On any given day, Pinoys (the name Filipinos use to refer to themselves) from various walks of life can be seen ambling up and down Fraser Street between 26th and 27th avenues. This block in East Vancouver comes closest to being the city’s Filipino section, although it’s far smaller than Vancouver’s Chinatown, for instance.
Here, Pinoys can buy hard-to-find items, from fresh bitter melon leaves to duck eggs with embryos in stores like Baclaran Market (4223 Fraser Street), which is named after a popular open-air shopping district in Manila.
They can also pick up copies of community newspapers, rent Tagalog DVDs, or browse posters announcing concerts by local talent or Manila-based singers and comedians. There’s Aling Ening Restaurant (4253 Fraser Street) for those who crave home-style Filipino meals. Gina’s Hair & Esthetics Salon (4227 Fraser Street) offers a quick haircut and manicure. And on the east side of the street, they can wire money to relatives back home through Metro Remittance Center (4292 Fraser Street).
While some Pinoys live near this slice of Fraser Street, the vast majority of the 79,000 or so Filipinos in Greater Vancouver have integrated well into various neighbourhoods, and are found everywhere.
“Filipinos in Vancouver keep a low profile,” says Philippines-born Aprodicio Laquian, a former professor who once headed the UBC Centre for Human Settlements. “They work hard, get along well, are law-abiding, and don’t go on the dole.”
Laquian recalls that a recent CBC Radio feature about the community described Filipinos in Canada as “under the radar”.
Comprising the third-largest Asian ethnic group in the Lower Mainland, after the Chinese and South Asians, the community could be a potent political bloc, but many Filipinos shy away from getting involved in politics. At private gatherings, many blame politics as the culprit behind most things that have gone wrong in their native land.
While Pinoys generally don’t show up in droves at political conventions, they’re out in force every Sunday at religious services. Hordes of families occupy pew upon pew in Catholic churches like St. Andrew’s on East 47th Avenue between Fraser and Main streets, St. Patrick’s at Main Street and East 12th Avenue, and St. Mary’s near Joyce SkyTrain Station.
After Mass, they shop at nearby stores or enjoy a meal at Filipino spots like Pinpin Restaurant (6113 Fraser Street), Sandy’s Cuisine (4186 Main Street), or Josephine’s Restaurant (2650 Main Street).
Like Filipino communities in other parts of the world, Pinoys in the Vancouver area tend to organize themselves into various hometown associations bound together by any of the more than 100 languages and dialects spoken in their native country.
The Kalayaan Centre (451 Powell Street) houses various cause-oriented groups, such as the Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance, that conduct campaigns to uphold and advance the rights of Filipinos in the region. The word kalayaan means “freedom”.
A steady stream of Pinoys can also be spotted going into the Multicultural Helping House Society (4802 Fraser Street), a nonprofit group that provides services for newly arrived Filipinos.
For most Pinoys, family—whether in Canada or back in the home country—always comes first. Sharing their newfound wealth with relatives residing in the Philippines is a personal obligation for many. This explains the thriving business in money remittance and the shipping of gift boxes loaded with clothing, toys, chocolates, canned goods, toiletries, and even bags of rice. On West Broadway between Granville and Fir streets, for example, three remittance centres stand a few doors apart from each other. A branch of the Manila-based Luzon Brokerage Corporation even offers the delivery of gifts—from flowers to home appliances—to the Philippines.
LOCAL PINOY MOST LIKELY TO BECOME A HOUSEHOLD NAME
Yellowknife-born and Vancouver-bred Filipino-Canadian soul singer, songwriter, and musician Warren Flandez is turning heads and melting hearts with his unique brand of soul. He’s managed by the Artist Partnership talent agency, which was impressed by his rare ability to fuse the classic sounds of soul with the edgy flavour of today’s hip-hop and the romantic themes of traditional R & B.
Kinky-haired Flandez, who was featured in the CBC documentary Make Some Noise, is blessed with loads of on-stage charisma and a soulful voice. Although he’s not yet a recognized name, he may very well become one when his debut CD is released later this year.
