Volunteering and Community Involvement Review: Philippine Heritage Month

June has been officially declared as Philippine Heritage Month, for Edmonton, the city I live in, the whole province of Alberta, and the country! Events have sprung up that celebrate Philippine culture, providing means to get people to gather together and have fun. Edmonton is known to be a festival city, so it is not surprising that there are different festivities and activities to choose from. Here’s a quick overview of the events I knew about.

Last June 1, there is an indoor parade at Kingsway Mall. The format of the event is very much like the “Flores de Mayo” celebrations in rural towns and villages in the Philippines. “Flores de Mayo” is festival held in the Philippines in the month of May. It is one of the May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and lasts for the entire month, and such celebrations are not complete without a parade. For the one that took place here in Edmonton, everyone was invited to attend, wearing their most glamorous attire. After the parade, there was a program with various types of entertainment. According to the Facebook posts, it went well! I was so sad to miss it, and I hope to attend next year

And then, on June 8, there was Philippine Independence Day Celebration gala at River Cree Casino. It was another excuse to look fancy in my traditional Filipiniana attire I purchased a few years ago. I went on behalf of the Alberta Filipino Journal as I am a regular writer for them, and managed to get to know people and mingle. All of these are complemented with a great dinner, amazing performances, and a dance floor where almost everyone participated afterwards.

I literally danced like no one’s watching, in my Filipinana attire and with no dancing partner, it was no big deal. It’s nice to meet more people involved in the community here in Edmonton, especially those who have been here for many years more than me. Stories from the past of previous events and how they have bloomed to what they are today, is incredible to listen to. One thing I realized is that there are many organizations and it’s valuable to keep track of who is a part of which, since there is overlap.

On June 19, at the University of Alberta Myer Horowitz theater, was the film screening of a Filipino American documentary called Ulam:Main Dish. On that day, I had to run back to the house when I realized my tickets were on my desk at home, instead of my bag! The Myer Horowitz Theater is a great venue. It was such a coincidence when I was in New York City a few weeks ago, the restaurant owner of Kabisera said she knows some of the other New York Filipino restaurant owners being featured in the documentary. I really appreciate the panel afterwards, hearing from different Filipino folks in the food industry.

And then on June 22 and 23, there was the weekend long Filipino Fiesta (festival). I’m only able to attend the first day, and made my day more productive by volunteering to make sure that the parade around the park goes smoothly. It was a good decision and I’m so glad I did it.

The performances ranges from different traditional dances, pop and rock bands, a full-hour Zumba session, and some storytelling from long-time organizations in Edmonton and Alberta. It’s incredible to learn about Filipinos who have been here for forty years or more. A well-known musician Yeng Constantino came from the Philippines and performed during the “TFC Hour”. Her songs were an iconic part of my teenage years just slightly more than ten years ago, and my voice was hoarse after fangirling the entire time.

One thing to remember moving forward, is that these gatherings and opportunities are not limited to the month of June. There are numerous groups in Edmonton, some have existed for decades, that serve as great opportunities to meet with like-minded people or maintain one’s interest in an aspect of the Filipino culture. There are arts oriented ones like the Saranay Association of Edmonton, ones based on alma mater affiliation like the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, activity based like the Martial Arts Society and the Pinoy Zumba group or even regional ones like the Batanguenos Association. I hope that all newcomers to the country, or whichever country they end up immigrating to, manage to find the means to stay connected and engaged to their heritage while making a home in this new place.

On Being Politically Involved: Reflections To Date

By: Giselle General

Since I got my citizenship in 2012, I enthusiastically voted in every single election, simply because if feels right. After attending a few leadership workshops and campaign schools since 2015, I warmed up to the idea of being more politically active. I started in 2017 during the municipal election, when I helped a candidate with Get Out The Vote on election day and cleaning up her campaign office afterwards.

And then this year, I volunteered for a partisan election, helping a candidate in the weeks before the election. The I agonized for months on which candidate and which party to volunteer for, and then decided to volunteer for my riding’s candidate for the Alberta Party. She knocked on my door during the very, very painfully cold weekend in mid-February 2019, when it was about -30 degrees. I must say, kudos to her for braving the cold, she was definitely shivering as I make conversation with her while not cracking the door too widely.

