Property developer Tobi Reyes keeps alive dream of Filipino cultural centre in Vancouver

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      Macario “Tobi” Reyes and his family came to Canada when he was young boy.

      The Vancouver-based property developer says that even though he grew up and identifies as Canadian, there was always a part of him that remained Filipino.

      “There was certainly an emotion in me that wanted to connect with my Philippine heritage,” Reyes told the Straight in a phone interview.

      That’s why it feels very natural for the founder and CEO of the PortLiving development company to be involved in the effort to build a Filipino cultural centre in Vancouver.

      “The idea of a cultural centre came to me over a dozen years ago, and it was really organic for me, having been born in Manila and then migrating here at a young age,” Reyes said.

      The delivery of this centre would represent for him a “culmination of the journey of immigration” that he and his family made.

      “This is definitely one of my dreams,” he said.

      In 2021, Reyes joined the board of the Mabuhay House Society, a community-based organization.

      “Mabuhay House is a nonprofit that I helped co-found with other business leaders, community organizers and volunteers, to help me become part of a bigger group of Filipino Canadians and create a steering committee for this effort,” he said.

      [Mabuhay is a Tagalog word, which literally means “live long”. It is commonly used as an expression of cheers and best wishes.]

      On Sunday (June 12), Mabuhay House will host an event at the Helena Gutteridge Plaza on the grounds of Vancouver city hall to mark the 124th-anniversary of Philippine independence.

      The June 12 event will be emceed by journalist Ria Renouf, a Canadian of Filipino and Irish roots.

      Reyes said that he will speak at the weekend gathering.

      “I’m very excited to be part of that, and offer hopefully a few more details,” the PortLiving said, in reference to the cultural centre project.

      The creation of a centre enjoys deep support among Filipino community organizations.

      One of these is the National Pilipino Canadian Cultural Centre.

      In a 2020 paper titled “Keeping the Roots Alive”, NPC3 explained the importance of developing a community centre.

      The organization noted that the Filipino community in Canada has already “reached a second and third migration cycle”.

      “Second and third generation Filipinos yearn to understand their roots, their heritage. The community needs a home where they can learn their native language, their history, traditions, values, arts, and culture,” the NPC3 report states.

      Moreover, “Filipino Canadian artists and culture practitioners need a home to perform and display their works. Canadians surrounded by a growing Filipino community, need to understand Filipinos better through their arts and culture.”

      “Filipino Canadians have no cultural centre that could seed their soul, be a window to Canada. It is time.”

      Reyes wants to see two things with the community centre project.

      One is for its development to be a “cause for unification and call to action”.

      “That to me would be a great step forward by the community, to work with its members and also those outside the communtiy to bring the project forward,” Reyes said.

      Second, that it becomes more than a place for people to congregate.

      “I really think of it as a living strucure. I really hope that we have the ability here to design not just something that’s architecturally contextual and relevant to the goals of the centre, but something that can continue to evolve as well with the needs of the community,”Reyes said.

      The Straight asked if a centre is likely to be developed in the South Vancouver area of Marpole.

      “I can confirm that that’s the neighbourhood that we’re looking at in great detail,” Reyes said.

      It will also be likely part of a multi-use development that would include housing and commercial components.

      “I believe that because land is so scarce, we have to take an opportunity to see how we could use scale and diverse services to our benefit,” Reyes said.

      Reyes said that he and Mabuhay House are “working very hard to immediately get confirmation with the City [of Vancouver] for the next steps”.

      “God willing and if the timing is right, bringing to life a Filipino community centre would be one of the most importants aspects of my life,” Reyes said.