Maita Santiago, a Filipino community leader, won on October 15 a council seat in Burnaby, BC’s third biggest city, and Lailane Tumaneng was elected North Vancouver School Board Trustee in BC.
According to Canada Statistics there have been more Filipino women immigrants to Canada than men from the very beginning. Many of these women are adventurous, daring and indomitable. They have proven to be community organizers, risk-takers, trailblazers and envelope pushers. CFNet is proud to highlight more of these Filipino women’s illustrious successes in this month’s edition of Outstanding Canadian Filipinos for 2023. See how they shine.
Eleanor R. Laquian
For the Canadian Filipino.Net Editorial Board