Updated: Oct 16, 2022
Trigger warning: this post contains sensitive topics including mental health. It has been about a year since I last ran as a council member in the Town of Canmore, and so many things opened for me. Some of them are opportunities, but there are also some threats. Either way, I am very grateful to our Creator for giving me a chance to write this blog post.
When I moved to Canmore a couple of years ago, it wasn't easy because I wanted to meet people. Despite my excellent communication skills with customers, many hotels I worked for saw me as a housekeeper because I am Filipino. I could not land a job and staff housing unless I agreed to be a housekeeper. I understood the town has a problem with housing and staffing but the ability of businesses to discriminate against a person of colour. Only when the Town of Canmore hired me did I feel the community was working on action against discrimination.
I am grateful for the Charter of Rights and Freedom because of my freedom of speech. Something that I did not feel when I was still back in the Philippines in my early life. When I pledged to the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, I promised myself I would be a great Canadian citizen by showing humility and kindness and doing my best.
During my first year running as a politician, I met so many people from a variety of walks of life. I met a homeless man who I think is lost because he is giving his wealth for the sake of his child's life. I admire him because he is not drinking, doing drugs or smoking. He is busy as a volunteer in community events feeding other homeless people—many of us who are capable of it but are not doing it. I think it is the community's responsibility to help him find a home, not on the streets. Yes, it is not the politician's job to help him; it is a community effort.
I had the honour to meet MP Rechie Valdez this summer. She is the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected as a member of the Parliament. She and I spent a whole day hanging out in Canmore and Banff. We started the day by meeting Canmore's Filipino leaders and business owners. I showed her the Engine Bridge; she loved it! Although I met her only for the first time, I already know we have shared values regarding kindness. I told her that I profoundly related to her story. We ended the day at sunset at Quarry Lake, where she encouraged me to pursue my leadership roles and run as a provincial candidate in Alberta's Members of the Legislative Assembly. Of course, I had to ask her what we could do to help the housing situation in Canmore and its surrounding area.
Many Canmorites saw me on top of the Filipino float during Canada Day in the summertime. As a bonus, Mayor Sean Krausert announced the Filipino float as the overall champion in the parade. It meant a lot to me because it was the first time the Filipinos participated in Canmore's Canada Day parade. I proudly wore the traditional Filipino outfit called "Barong" while waving the Philippine flag attached to a hockey stick – a symbol of my heritage as Filipino-Canadian. Whenever I passed on a Filipino on the street watching our float, I saw hope in their eyes. Finally, they see us. We do not have to fear anymore.
The win was big news for the Filipino Community in the whole world. An international Filipino channel called OMNI TV aired the report. As of 2 months airing it, there 2 million viewers on social media on top of millions who watch it from their TV. The news was heard by the Filipinos all over the globe and it gave them hope. I have received about 5,000 positive comments and I could not reply to all of them anymore . It's quite the deal for us because it takes at least ten years before a Filipino who moved abroad to recover financially. Discrimination just makes it worse. Personally, it also felt I lost ten years of my life because I had to start backwards and learn how to interact and live in the western world.
Life in politics can get scary. Sometimes, you feel anyone can be your enemy. Sometimes, feels great when you meet people who are inspired. Sometimes, you will meet people who are just angry for every reason he/she/they can think of, not even knowing exactly why that person is angry. But people may ask, why did you enter politics? I was not even planning it; all I wanted was to be an artist. But to be an artist is to starve and be homeless. Yes, I am hungered and experienced homelessness when I moved to Canada. I did not have to go through this kind of hardship in the Philippines. Moving to Canada, I experienced homesickness and eventually mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Were you tempted to tell me I should return to the Philippines if life is better there? I hope not.
At the time, my dad was ready to return to the Philippines because his permanent residency application had failed. The company he worked for in New Westminster, BC, had to shut down, and he had a threat of being sent back to the Philippines. The good news is that just a month before he had to fly back to the Philippines, a document arrived to our family indicating that the province nominated him to be a landed immigrant, along with us his family. The bad news is that we had to borrow money to afford flight tickets. Our life in Canada started with compounding debts that we have not recovered from it until now.
