Filipino Canadians campaign for Tagalog language education in B.C. public schools

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      The B.C. Ministry of Education has created curriculum documents for nine international languages: French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, and American sign language.

      Now, young Vancouver residents of Philippine ancestry want a 10th one added to the list: Tagalog.

      On Saturday, Filipino Canadians held a news conference at Slocan Park to launch a campaign to have the national language of the Philippines offered as an elective in secondary schools. One of the organizers is James Infante, a member of the UBC Filipino Students' Association executive.

      Prior to the news conference, he told the Georgia Straight by phone that young people have been discussing the important role language can play in helping Filipino Canadians connect with their culture.

      "We're going to work closely with school boards to see where we can have that offered," Infante said. "We see lots of other languages being offered, so I think it's about time."

      Population of Filipino Canadians is growing

      In 2010, more immigrants came to Canada from the Philippines than from any other country. And in the 2011 census, there were 662,600 Canadians of Philippine ancestry.

      Infante said that Tagalog classes could enhance the connection between second-generation Filipino Canadians and more recent arrivals. Those newer immigrants sometimes include children of people who may arrived through the live-in caregiver or temporary foreign worker programs. (Late last year, the federal government scrapped the live-in requirement for people moving to Canada under the caregiver program.)

      "What we've seen through the years is a lot of parents make the choice of having their kids learn English first," Infante said.

      He added that this can come at the cost of learning values from the old country, which can be transmitted via language, particularly if the parents are so busy working two jobs just to make ends meet.

      "It's important to keep some of the values," Infante said. "Language is going to play an important role in learning Filipino history but also in getting to learn the culture better and some of the values in our culture."

      MLA supports language initiative

      Tagalog is the most widely spoken of about 185 different languages in the Philippines, which is home to 100 million people on 7,000 islands. 

      Vancouver-Kensington NDP MLA Mable Elmore is the only MLA of Philippine ancestry. She told the Straight by phone that she's there to help the young people, but emphasized that they are the ones driving this campaign.

      She also said that more Tagalog education can help facilitate the integration of new immigrants into Canadian society.

      "You get newly arrived immigrants who speak Tagalog," Elmore said. "And you get second-generation Filipino Canadians who don't speak Tagalog. And language can be a barrier. That's what we've heard from high-school students. If they're able to overcome and bridge those differences, there's more connection."

      Former NDP cabinet minister Moe Sihota played an instrumental role in the introduction of Punjabi-as-a-second-language education in B.C. schools. Elmore said that she has discussed this with Sihota, the past party president.

      However, she also emphasized that any effort to introduce Tagalog courses in high schools must come from the community. She noted that some of these issues were discussed at a recent conference of young Filipino Canadians held at UBC.

      "We're working with youth who are very active in Sir Charles Tupper and John Oliver [secondary schools]," Elmore said.

      Community has grown rapidly

      Elmore pointed out that in 1964, there were only 660 Filipino Canadians living in Canada. The following year, her mother immigrated to Canada from the Philippines and later married her Canadian-born father of Irish ancestry.

      Elmore was born in Langley and grew up speaking English at home. Her mom, Maria, is from the island of Cebu, where she spoke Visayan. It was only later in life that Elmore started learning Tagalog.

      NDP MLA Mable Elmore (right) says her mother, Maria (left), immigrated when there were very few Filipinos living in Canada.
      Charlie Smith

      The NDP MLA grew up in The Pas, Manitoba, and recalled being asked where she was from. She said that people assumed she wasn't born in Canada because she was darker-skinned than her classmates.

      "When I was in my 20s, I was interested in kind of looking at identity and what it means to be Filipino Canadian—and also [examining] experiences around racism," Elmore said. "That brings those questions into focus. I started getting involved in the Filipino community and learning about the history of the Philippines."

      This exploration helped her understand why her mother and many other Filipinos settled in Canada.

      "It's important to know that identity and to have that appreciation of culture and heritage," Elmore said. "Language is central to that."