BEST PLACE TO GET FILIPINO KARAOKE PRODUCTS
3238 Main Street
An occasional night of karaoke at home can be a hassle-free way to unwind. While you might not want to invest in all the equipment, it’s no problem if you pay a visit to Famous Karaoke. According to owner Jonathan Lee, his store rents out CDs, microphones, and karaoke machines. Discounts are offered if the rental is for more than one night.
The store imports a device known as a magic mike from South Korea. Lee explains that this gadget is a microphone and stores more than 2,000 English songs. You plug it into a TV and use its keypad to make song selections. For hard-core karaoke fans, Lee says his shop can set up and integrate the necessary equipment with a person’s entertainment system.
Old-timers from the Philippines who want to sing along with old ditties have a wide selection of CDs to choose from, with songs going back to the 1960s. Those curious to see what the shop offers are welcome to drop by and belt out a few tunes for free.
BEST PLACE TO WATCH TAGALOG MOVIES
Tagalog films can be very good or dreadfully bad. Filipino auteur cinema found fame at film festivals during the 1980s, then returned to obscurity for years until the recent arrival of innovative directors and avant-garde digital filmmakers.
In the past, Filipino life was presented with angst and anger, but new productions are alive with optimism and a desire to showcase the country’s positive attributes in the hope of changing how the world perceives the Philippines.
The Empire Granville 7 Cinemas is one place to go for nouveau Tagalog celluloid treasures. Caregiver (a 2008 box-office smash in the Philippines) had a weeklong run there this past July, and generated long lineups of Pinoys. Ploning, touted as a modern Filipino masterpiece, runs at the Granville 7 until today. More Tagalog films can be seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 25 to October 10).
BEST PLACE TO BUY FRESHLY BAKED FILIPINO BREAD ROLLS
Aling Mary’s Filipino Store
2656 Main Street
103–13979 104th Avenue, Surrey
8085 Park Road, Richmond
Slightly crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside, pandesal, a type of Filipino bread roll, can be gobbled in just about any way imaginable. Taking its name from the Spanish pan de sal, or salt bread, it is dunked in hot coffee or hot chocolate; slathered with whatever sandwich spread is available; stuffed with ham, sardines, or any filling one fancies; or eaten as is, warm from the oven.
On a typical weekday, the three outlets of Aling Mary’s Filipino Store bake about 850 dozen of these rolls. Despite the name, pandesal isn’t salty; rather, it’s slightly sweet. Common breakfast fare in the Philippines, it’s also eaten between meals as a snack.
Aling Mary’s has been around for a dozen years, and owner Lilibeth Reyes says demand is greater on Sundays, when Filipino-Canadian families go out for religious services. She adds that the store’s pandesal is also sold at other grocery stores in Greater Vancouver, such as T & T Supermarket, as well as in Edmonton and Calgary. For Filipinos visiting from the U.S., pandesal is a popular take-home item. The rolls go for $3.49 a dozen.
BEST PINOY BREAKFAST WITH SEXUAL CONNOTATIONS
Pinoys love to contract several words into one, and these playful terms become part of the daily lingo. In the Philippines, food combination names were created by restaurant servers to facilitate order taking. You’ll sound like a Manila native if, when ordering almusal (breakfast), you ask for tapsilog (fried beef, egg, fried rice) and bansilog (bangus fish, egg, garlic fried rice).
Be careful, though, because some of the dishes’ names sound like the F-word in Tagalog. There are a dozen combinations, but kaplog (coffee and egg) is one you don’t use in polite company. (Kaplog means “fuck”.) The above dishes are available at most local Filipino restaurants that are open early in the morning. Opt for describing what you want in English, if necessary.
BEST SISIG FOR REAL MEN
Sisig is probably the most popular dish in Philippine cuisine, after sinigang (tamarind-based soup) and pork adobo (the national dish of the country). Real men like sisig. Women who like sisig are also real men. This stomach-defying appetizer is great with beer. Like the idea of cooked slices of pork jowls and ears at their most gelatinous, mixed with chopped green onions, soy sauce, a touch of sugar, and lots of vinaigrette? Some mix this with barbecued liver, but not at Rekados (4063 Main Street), the best place to try sisig. Chef Charlie Dizon adds red chili. Sisig is Philippine soul food.