by Elle Tejano-Galupo
I have two such moments that changed my life, and this weekend, during Philippine Independence and Filipino Heritage Month, I’ve arrived full circle for those two moments.
Almost a decade ago, I was a senior in high school and I was on a bus in Toronto. I was seated next to a fabulous Filipina and of course we got to talking. She told me her life story and about her family who have been successful in Canada. She was from Alberta and attending her son’s graduation at U of T at that time. She encouraged me to also go to university and to follow my dreams. She showed me what was possible for Filipinos in Canada. Sadly, I lost touch with her after that day, but she has left a profound impact on me. I did end up going to university in Ottawa. Her name is Virginia.
7 years ago, it was June 12, 2015, and I woke up late. After searching on Google, I found out about this organization called PICOV and saw that they were doing a Philippine flag raising at the Ottawa City Hall. I wanted to pay my respects to our flag, which symbolizes the sacrifices of our ancestors who have fought for our independence and self-determination as a Filipino people. I didn’t even brush my teeth (yikes) and just put on a trench coat (yes in June!) and ran down to City Hall. The folks attending were all beautifully dressed and I was sweating and looked like I was attending a funeral so I stayed near the back with the intent of going home right after. But one of the Philippine embassy staff noticed me and invited me to breakfast at the Philippine Embassy. I agreed, hesitantly. That breakfast at the Embassy changed my life. That was where I met the community leaders in Ottawa, including my mentor tita Ruby Formoso, who encouraged me to get more involved in the Filipino community.
My first exposure to community work started by working with the migrant workers group (under Irish Olano and chair Liza Sare). I also soon noticed the lack of representation at my school, so with the support from the community and with the very few Filipinos I knew at uOttawa we co-founded the Filipino Students Association of the University of Ottawa. My work at FILSAUO introduced me to my Tinig Pinoy Radio family and Philippine Centre Canada.
The community work unexpectedly helped me land a highly coveted spot in the Summer Leadership Programme at Parliament, which I almost didn’t take as I was getting ready for a career in the healthcare field like many obedient Filipino children. After my internship, I was hired to work with the incredible Gary Anandasangaree as a parliamentary secretary assistant where I supported him in his work with the National Anti-Racism Strategy and Indigenous Languages Legislation. In that work, I was privileged to have met with Filipinos all across Canada and speak with them about the issues and barriers they are facing, but it also gave me the chance to see Filipino excellence in action and meet with the incredible Filipino Canadian leaders, some of whom I now consider my friends.
4 years later, I’m still working in politics and community. There is a growing number of Filipino political staffers on the Hill, and many more interns. After 17 years without representation, the strong advocacy by the community and allies resulted in a strong voice on Parliament in our first Filipina MP, MP Rechie Valdez. The tradition of flag raising on the Hill started by the late Senator Tobias Enverga continues after a two-year hiatus.
We now also have a national group serving as the reasonable voice for the nearly 1 million Filipino Canadians, made up of the very best leaders across Canada called the Filipino Canadian National Congress, headed by the formidable Narima Dela Cruz with a solid team of executives (Ronnie Dela Gana, Genalyn Tan, Eddie Villarta, Virginia Sumalinog, Mary Jane Napolitano, Jake Salcedo) and board of directors from coast to coast to coast!
One of the board of directors/executives is Virginia. Yes, the very same Virginia I met on the bus almost a decade ago. I met her again during the Filipino Heritage Month celebrations here in Ottawa.
Elle Galupo pictured with Filipino Canadian National Congress director Ed Villarta, community leader Benilda Ladouceur and daughter Rubianne at the Ottawa city hall flag-raising.
So today, on June 12, 2022, as I looked up at the Philippine flag being raised at the Ottawa City Hall this morning, I couldn’t help but be filled with so much gratitude. Gratitude for the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for our self-determination and independence. Gratitude for the many Filipino/a/x community leaders in Canada who tirelessly work for their communities across Canada and uplifting our kababayans, being the voice to the voiceless and the most vulnerable among us. Thank you to all our tireless community leaders who have stepped up and are leading the way for our almost 1 million strong Filipinos in Canada. I see you and I appreciate you.
This is your legacy. This is your heritage.
Happy Philippine Independence Day and Happy Filipino Heritage Month!
- The author, Elle Tejano-Galupo, is an active and long-time Tinig Pinoy volunteer. She has provided the small staff the youtful insights thus keeping Tinig Pinoy focused towards the future. She has been a recipient of various awards for her active volunteerism and there is no letting up despite her busy career in government.