We started our life in Vancouver, British Columbia. Eventually, the busy city life became difficult for me to live, so I decided to travel across Canada to see Peggy's Cove. When I was on the verge of committing suicide, I used my creative mind to think of an ocean and an image of a lighthouse, that there is hope, and that I did not want to die. I want to ease my pain. I researched where that place is and discovered it is the lighthouse of Peggys' Cove. It became my life mission to see that lighthouse, and then I will become a Canadian Citizen.
I donated my clothing and my belongings. I carried a 75-litre backpack and started travelling toward the Atlantic Ocean. I did it by bus, foot, taxi, hitchhiking and many more. I met so many friends along the way, and I even discovered Canmore. I also lived in Quebec for six months and even learned some French. I even tried living in Montreal for a month, but it wasn't easy to find a job because my French was inadequate to get me a job that I would love. But Quebec is such a beautiful province. So many kind people fed me and comforted me so I could survive life.
I also enjoyed the Maritimes because of the kindness and hospitality they have shown me. Some people provided fine food even though I am a stranger to them. There was even a man in Lunenberg who treated me with seafood pizza. It was delicious: pizza with alfredo sauce, mixed seafood with lobster meat they all caught freshly from the shore. Of course, the best part was seeing that lighthouse in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. The Atlantic Ocean is full of mysteries, and it is majestic. It inspired me to continue life and fight if needed.
Amongst all my adventures across the country, I enjoyed the most staying in Canmore, and I've thought to myself, "I want to live there." I wanted to be an artist there. The mountains in Canmore became my new playground. I did lots of hiking and created a lot of paintings. For work, I stayed in the hospitality industry for a while so I could have staff accommodation. I moved around a lot because of the housing crisis in Canmore. I met lots of friends from all over the world. But many left Canmore because they could not afford to live here. I worked in hostels and met fellow travellers, and they all have stories to share. I treasured those stories in my heart, but until now, my heart has unlimited chambers for more.
I decided to get into politics to represent the oppressed in the community even though I think I am the most unqualified candidate. I wanted to be an artist, not a politician, but I guess life is full of surprises. After the local elections, I have been invited by a provincial party to represent them in this riding. Some of them have asked for my support as well. But what can they do for me? I guess they liked me because they had seen my campaign during the municipal election and loved the grassroots I initiated. They saw that I have a huge following and that's what they want.
One of those grassroots I initiated is the Canmore Chess Club – a story of a successful group that we were able to expand and pursue the Banff Chess Club. Now we are working with the Stoney Health Services and some school staff to bring chess to Morley, the Mînî Thnî Chess Club. Chess has brought people together. One of the best compliments I heard was from the Recreation Manager of the Town when she said the Canmore Chess Club is the most diverse user group. I agree because we have a brilliant 4-year-old Chinese girl and a 79-year-old man still kicking in on the chess board. We have people who do not speak English and gender diversity. I wanted to bring chess not only to Canmore but to those who lived in this land – the indigenous people.
Last week in Morley, I was honoured to march with the native people during Truth and Reconciliation Day. I am sad about the tragic event that happened to the indigenous people in Canada with the residential schools. I can relate because I am also an indigenous person from the Philippines. We shared similar stories about when the conquerors of Spain evaded the Philippines, as per the religious command to spread Catholicism. My ancestors had a great life when the land provided for them, but the Spanish conquerors forced the people to kneel down in front of the sculpted image of their so-called God. The Creator happily provided the ancestors, but the dark days destroyed our culture and even confused our language. Yes, they forced the Filipinos to speak Spanish or get killed. They killed our ancestors for standing up for their rights. The conquerors called us Indios (Indians). Eventually, the Filipinos learned to unite and fight. We kept combating many nations trying to conquer and take our freedom away. But despite historical wins, we are still in a fight, getting stronger, but we are weary.
One thing we have a common understanding of with the indigenous people of Canada is the idea of unity. I was able to share values and stories during the cultural learning circle and learned the phrase "Wazin Ichinabi," which can not easily be translated into English, but it goes like: "we are all one." We have a different account that many non-indigenous people may not understand. Many people are not ready to understand this concept and may even get ridiculed if heard. For now, all I can say is that we are all in an early stage of coming to full realization, but it will be inevitable that one day, everyone will realize that we are all members of this family called humanity.
