BY DOUGLAS TODD, VANCOUVER SUN OCTOBER 17, 2011 – “DON’T FORGET MOM. SEND MONEY HOME.” That’s the chiding message, in all caps, from one of the many ads in Filipino newspapers, which can be found stacked in ethnic shops throughout many east Vancouver neighbourhoods.
The omnipresent ads promote a serious business. They encourage expatriate Filipinos to send their hard-earned money to struggling moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents in their Southeast Asia homeland.
“Remittance” is a word heard often among Metro Vancouver’s 80,000-strong Filipino community, the third largest visible minority in the city after Chinese and South Asians.
The word refers to the way overseas Filipinos — known as “Balikbayans” — routinely transfer payments or financial gifts to the old country by mail or, more commonly, by electronic means through financial institutions.
“Most Filipinos send money home, and other things,” said Rafael Dumandan, manager of the Padalahan Centre on Fraser and 26th Avenue, whose store features several ways to deliver remittances.
The central Vancouver neighbourhood that is home to the Padalahan Centre — roughly bounded by Fraser and Knight streets, King Edward and 33rd avenues — has the highest concentration of Filipinos in Metro Vancouver.
On average, Filipinos account for four per cent of all Metro citizens. But 19 per cent of all residents in this neighbourhood of old and new houses have their origins in the Philippines, according to the 2006 census.
(Canada Census questions on ethnic origin are updated every five years. Ethnic data from the 2011 census is not expected to be released until at least 2012).
Another service Dumandan offers to Filipinos in his neighbourhood is “balikbayan box” deliveries. They are corrugated boxes, about the size of microwave ovens, which Filipinos use to ship home special goods, food and clothes.
With 95 per cent of the customers to his bright grocery store being Filipinos, Dumandan also tries to sell the special kinds of canned goods, salted eggs, chips, pork and squash they remember from the homeland.
Friendly but shy, Dumandan wore a black T-shirt with a map of the multi-island Philippines on the front.
The T-shirt featured Tagalog words, which he said translate as: “This is my country.”
Although Dumandan likes Canada — he’d never seen snow until he came to Vancouver and finds the Philippines “too hot” — he feels strongly loyal to his native land.
He’s respectful of how much the Philippines has been through, including long, bitter struggles for independence from Spanish and American colonizers.
Dumandan finds multicultural Metro Vancouver “very beautiful” and “safe.” But he also feels “comfortable” to have so many Filipinos in the Fraser Street neighbourhood and others parts of the city.
“Every time we see a Filipino we are proud.”
Second largest visible minority in area
Counting for one of every five residents, Filipinos are the second largest visible minority group in the Fraser Street neighbourhood, which has multi-ethnic Sir Richard McBride elementary school as its centre.
There are more ethnic Chinese than Filipinos in the neighbourhood but fewer South Asians and fewer people who claim an English heritage.
The pocket of ragtag, somewhat dowdy commercial outlets on Fraser, north of King Edward, contains many posters promoting Filipino rock concerts and special ethnic nights at local casinos.
In addition, many Tagalog signs sit above laundromats, computer stores, credit unions, tailors and restaurants, which offer everything from plates of fried smelt to bubble tea.
Although people in this neighbourhood said members of the diverse cultures generally get along, this is the region near where Sir Charles Tupper secondary school student Mao Lanot, a Filipino, was murdered by a gang of South Asians in 2003.
Members of all ethnic groups, including Filipinos, said it was just one of those terrible things that could have happened to any young person.
Residents said Lanot was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In addition to this Fraser Street neighbourhood, the four other most concentrated Filipino neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver (at about 17 per cent of the population) run along the SkyTrain line to New Westminster.
Three of those Filipino enclaves are based around the Joyce, Metrotown and Edmonds SkyTrain stations.
There are also pockets of Filipinos in the Guildford area of Surrey, as well as in southeast Vancouver and the urban core of Richmond.
There are few ethnic Filipinos residing in West Vancouver, the west side of Vancouver, south Delta or south Surrey.
Most of Metro Vancouver’s Filipinos value being near transit hubs — since many need to travel inexpensively to low-to-middle-wage jobs as nannies, cleaners, seniors care aids, security officials, service clerks, short-order cooks and practical nurses.
Growing army of temporary workers
As well as making up Metro Vancouver’s third-largest visible minority, Filipinos comprise the largest ethnic cohort among Canada’s growing army of 280,000 temporary foreign workers, according to immigration specialists.
Canadian companies are increasingly targeting the country of 95 million people to recruit the eager workers.
The skilled, semi-skilled and non-skilled workers come to Canada for up to four years, working in everything from eldercare and construction to Tim Hortons. Most end up applying for permanent residency status.
Even with sending remittances to the Philippines (which often range upward of $400 a month), many low-wage-earning Filipinos in Canada can have a higher standard of living than they would in their poverty-stricken homeland.
Citizens of the Philippines have spent much of the past 300 years trying to get on their feet after gaining independence from Spain, the United States (after the Second World War) and, up until the 1980s, foreign-backed dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos.
With their ongoing struggle for human rights and economic justice, Canadian political scientists say Filipinos, many of whom are Catholic or evangelical Christian, often lean to the left side of the political spectrum.
The fondness for centre-left politicians was on display inside Alger’s Tailoring: House of Barong and Filipiana on Fraser Street, which was packed with orange, sky-blue, yellow and rose-coloured Filipino skirts (sarongs) and men’s dress shirts (barongs).
Co-owner Lucy Jotic described how she proudly made sarongs for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. She did the same for the New Democratic Party’s Don Davies, the federal MP for the Vancouver-Kingsway riding, whose posters are written in five languages, including Tagalog. (The provincial MLA for the neighbourhood is the NDP’s Mable Elmore.)
“Filipinos love Gregor Robertson and Don Davies because they are nice persons. Filipinos think they help us. We Filipinos are social oriented,” said Jotic.
The fashion shop owner attends the large Church of God International in Surrey, even though she lives near Fraser Street.
The neighbour on one side of her home is Italian, she said, the other Chinese. “They’re both good.”
In addition to Filipinos, Chinese, South Asians and people of European heritage, the Fraser Street neighbourhood also has a significant collection of Vietnamese.
Do Vancouver’s Filipino neighbourhoods illustrate noted Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s recent research discovery that ethnic enclaves tend to create distrust among neighbours?
It’s hard to come to a solid conclusion based on the comments of a few people. But the cluttered office for Metro Vancouver’s main Vietnamese newspaper is nestled in among many Filipino outlets on Fraser near 27th Avenue.
And newspaper editor Melinda Khiu, who was born in Vietnam, said she’s often mistaken for a Filipino, even though she thinks there is no similarity.
“This is the most Filipino neighbourhood. And I’m stuck right in the middle of it,” Khiu said, laughing.
“I don’t interact with the Filipinos too much. They have nothing to do with me. They don’t bring any business.”
A kilometre away, on the other side of the neighbourhood at Grays Park at East 33rd and St. Catherines Street, a group of 10 teenage boys gathered on the playground.
One of them described their group as predominantly “brown,” or South Asian. However, a South Asian youth quickly pointed out the Filipino among their cohort.
He was Allan Asuncion, a soft-spoken young man shooting hoops with others on the basketball court. Asuncion called the area between Fraser and Knight streets a “good neighbourhood.” People, he said, tend to get along.
Like every Filipino interviewed, Asuncion said he attends a Christian church. His congregation is Lakeview Multicultural United Church, north of Trout Lake in East Vancouver.
“There are lots of mixed cultures here,” Asuncion said. “I don’t see any conflict.”