By Haniely Pableo
When I came to Canada in 2006, I barely knew anybody except for my immediate family. I was looking for an organization that could somehow expand my social circle. One of the greatest challenges for young immigrants is to find that environment where you can feel like you belong. I was new. I was homesick. Life was just about work, home and tasks in between. Routine. Boring...then....
It was mid-afternoon of September 2007. I went to the nearby library to study for my U.S. nursing exam. I chose to occupy an empty table trying to be alone so I can concentrate. Next thing I know, two people came and occupied the two seats. They started having a conversation just about anything under the sun. I was distracted. "This is the library, aren't they supposed to be quiet?" I thought to myself. I hoped that maybe they would realize that they were noisy and distracting to other people on the table (like me). That did not happen. I sat there looking at my reading but actually listening to their conversation. I realized that they were having a conversational English tutorial, as the guy corrected the girl on how to say things and how to spell them. I could not concentrate. Instead of transferring to another table, I figured since they distracted me, I will distract them right back. Sounds fair right?
A middle-aged Filipina, also sat on the table and joined the conversation. So the four of us were there, talking. I learned that the girl is Korean learning English in Canada. The middle-aged Filipina was doing some research on something, and the white guy's name is Rob. As we were talking, Rob told me about Kapisanan and their programs. He gave me a number and a name (Caroline Mangosing, the executive director). After awhile, I said my goodbyes to everyone at the table, went home and "googled" Kapisanan.
I know that young newcomer Filipino immigrants have the shy factor, i.e. "Hiya". Trust me, I also feel that and I still have that in me. It took me awhile to work up the nerve to go to Kapisanan even though I was intrigued. The "hiya" is hardwired into our identity especially if you are born and raised in the Philippines. But this is not the Philippines anymore. This is Canada! I decided I should get out there and meet people, especially the young Filipino-Canadian community. I didn't know where they were. I wasn't in school at that time. Maybe, Kapisanan is the answer, I thought. So I went to Kapisanan to attend one of their workshops, a dance workshop facilitated by the amazing Catherine Hernandez. I was alone. I did not know anybody, but I felt safe. They look like me, brown. The worst thing that could happen to me is really... nothing! I actually gained new acquaintances and great friends. I met Caroline in person, Vincent Galvez, Henessey Cruz, Dianna David and Jodinand Villaflores. These people amazed me! They are young, talented, vibrant and enthusiastic. If I had not taken that first step of going there, I would not have met them.
After attending that dance workshop, I attended a few of their events. Later, I became a volunteer, met more young Filipino-Canadians from other organizations like Migrante Ontario Youth, and all the university Filipino Students Associations (FCAR, FSAT and FSAY). I participated in PSL facilitated by Leonard Cervantes, rediscovered my art, collaborated with other artists, became part of the SuperIndays, became a band member of the neo-tribal Filipino music collective, Santa Guerrilla and expanded my network further. Now, I am the junior co-chair of the Board of Directors of Kapisanan Philippine Center for Arts and Culture.
"Hindi makapal ang mukha ko, kinapalan ko lang"
Sounds like a success story right? But really, it was no biggie. It can happen to anyone. All you have to do is try and take that first step towards Kapisanan's door and keep an open mind. That's all you have to do. Simple. Kung bagong dating ka sa Canada, don't let the "hiya" hinder you from knowing other people! You will feel liberated knowing that you can and it is possible to mingle with young Filipinos born and raised in Canada! Madami na din mga bagong dating sa Kapisanan. What's the worst thing that they can do to you? Nothing! And I bet you, they are also waiting for you to approach them as much as you are waiting for them to approach you. No judgment. No assumptions. They are just people. Human beings like you. They have "hiya" too.
I will be waiting for you with a smile. And who knows, later on you will also be writing your Kapisanan story :)
But wait, I forget to mention something. Remember Rob, the guy who introduced me to Kapisanan? Two years past since that day in the library, my friend, bandmate, spoken word artist, Myk Miranda invited me to perform with him to open up for Times Neue Roman for an arts exhibit closing. After Myk and I performed, a guy approached me and shook my hand. He looked familiar to me. As "kapal" face as I am, I asked him if he was the guy I met in the library. And he was! He remembered the story as well. Rob, the guy I met in the library is Robert Bolton of Times Neue Roman. Amazing!