Finding My Place: April Aliermo's new column exploring conscious ways of sustaining art and culture
Introducing a monthly editorial by Filipinx-Canadian musician, entrepreneur and educator April Aliermo
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the introductory edition of Finding My Place, a new column written by Filipinx-Canadian musician, songwriter, entrepreneur, educator and CBC Arts video correspondent April Aliermo.
Living in downtown Toronto's West End, only in recent years have I really started appreciating the Thornhill suburb that I grew up in. The Raphael kids I played with next door were Lebanese, the Poon girls across the street were Chinese and the Jackson kids around the corner were Jamaican. Around the other corner lived the older Filipino boy I had a crush on, and two blocks away were Portuguese Diana and Italian Dora, whose friendship I was always a bit jealous of. Later though, two blocks the other way, lived Ukrainian Daniela who became my best friend. I also babysat the Jewish children nearby.
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On the surface, we were all different. Culturally, we were distinct from each other too, but we all had a very definitive shared experience: our parents migrated from another country to Canada, and all had their kids here. Born and raised here, we were all second generation Canadians. We grew up with a hybrid of the values our parents brought with them from the motherland and the influences of living in Canada. It wasn't until the 1960s that Canada's landed immigrant populations begin to diversify (before that they were mostly from Europe and black America, as well as a small handful from China and Japan). Fast forward to 2017 and we're seeing what has become of these kids whose parents made a new life in Canada.
The first time I met someone like me — a Filipina woman keen on making a lifelong practice in art — was almost ten years ago. I was fresh out of my post-grad studies and came across Toronto's Kapisanan Centre for Arts and Culture. Caroline, the non-profit's founder and former director, was nearly a decade older than me and was breaking all of the conventions my hard-working parents tried to instill in me.
My parents always supported my interests: I grew up making dance routines with my sister and cousins for our grandmother's birthday parties; there were endless art supplies my mother nudged us to tidy; we were allowed to use the family camcorder to make our own TV shows; and my father taught me how to play Beatles covers on his acoustic guitar. Art and music are deeply embedded in Filipino culture — but only as a hobby. My parents expected us to get straight As and go to university so we could secure well-paying jobs and have the stable lives they migrated to Canada for. Caroline and the Kapisanan Centre were encouraging the opposite: explore your roots through making, living, breathing art! Having fulfilled two-thirds of my parents' dreams, now here I am: a true cultural hybrid among the first cohort of Filipina-Canadian artists.
Working as an artist in Toronto means that you live in an extremely diverse city whose booming economy is moving quicker than a lot of us can keep up with. I am constantly trying to negotiate how I fit into both the cultural and economic landscape here.- April Aliermo
Unlike most of our immigrant parents who were trying to assimilate, we see many second generation — as well as newcomer and other BIPOC — Canadian artists exploring and expressing their identities. We do this to distinguish ourselves from dominant white culture, to be visible role models for kids who look like us and to elevate each other. For example, I didn't grow up seeing Filipina presence in music videos but my peers and I are changing that (see Casey Mecija, Maylee Todd, Hataw, DATU, Han Han, etc.). Surrounding these artistic expressions arise a lot of issues to consider and to deal with — a natural development when shaking up and breaking the status quo. In short, being a Filipina woman playing bass in an indie rock band has its mental and emotional road blocks...perhaps it would have been easier to listen to my parents!
Working as an artist in Toronto means that you live in an extremely diverse city whose booming economy is moving quicker than a lot of us can keep up with. I am constantly trying to negotiate how I fit into both the cultural and economic landscape here. What is my place as a woman of colour in indie rock? What is my relationship to art from other cultures? How do I balance out my DIY ethics with Toronto's capitalist race? How do I survive as an artist in this condo wonderland?
In the next few months, I will be considering aloud the many questions I think about when living and working in the hustle and bustle of Toronto in this column. I'm certain I'm not the only one faced with these questions — and hope that we can find new and more conscious ways of sustaining art and culture here.