Here are some of my thoughts about this eye-opening experience. Since I plan to run in just a few years’ time, I really appreciate every single moment throughout this experience.

I have to embrace the concept of being imperfect. It took internal convincing and a lot of reflection for me to accept that there is no perfect party, no perfect candidate, no perfect platform, and supporting one is still okay. Not gonna lie, the violent and evil portrayal of politics definitely played a role. If you think about it, why be a part of something that seems to be inherently “bad”? I talked to a campaign manager who said he supports most of the policies – not all – and still has dedicated the past six months supporting two candidates. This is what encouraged me to just give it a try. The amount of passion, anger – yes, but also the enthusiasm of making a dent, a bump, a way to push forward the change that they believe in, it is quite infectious.

Discovering my own style is still a work in progress. This is something that I realized, no one else will teach me. Sure, there is the script for door-knocking and making calls, but I have to work on my conflict-averse tendencies, my fear of getting yelled at. Terror is the right word for me to describe how I feel sometimes, and I try to apply the stuff I learned during therapy to be compassionate and understanding towards the most important person in this experience – myself. I would love to walk long distances to knock on doors and talk to people, but my left leg and foot has been giving me trouble for a while, and after about two hours, I just have to listen and get off my feet. I feel awkward about not remembering everyone’s names, but volunteer frequently enough and you’ll see them again and again, and they become more memorable.

I felt out of place sometimes from being a newcomer. I’m not really well versed in our province and city’s political history, but I took it as an opportunity to learn. From learning what Stephen Mandel has done when he was a councilor and Mayor, to hearing people talk about Peter Lougheed or Ralph Klein quite often. It’s fascinating to read between the lines, the anger, enthusiasm or the faraway looks of these people when they share these stories, the first-hand experiences they had. In each crowd, I still can’t help but do a demographic scan on who is in the room, based on age, livelihood, ethnicity, immigration status. Until it happened, I didn’t quite appreciate how thrilled I felt upon meeting a few Filipinos in Edmonton who are quite politically active for many years and decades.

It is much safer than I thought. When my partner and I went to the Philippines last Christmas, we drove by a funeral for a mayor who is recently murdered in La Union. I then realized that the election is six months away and remembered that election season – which always include deaths – has officially started. I knew it would be different here, but I was still blown away. You can stop supporting a political party, announce it on social media, and stay alive. Despite the occasional sassy people at the doors, anger on social media, and the election signs that get vandalized, there has been zero deaths among the candidates. During the campaign schools, I have met former politicians with jobs in various industries, and they seem happy, engaged and overall okay. This is mind-blowing for me, and I will try to never take for granted.

It is a great way to meet people that can be connections to do other good things. In my campaign team, at least two of the volunteers are lawyers, and one is a law student. Because my day job involves pro bono work and helping those who cannot afford lawyers, it became an opportunity for possible new volunteers. This is quite unexpected but I’ more than thrilled to accept. I met neighbours and when I tell them that I also help with our community league, I hear their opinions and comments about how things are. I’m glad to learn – and pass along to my partner – that some of these lovely people appreciate the community newsletter, the primary way that we give back to help out.

It is much easier than I thought. 99% of the time when door knocking, either people are polite, or do  not answer the door. I’m blown away with all the different ways that voting is made convenient for most people. Maybe one day, if the flaws of technology are managed, that online voting becomes a possibility. I’m saddened and confused why the voter turnout around here is not close to something like 95%, but 70% is record-breaking and that’s good!

Finally, making an impact does not end on election day. I know of many people who are not thrilled about the elections results, and it’s great that many of them are organizing and mobilizing to address the concerns that they have. I appreciate being able to call or send a letter to our elected representative. It’s easy to call them out on social media. There are lots of advocacy groups and volunteer initiatives to be a part of to fight for what you believe in, until the next election day. As far as the provincial election is concerned, I’d like to explore ways on advocating for certain social issues and appeal to the elected representatives – not the party leader – to see if they can bring those perspectives when passing legislation.

What’s next for this year since there is one more coming up? Similar to the provincial election, I would have to agonize on which party to volunteer or donate for. I wonder if it is socially acceptable to volunteer or attend events hosted by multiple parties before making a decision on who to actually endorse. In terms of community involvement, 2019 would be the most unique for me to date.