Community·First Person

Meet the community connectors in Kapitbahay, a series of profiles of Filipino Calgarians

June is Filipino Heritage Month and to celebrate, CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Filipino Calgarians through a series of profiles. To continue the Kapitbahay: Meet your Filipino neighbours campaign, we introduce you to the community connectors — Edwin Chavez, Francia Bodoso and Maria Chelo Galay.

Edwin Chavez, Francia Bodoso and Maria Chelo Galay are community connectors CBC Calgary is highlighting

The artwork Crossing the Pacific was created by Harvey Nichol for CBC Calgary’s Filipino Heritage Month. The artwork will be used throughout the campaign to complement the photography and stories. (Harvey Nichol)

June is Filipino Heritage Month and to celebrate, CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Filipino Calgarians through a series of profiles. To continue the Kapitbahay: Meet your Filipino neighbours campaign, we introduce you to the community connectors — Edwin Chavez, Francia Bodoso and Maria Chelo Galay.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity

Edwin Chavez is a project facilitator for the Multilingual Emergency Response on COVID-19 at ActionDignity. He provides support to community members negatively affected by COVID and educates and mobilizes them on vaccination. He is also a founding member and an active volunteer of Filipinos Rising for Inclusion and Equity to Nurture Democracy (FRIENDS), a group of Filipino volunteers providing services and advocacy on the needs and issues affecting Filipinos in Alberta. (Lionel Migrino)

Edwin Chavez, project facilitator and policy advocate

My immigration journey was challenging like many of us who migrated to Canada. My wife came to Canada in 2013 as a temporary foreign worker. While my wife was away, I became the father and mother to our three children. It was hard considering we had a four-year-old daughter when my wife left. I had to do almost everything, but I also know how hard it was for my wife to leave her daughters to work in Canada. Sacrifices, yes. We need to make sacrifices for our family's better future. 

My daughters and I came to Canada as permanent residents in 2016. The toughest part was my first three months as it was hard for me to land a job. I finally got one as a deli clerk in the Co-op in Camrose, then I worked at KFC as a cook. I wanted to give up because I wasn't used to this kind of job — I got cuts, burns and body pains. But it was all right. It was a noble job and I couldn't complain. I chose to go to Canada and I was ready for this.

CBC Calgary: What would you say defines you as a Calgary Filipino?

Chavez: I am a Filipino Calgarian who wants to continue serving our community members, Filipinos and other cultures. I would say that I would like to be a community connector. We belong to one community. I would like to help in connecting our kababayans (compatriots) in need to different community resources that are available to everyone, but not accessible to everyone. I would say that they are not accessible because community members are not fully aware of these resources. These resources may be information about their rights as workers and immigrants, resources on different services like food security, mental health, family violence and more. And I have found my happiness in connecting and mobilizing community members to become aware and avail of this information and resources.

CBC Calgary: What aspect of your Filipino culture inspires you to do the work you do?

Chavez: Bayanihan — being heroes to one another. I believe that this spirit of bayanihan (co-operative undertaking) lives everywhere there is a community of Filipinos. We saw this very much alive, especially during the pandemic. Neighbours helping neighbours – to the best of their abilities. This is a strength in our culture. You know, right now there is a growing community pantry movement happening in the Philippines. Their motto is: "To give according to each ability, to get according to your needs." I think this is what we as Filipinos here in Calgary should also be doing. Not necessarily doing community pantries, too – but believing that bayanihan being a community strength can always be translated to mobilize the community to address the needs and concerns of our kababayans.

Francia Bodoso is a family violence counsellor with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. She works with immigrant parents who are experiencing family violence and have involvement with Children's Services. (Lionel Migrino)

Francia Bodoso, family violence counsellor

After months of sacrifice and hard work, I left friends, family and, at the time, my two-year-old son to pursue an opportunity in England. That was 17 years ago, and it was challenging. For the first time in my life, I had to adjust to a new culture, socially and professionally. Back home, social workers are highly regarded and perceived to be a noble profession. Whereas in the United Kingdom, I faced barriers with clients concerning the preconceived image of social workers being "child snatchers" and, overall, a negative stigma. Furthermore, the language barrier, which is prevalent for most immigrants, was very difficult as I was interpreting not only their words but the hidden meaning behind them.  

My family and I resided in a small town on the south coast of the British Isles. We were a  true ethnic minority, only engaging with the tiny Filipino population in our small town. But through patience and resilience, my family and I were able to adjust to our new lives in England. We were finally settled in 2013 when another opportunity arose: The chance to be closer to old friends by immigrating to Calgary. It has been eight years since my family and I left England and ever since we have no regrets. We are settled and we are happy.

CBC Calgary: Why are you proud to be Filipina?

Bodoso: I'm proud to be a Filipina because of my innate social openness and compassionate traits. There's a term in Tagalog called pakikisama that means fellowship and personifies togetherness — I adore it very much. I value having strong family ties and friendships. It is  natural for us to support and consider the needs of others, not just ourselves. I abide by the saying, "we are not alone; we live in a community." Certainly, my being a Filipina embodies this value. 

CBC Calgary: What's the best little-known fact about the Filipino Calgary community that most people don't realize?

Bodoso: A very high number of Filipino immigrants completed bachelor's degrees and further educational degrees. For example, most caregivers that came to Canada are not just certified caregivers. Most are nurses and some of them are doctors. My son's friend's father is an engineer working as a janitor at a junior high school in Calgary. We care too much about our families back home, and so, we sacrifice. The overtime and extra jobs that we do are for them.

Maria Chelo Galay is a co-ordinator for the Filipino community development program at the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association. Her background is in education. She is also a folk dance teacher, early childhood educator and Filipino language teacher. (Lionel Migrino)

Maria Chelo Galay, community development co-ordinator and educator

I am a first generation Filipina. I came to Calgary, Canada, with my family 10 years ago under the Federal Skilled Worker category. My settlement and employment journey was not smooth and easy. I experienced a similar path as other Filipinos did, hopping from one employer to another because my education background and teaching experiences from the Philippines were not recognized. However, I had an opportunity to get connected with the Filipino community organizations and they gave me a supporting hand to face the challenges in life. I was able to find my way as an educator, a volunteer and a community support worker with the constant inspiration from friends, colleagues and my family.

CBC Calgary: What aspect of your Filipina culture inspires you to do the work you do?

Chelo Galay: When I came to Canada, I brought one important thing from our culture: the Philippine folk dance. I believe this is the best avenue to connect with the members of the Filipino community. I am privileged to be a volunteer and dance teacher of the Philippine Cultural Centre Foundation (PCCF). With the support of the PCCF board, I was able to organize the Sinag Kultura Performing Arts Group, which aims to disseminate and preserve the culture of the Philippines through songs and dances. 

CBC Calgary: What do you see as the biggest challenges for your community to overcome as it continues to grow in our city?

Chelo Galay: The huge challenge is for the younger generation to keep the flame burning on the preservation of the Filipino traditions and elevating our cultural identity. For first generation Filipinos, they need to be more resilient and creative despite any form of pressures and challenges as they play a very important role in the lives of the second and third generations of Filipinos in Calgary and Canada as a whole.

Follow #FilipinoHeritageMonth on Instagram for content throughout the month.