      Jun 8, 2015 at 11:24am

      Wonderful idea! I tremendously enjoyed having the option to study Japanese in high school, after French. Languages open doors, both professionally and personally, be it we learn in order to get a better job or in order to better connect with our roots. Now, if only we had the same programs in place for learning regional First Nations languages outside of reservations. Learning local languages, especially those indigenous to this area, should be treasured just as much and promoted among all groups of people---Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.

      Splitting Up

      Jun 8, 2015 at 11:35am

      Nice idea but will ultimately lead Canada back to segregation.
      Ironic, isn't it?

      @splitting up

      Jun 8, 2015 at 12:49pm

      Not at all. They still go through the same English (or French) education system as the rest of BC. Filipinos and non-Filopinos alike merely will now have the option to study Tagalog as a second/third language in school where it's offered, if they so choose. Furthermore, English is an official language of The Philippines, thus most already come to Canada fluent or at least conversant in English. All this is doing is allow them to connect with their heritage, much like the Francophones can, Japanese can, Italians can, etc. as well as promote multilingualism and cross-cultural communication among all of us. A mind open to the world, and a world open to the mind!

      what will be most useful in the future?

      Jun 8, 2015 at 1:45pm

      I'm all for connecting with heritage, however wouldn't Portuguese or Cantonese be more inline with what will be useful for future careers and international relations?

      Brazil has the tenth largest economy by nominal GDP in the world as of 2015, and seventh largest by purchasing power parity.

      @what will be most useful in the future?

      Jun 8, 2015 at 9:58pm

      Perhaps, especially Cantonese. But Tagalog is more useful in Vancouver than Portuguese is. I don't think other than for the ESL industry does Vancouver have any connection business wise to Brazil.

      DJ Lam

      Jun 9, 2015 at 3:05pm

      I don't discount the many benefits of learning any additional language(s) beyond an official one. But, if a gap exists between children of immigrants with regard to the latter's mother tongue, perhaps that could be better addressed and supported first at home.

      Good on paper, not so good in reality

      Jun 10, 2015 at 12:41am

      While I'm not going to say "Learn English," in a "we don't want your kind way," I will say that languages aside from English and French should be optional courses and based on demand. I don't think non-language related courses should be taught in anything other than English (or French in an immersion program). They're Canada's official languages. Most countries only have one. My friend took her kids and moved because she couldn't help them with their homework, which was in Punjabi, and was defended by the school because the majority of children spoke Punjabi. Her kids spoke English and found it difficult to participate, so they moved to an area with more English-speaking students. This wasn't due to racism but for practical reasons.

      Sister and Aunt.

      Jun 10, 2015 at 1:18am

      I love that my nephew is exposed to a variety of languages, and that they teach me new words to describe my experiences in a new way.

      Halfer who can't speak their own culture's language

      Jun 10, 2015 at 7:57pm

      As a second generation half-Filipino I wish I had the opportunity to study Tagalog in school. Language is a big part of culture and with Canada being so diverse I think we should have more variety. Sure, the languages excluded from the current list being taught in schools could be promoted at home in immigrant families but as the article said, some parents may prioritize English over their mother tongue. Mine did, so how else are non-native speakers supposed to learn these languages except for in school? I feel a degree of seperation from my own culture as I'm sure a lot of second generation children do by not being able to speak their own language and I don't think we should have to wait until later in life like Elmore did when there could be the opportunity to learn a lot sooner in place. I took an optional third language (Spanish) in high school and as much as I'm grateful for the knowledge I feel like, in Vancouver especially, students from all cultures would benefit with the choice of learning Tagalog or Cantonese.

      Languages of indigenous peoples FIRST

      Jun 16, 2015 at 12:28am

      Is there no end to the the mentality of entitlement and acquisition by settlers to these lands? It is the indigenous languages of the first peoples of the Americas which should have priority as many native languages are critically in danger of being lost due largely to your presence as part of the never ending emigration invasion. Tagalog is not in danger of extinction as it remains strong in the Philiipines so you will always have that option for relearning that language.