I am just stating what I believe in and exercising my freedom of speech. Not too long ago, I also had the privilege to meet Canadian Senator Karen Sorensen. We had a meaningful discussion and one thing I mentioned to her is that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, in my opinion, needs an update. We can call it the "Canadian Charter of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities." I think that's one thing we miss in the Canadian culture. I mean, I find that in the western world, many are obsessed with the idea of rights and freedoms more than responsibilities, while in the third-world country like the Philippines, we prioritize responsibilities more than rights and freedoms. My observations can be wrong, and I am sorry in advance for those people who will get mad at me for this blog.
Photos with Chief Clifford Poucette of Wesley First Nation, Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert, Banff Mayor Corrie Dimanno, Senator Karen Sorensen and Member of the Parliament Blake Richards
During the last campaign, we had a forum where each candidate was given a booth to help the voters get to know us. One candidate came up to me while holding a pile of campaign materials from the other candidate. We had a short conversation, but as that person left, those campaign materials were left on my booth. I called that person's name, and that person turned back. I asked that person to please come back and pick them up. The person just shrugged, turned and kept walking away. That's what I get for being a person of color – at least, that's how I felt at the time. Despite that, I forgave and until now, I want to forget, but the memory kept haunting me along with much other racism I experienced in Canada. Tell me, should we consider updating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Until now, I am giving it heavy contemplation on whether I would run in the provincial election or not. I have met municipal staff, councilors and mayors within the riding to get a feel about it. Some of them were excited that I was thinking of running, but some already had a candidate in mind. Either way, I am interested in exercising my rights to be a candidate in the election even though I am scared because this is a huge responsibility, and I am tired of people seeing me lowly. But who would stand up for people like the Canadian aboriginal groups and those persons of color? Maybe you are a candidate reading this; you must think that would be you, but is that what is deeply in your heart? Why should I trust you? If I decide not to run, how would you win my vote? Will you bully me and get me to shut up? If you will make a controversy of this blog post, then that's bullying.
Recently, the Mental Health Commission of Canada hired me to be an emcee of Headstrong. It is a youth anti-stigma initiative where we go to different schools across Canada to provide mental health workshops for the students. It is a safe space to learn that it is okay not to be okay and that it's okay to ask for help. We also establish that we all have mental health (a.k.a. we all have brains) and must take care of them. I heard many inspirational stories during the events and am inspired to share these stories with the people I interact. On top of this project I am also a Steering Committee member of the Bow Valley Participatory Action Research.
Kindness is the key theme of mental health. We will continue to have community issues such as bullying, discrimination, greed for housing, irresponsible use of the environment, etc. if we don't take care of our mental health. Right now, the health services are getting exhausted, and we have a shortage of health care providers. Let me be a small instrument for them to tell everyone to please be kind to them. They are doing their best. Please be kind to one another.
Oh! I had so much to write, but I am exhausted now. I've done so much today and have been carrying many struggles not of my choosing. But still have to write the following words because life is short, and none of us truly knows what tomorrow will bring. I may not have the opportunity to do so tomorrow. I need to say that when wealthy people comment that they do not want to help the poor or they don't want their tax money to go on social aid and help the homeless because they worked hard for their money, please know that there are many people there too who worked as hard or maybe even harder but did not have the same opportunity as you. If you cannot help other people, please be grateful for what you have, and you don't need to oppress different people's situations. This behavior results from stigma, and if the youth can be an anti-stigma ambassador, so can adults too!
I am sorry I had to sound like a downer when I said we never know what tomorrow can bring. It is true, and it isn't easy to think about. But if I have a longer life after this, I will still be grateful for more chances to do good for humanity. I will fight against my mental health problems so I can live. If this was my last day, I am glad my life has been purposeful.
While alive, I am hopeful that some of you can help me with some of this weight on my shoulders. I have lots of struggles, and I am tired. Maybe, if one of the upcoming candidates can help me sell my paintings to afford housing and food, you will have my vote. If not, I will likely be your competition in the upcoming provincial election. There will be a lot of work for the candidates to win the hearts of the oppressed. At the end of the day, we should not put faith into politics. It is the Creator we should put our faith in. Until next time, see you on the next blog. Thanks be to God.