(Part 1)

Jeff came to Canada as a foreign worker in 2008.  He worked in a meat factory in Alberta.  Three years later, he sponsored his wife Sonia and two children, ages 8 and 10, after earning his permanent residency status through the provincial nomination program. Jeff had another child, two years after his wife Sonia came to Canada.  Unable to go to work, Sonia asked Jeff to sponsor his mother, Lorna, to look after their youngest child.  Eventually, Jeff’s mother became a permanent resident. Jeff, Sonia, Lorna, and the children reside in one abode — one family, one household, four generations.

Jeff’s storyline is a typical immigration trajectory of many Filipino immigrants to Canada. He was probably one of the lucky ones, among thousands of Filipino job contenders in Manila hoping to get a job in a meat processing plant in Alberta.  With two employers in a day, Jeff has kept his life so busy with work from 6 AM to 10 PM.  He hopes to save up money for his family and repair his ancestral house in the Philippines.  Sonia believed that her children would have a better future in Canada, and for that, she considered herself blessed for having immigrated here.   She works full-time in a day home.

In general, first-generation parents anchor the care and support for children in Filipino values and tradition. Lorna is an epitome of a mother and parent who would do everything for her family.  She said:

“Providing quality care to her children and grandchildren is something that money cannot buy.  We love our children very much. We are there to support them and be responsible for them through thick and thin – that’s who Filipinos are.” 

For Lorna, living with her only son and grandchildren matters most.  She cooks, cleans, and does the laundry while the family is at work and school. Jeff and Sonia sighed when Lorna came to Canada to support them in raising their children.  They felt at ease while at work, knowing that their mother was caregiving their children. 

In the meantime, Lorna’s grandchildren are well integrated into Canadian culture over the years. They speak the local language and have acquired Canadian lifestyles that Lorna does not fully understand. Conversely, she would have wanted to return to the Philippines.  Lorna feels alone in the house, with limited friends and social connections.  She cannot bear the brunt of cold weather and the social isolation. 

First-generation Filipino-Canadians like Lorna, Jeff, and Sonia have similar and yet differing worldviews on what it means to be Filipino-Canadians.  For Lorna, living within the mainstream Canadian norms is a far cry expectation.  She may be living in Canada, but she will remain a Filipino in thought, words, and actions.  It is a different story for Jeff and Sonia. The couple quickly acquired fluency in Canadian English and lifestyle, owing to their exposure to the mainstream culture at work and with peers.

To assume that an immigrant family in a household has a synchronous identity and culture is an erroneous preconception.  Although such a perspective has a racist tenor, it remains a shared view toward immigrant families.  The problem with this view is its total neglect of the identity gaps, cultural expectations, conflicts and negotiations, and dialogues between multi-layered and overlapping generations in one household.  Indeed, there are social dynamics at play in such an intergenerational familial setting. 

First-generation immigrants are often caught in pushing and pulling experience before the diaspora (Alama, 2009). Factors that pushed them to leave their homes varied from life-threatening conditions to finding “greener pastures” overseas. The attractions around life security, protection, and a better future are pulling them in to move to another country.  They came as refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants seeking peace and security, a home, a brighter future, an economic opportunity, freedom, and self-determination.

Interestingly, while they now call themselves Canadians, first-generation immigrants generally retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about the Philippines.  Many of them have retained the social and cultural umbilical cord and would refuse to cut the connection.  They still dream of finding that “ideal home” in the country they once called home.  Unfortunately, it is a mythical location that may have once existed but had been banished or never became a home because of circumstances that pushed them to leave it behind. On the contrary, those who experienced abuse and violence in places or countries of origin may not resonate with the claimed collective memory, vision, or myth of immigrants of their past home because of traumatic experiences.

In my previous study, I have defined the Filipino diaspora as a people dispersed by the demands of survival to a place outside the ancestral home’s political and socio-cultural boundaries. In the new home, they share visions, memories, beliefs, values, and ethnic practices and recreate an “imagined homeland” that provides them with a spatial, economic, social, and political belonging. They share a collective identity sustained by social bonding with families and friends in the host and home country. Forced by circumstances, the aspiration to return home remains an “imagined” reality as staying in the new home has become necessary. For others, there is no home to return to, and reconstructing one may no longer be possible (Alama, 2009).  The hybridity of values and lifestyles becomes inevitable, owing to integrating their heritage and values in the newly constructed home.

While first-generation Filipinos tend to blend faster with the Canadian language and way of life, they continue to experience an erratic feeling of alienation or isolation, even if they have been in Canada for many years.  Lorna found her home in Canada with her family.  She admires Canada’s panoramic beauty and its freedom-loving people. While Canada is now her new home, Lorna still longs for that neighbourhood she once knew and friends she used to hang out with back in the days.  She participates in a Filipino senior association in Calgary but still found it limiting, especially during the pandemic when the social gathering was restricted.

Jeff and Sonia were passionate about the political and economic situation in the Philippines.  They watched Filipino news on television and social media – that somehow defines their ethno-communal consciousness and solidarity with the Filipinos.  They envisioned building a retirement and vacation home in the Philippines, a get-away place during the winter months in Canada.  They also continue to send remittances to support their relatives and kin in need of help – believing that it is their responsibility to support their extended family back home. 

As suggested earlier, as the first-generation persistently dialogue their heritage and tradition with the new home’s culture, the hybridity of identity becomes inevitable.  However, it does not necessarily obliterate the first-generation’s collective identity and memories. They sustain their identity through frequency and depth of connection with families and kin in the Philippines and Canada. Subscription to Filipino television, radio, magazine or newspaper, and engagement with Filipino groups or networks are other ways to enhance their collective memory and awareness as Filipinos in Canada.

Regarding family expectations, first-generation Filipino-Canadians take on parenting, educating the children, sustaining the finances at home, and making decisions for the family.  They work hard and would like their children to stay with them until they marry or move out of the parental home. Filipino filial piety (children to care for their parents at old age) is often presumed. When children failed the expectation, some parents would choose to return to the Philippines where family relatives can care for them. Moreover, many first-generation parents have learned that they cannot decide for their children.  Their advice, however, remains a strong influence on the decisions of children. 

Jeff and Sonia expect their children to respect and obey them.  Children are to use polite words, value Filipino religiosity and heritage and be respectful to the elders in the family. But then, what would happen when the children challenge the expectations of their parents? What if second-generation identity, choices, and lifestyles no longer align with the values of the first-generation?  (to be continued in part 2)

Dr. Ernie Alama completed his Doctorate of Philosophy in the Graduate Division of Educational Research, University of Calgary. He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at St. Mary’s University – Calgary.  Dr. Alama is an educator, a researcher, a businessman, a community development worker, and a Filipino immigrant who is passionate about engaging in mental health and development work for Filipinos and Filipino-Canadians.