Community·First Person

Meet the artists behind 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 online profiles. To kick off the Kapitbahay: Meet your Filipino neighbours campaign, we introduce you to the artists, Harvey Nichol and Lionel Migrino.

Harvey Nichol and Lionel Migrino are the artists behind the CBC Calgary project during Filipino Heritage Month

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 online profiles. To kick off the Kapitbahay: Meet your Filipino neighbours campaign, we introduce you to the artists behind the CBC Calgary project, Harvey Nichol and Lionel Migrino.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Harvey Nichol, visual artist

Harvey Nichol became self-employed in 2020 and now considers himself to be an art entrepreneur. His passion for art sprung from his desire to tell his story and to inspire younger Calgarians and Filipinos alike to give art a chance. (Lionel Migrino)

I was born in Tondo, Manila, and was raised by a single mother. However, after my mother passed away, my father sponsored me to move to Calgary.

Moving here as a teenager was a tough experience as I ended up homeless a year after immigrating here — the silver lining is that it helped me stand on my own two feet. I started to attend an after-school program that taught youth, such as myself, the four elements of hip-hop, and that ultimately inspired me to tell my stories through art and become an artist.

I am now a full-time visual artist with an art studio specializing in neo-expressionism, street-art-inspired paintings, 3D-printed sculptures and wood cut art. I also run my own clothing line."

CBC: Why are you proud of being Filipino? 

Nichol: For a long time, I was struggling with my identity, especially when I just moved here. I experienced a lot of racism and microaggression from a few of my schoolmates, as I was considered a "FOB" (fresh off the boat). I was ashamed of who I was. 

When I became an artist, I started to learn more about my heritage and had the realization that if I can't love myself and the colour of my skin, how am I supposed to love someone else? Colourism is a big issue in Filipino culture, and knowing that my mother was disrespected due to her dark skin colour has been a great motivation for me to continue to love myself and who I am.

CBC: What aspects of your culture inspire you? 

Nichol: My inspiration goes far and beyond just visual esthetics. My practice explores different topics relating to the human condition and my identity as a Filipino immigrant living in Canada. It also explores the social commentary on the socio-political cultural issues back in the Philippines and here in North America. I also love depicting folklore and mythologies as I continue to learn and dig more into my pre-colonial past.

CBC: What is your biggest hope for the Filipino community?

Nichol: My biggest hope for the local Filipino community is for us to be able to stand in solidarity with other ethnic communities to fight injustices and inequality together. For a long time, Filipino voices have been in the background, and my hope is for our voices to be heard and considered in shaping the future of our city.

CBC: What is the meaning behind the Crossing the Pacific piece?

Nichol: I took the route of symbolism as I am my most authentic self when I use that approach. I wanted to parody the classic Calgary scene of cows, but instead of cows I went with carabaos, also known as water buffalo, which is the national animal of the Philippines.

Carabaos symbolize the working class and the hard-working mentality that Filipinos have. Both carabaos have different markings as to represent our individual stories and the social taboos being unpacked in CBC Calgary's Filipino bureau.

The patterns that I used in the piece are inspired by traditional Filipino tattoos with a street art twist. The colours are direct homage to the Philippine flag with blue standing for peace, justice, sacrifice and truth; red symbolizing bravery, courage and patriotism; white representing fraternity, liberty and equality; and yellow symbolizing freedom and unity. The body of water that the carabaos are crossing signifies movement and migration — something that every Filipino Calgarian can relate to as we are all a product of migration.

Lionel Migrino, photographer and community advocate

Lionel Migrino is a Calgary photographer and community advocate who captured the photos used throughout this campaign. (Floyd Gonzales)

I am a local photographer and identify as a Filipino Canadian living with cerebral palsy. Due to my intersecting identities, I understand that my lived experiences might be different from most people's, but my experiences have made me the person I am today. 

One of my goals as a photographer is to show people that anything is possible. My life motto is "limitless" because I believe that obstacles should not stop anyone from going on adventures and chasing their dreams. I fell in love with photography because it allowed me to connect with people through storytelling while also giving me a platform to have a voice in the community. 

I know that the world is not made for someone like me. However, through photography, I hope to raise awareness on accessibility, equity, inclusivity, diversity, and justice to create braver spaces for everyone to embrace their uniqueness and understand one another."

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

Migrino: I think the mindset of community spirit. I am very proud to be a part of the Filipino community in Calgary and I recognize I have certain advantages as a second-generation Filipino. Over the past six years, I've tried to use my privileges to better the Filipino community in Calgary by being an active advocate and spreading awareness on issues such as mental health, anti-racism and the rights of migrant workers. I became an outspoken advocate after witnessing my parents' struggles. It opened my eyes to the hardships every Filipino immigrant experiences, and I want to make it easier for them when transitioning to life in Canada.

CBC: Why are you proud to be Filipino?

Migrino: I am so proud to be Filipino because of the values that I carry throughout my life. As a Filipino, family is everything! That is why many Filipinos decide to come to Canada — to create a better future for their families. Many Filipinos struggle in Canada, but the value of family keeps them going. Filipinos are very strong-spirited and relentless because of their family values.

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

Migrino: I think the Filipino community in Calgary is very underrated, even though we are probably one of the fastest-growing communities in Calgary. Many Filipinos are involved in the art scene, and I have met many of my Filipino friends through photography. We have a rich culture filled with creativity and innovation.

Follow #FilipinoHeritageMonth on Instagram for content throughout the month.