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.
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."