Dancer Alvin Tolentino nurtures shared bond with Canada’s migrant workers in MigARTion project

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      Migrant workers bear a common sorrow.

      It’s a sadness that comes with leaving loved ones in a distant homeland.

      Vancouver dancer and choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino knows this. He has a personal story to tell.

      During the 1970’s, his mother left the Philippines when he was a young boy to work as a seamstress in the Canadian Prairies.

      “It was hard of course because she was separated from her family, so that kind of thread of history really runs true among a lot of the migrants,” Tolentino recalls in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.

      It took a number of years before the entire family was reunited in 1983.

      “My mom first came to Saskatoon, and then my mom brought my dad and settled here in Vancouver. And then the kids came after that,” Tolentino related.

      In an ongoing community outreach project, Tolentino is working with Filipino and Latino migrant workers to tell their own stories through art.

      “We wanted to be a space where they can meet other migrant workers, and talk about issues, but not to vent out, but to be happy and create art,” Tolentino said.

      MigARTion is a collaboration between Tolentino’s Co. ERASGA dance company, and Migrante B.C., a grassroots organization advocating for temporary Filipino workers and immigrants.

      The project is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, B.C. Arts Council, B.C. Gaming Commission, City of Vancouver, Vancouver Foundation, Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, and the Vancouver Public Library.

      The artistic undertaking involves a 14 days of workshops that started in October this year.

      Tolentino has attended all the previous sessions that were led by performer Jeremiah Carag, theatre director Dennis Gupa, and visual artist Bert Monterona.

      On Saturday (December 1), Tolentino will start his four-day workshop on dance.

      “There’s always this notion that art is, you know, for the elite…,” Tolentino said, “and so I thought we come to them and give them art and get them to experience art, and so that’s basically what this project is about.”

      Tolentino also said that projects like MigARTion shows that art is for everyone regardless of one’s status in society.

      “It’s a human experience, right?” Tolentino said. “Everyone is entitled to it. Everyone is entitled to experience art. Everyone can create art. I mean, I don’t come from a wealthy family but I was driven to art, and I’ve found art as a way to make a living…and to express myself through that medium. And so, I’m kind of a testament to that.”

      Although Tolentino has lived most of his life in Canada since his family was reunited in Vancouver in 1983, he doesn’t forget that he is part of a common journey by many who came to this country.  

      “I’m an immigrant, and I always think that I’m an immigrant in this land,” Tolentino said.

      MigARTion culminates in two days of free events on December 18 and December 19 with a community gathering, performances, and an art exhibit at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews).

      Details here.

      Alvin Tolentino (centre, back) attends an arts workshop with Filipino migrant workers. Seated at the centre (in blue) is visual artist Bert Monterona.