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.

The Privilege of Hot Water

silver faucet with water flowing

By: Giselle General

Benguet Province, Baguio City, Cordillera Region. These places are associated with cold weather, and that temperature is reflected on the frigid water that comes out of the taps.

During our first planned vacation to the Philippines with my significant other back in 2013, he emphasized that we need to find a place with hot shower. I did tell him stories on how we make warm water for bathing by boiling water using a kettle or a large pot, then mixing that with the bucket in the bathroom that is half-full with cold water. He is not enthused by the idea.

During the second visit to the Philippines just recently, I was able to find more accommodations that boasted the availability of hot water as an amenity. In the bathrooms of these condos, there is an on-demand hot water contraption attached only to the shower plumbing, which means that water everywhere else such as the bathroom and kitchen sinks, still have the default water temperature.

bathroom showerhead with water tank and shampoo bottles

This made me admit that I have gotten too used to the luxury here in Canada, since I found the hot water in some of the accommodations unsatisfactory. It’s honestly very humbling.

Since the first 16 years of my life were spent in the Philippines, I have distinct memories of living without such easy access. And this is not just hot water, but consistently flowing water in general.

When I visited my cousin who is currently living in the home where I used to live in this small mining village, our chitchat was interrupted when she remembered that it is the scheduled hour for water access for all residents. Water is not available all the time, it becomes accessible for an hour at 5 AM, 11 AM and 5 PM. When these times arrive, that would be the main household chore that people have to focus on, simultaneously gathering water in storage containers and doing chores that take up a lot of water such as laundry. Ah, the memories.

kitchen sink and window in poor condition

There are still moments in the past years here in Edmonton, when I would be in the most random of places, like the washroom at the newly renovated third floor of City Centre Mall, of in the washroom of the South Campus LRT station that looks a bit worn down. As soon as I turn the tap or place my hands right where the senor is, water starts streaming down on my hands. At times, surprisingly warm that it can make me a cup of powdered Ovaltine or Milo or tea, if only I had the tools to make one right there.

Access to well-structured plumbing and sewage systems is still incredibly inconsistent in many parts of the world. The quality of plumbing fixtures even varies significantly depending on the location within a small area like a city. From a health standpoint, not just for humans but for the natural environment around where they live, this is really important. As I grow older and have more complicated views about life, I am starting to realize that these realizations will come even more often.

The last accommodations we had during our vacation would arguably be the worst in terms of water access. The water pressure is so weak, that the shower is practically a trickle of lukewarm water, and it took a few minutes to fill a cup of water from the tap on the sink. Maybe it was also the exhaustion from the trip overall, but it made us even more anxious to go home.

We arrived back in Edmonton at almost midnight and collapsed in our beds exhausted, we didn’t even have the energy to shower and clean off the gunk that we got from our long flight. The next morning, we took a shower as early as we could. I cooked breakfast and made coffee, being able to wash the greasy pan in warm water. As I was still adjusting to the fact that we returned to a place where winter is still happening, whenever I washed my hands in the washroom I would turn the hot water tap just a bit more, the flow of warmth providing comfort. I am home, and I know I’m freaking privileged.