Filipinos in Yukon 'hunker down,' and skip the annual trip to visit relatives

Some members of the Filipino community in Yukon are staying positive through the pandemic, even though they can't travel this year to see family.

'We just kind of hold our plans. We're just waiting until they open and off we go,' says Yvonne Clarke

'We always find a way to gather safely,' says Yvonne Clarke, former president of the Canadian Filipino Association of Yukon, seen here in 2018. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

It's not uncommon for members of Yukon's Filipino community to work two or three jobs, in order to save enough money for an annual visit to family in the Philippines.

Travelling from Whitehorse to the Philippines takes 16 hours and can cost upwards of $2,500.

But for many, it's not happening this year because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

"We just kind of hold our plans. We're just waiting until they open and off we go. But it's not just us — it's everybody," said Yvonne Clarke, former president of the Canadian Filipino Association of Yukon.

Clarke has lived in Whitehorse since 1995.

She says that like herself, many Filipinos who have come to Yukon are working in health care, and continue to during the pandemic.

"A lot of us are front-liners," Clarke said. "We kind of know that we have to hunker down and not go anywhere."

Social media has been the primary way Clarke has remained connected with family and friends in the Philippines.

As for keeping the Filipino community connection strong here in Whitehorse, Clarke says they do what they can.

"We can't go and have parties, or sing karaoke together in a house, but we always find a way to gather safely."

The pandemic has created challenges, but Clarke has tried to stay positive.

"I have a job. I can eat. I can afford to buy food as long as I'm working. What is there to complain?"

Clarke with her family in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Yvonne Clarke)

Clarke says many Filipinos in Yukon are also supporting families back home in the Philippines. Rather than see it as an extra burden, Clarke says it's just the Filipino culture.

"When you're in the Philippines, and you're one of the lucky ones to get out of the country, then you have the duty to help others who are back there," she said.

'It's like elbow-to-elbow' 

Clarke says she has a hard time picturing physical distancing in the Philippines.

"The last time I was there, you go to a grocery store, it's like elbow-to-elbow. There's just so many people," she said.

Clarke says the Philippines has been in lock down and residents can only shop at assigned times.

Clarke says her relatives in the Philippines can only shop at assigned times. (Submitted by Yvonne Clarke)

"Every family takes turns. It's more stricter there, than here. It's understandable because there's just so many people [in the Philippines]."

Clarke says there is nothing similar to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in the Philippines. Residents there are given some basic supplies — rice, sardines, bread.

"That's the subsidy that they got. It's like, wow. It's the Philippines." Clarke said.

"It's a poor country. That's why we send money".

Happy to be in Dawson 

Rommel Verdeflor is also happy to be in Yukon during the pandemic.

He immigrated to Yukon from the Philippines eight years ago. He took a job offer and found himself in Dawson City, where there's a Filipino community of about 80 people.

After two years, Verdeflor was granted permanent residency and was able to bring his wife and children over.

"You know what, that two years is gone as soon as I saw them in Vancouver airport,"  Verdeflor says.

"It's worth the wait."

'It's a quiet, safe place for us,' said Rommel Verdeflor of his home in Dawson City, where he works at the CIBC. (Submitted by Rommel Verdeflor)

After working multiple jobs around town, Verdeflor was hired as a financial service representative at the CIBC branch in Dawson.

He says he feels lucky to have his family with him in Yukon.

"I was able to bring my brother. His wife and his daughter are here already," Verdeflor said. "All of my in-laws are here in Dawson too, so we don't get homesick. It's a quiet, safe place for us."


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