Why Filipino community organizer Lina Vargas is running for Vancouver city council

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      Lina Vargas believes in bringing people together.

      When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Filipino Canadian community organizer saw how hate reared its head.

      “Anti-Asian racism was triggered, and I thought this is the time that I have to use my skills to bring people together from different ethnic communities,” Vargas related to the Straight in a phone interview.

      At the time, the longtime East Vancouver resident was studying to become a social worker.

      The mother of two went on to establish the Diversity and Inclusion Support Group of B.C. in 2020.

      The nonprofit engages in different programs that are as diverse as the communities it seeks to serve.

      Vargas’ organization does community outreach activities, supports blood donation drives, undertakes solidarity work for trade unionists, encourages reconciliation measures with Indigenous peoples, and holds networking programs for new immigrants, among others.

      When she learned that Vancouver will hold a municipal election on October 15, 2022, Vargas encouraged young Filipino Canadians to run for city council.

      She has observed that there is no person, and especially a woman, of colour in the current council.

      Vargas thinks that this needs to change.

      “Having a diverse council will help make a better future for the whole city, because every culture has ideas and contributions to bring forward,” Vargas said in the interview.

      Vargas also believes that a seat in council will enable her to reach out and bring more people together.

      When younger Filipino Canadians asked her to run instead, Vargas took up the challenge.

      “They said, ‘Auntie, you go first and we will be next to you’,” she recalled.

      Vargas brings to the table a long experience of caring for people.

      She trained as a midwife in the Philippines, and helped many women deliver their children.

      Vargas came to Canada as caregiver in 2004, becoming a permanent resident and Canadian citizen eventually.

      She went back to school, and worked as a health care aide for many years, serving mostly seniors and people with disabilities.

      Vargas learned about the struggles of people living in health-care facilities, and this motivated her to get new training.

      She studied to become a hair stylist and founded her own business, Care Cut Mobile Salon, so she can be more flexible with her time.

      With her mobile salon, Vargas provides not only grooming services but also a sympathetic ear to seniors and people with disabilities.

      Knowing that this vulnerable population face financial difficulties, Vargas is spearheading a petition to ask the senior levels of government to consider subsidizing their hair care needs.

      Vargas has brought the idea to Mable Elmore, B.C. NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington and Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors’ Services and Long-Term Care.

      “Serving our [s]eniors and people with disability has been my passion, rendering the importance of [s]elf-care through hairstyling and bringing out the importance of personal hygiene,” Vargas wrote in a letter to Elmore.

      She told Elmore that most senior citizens in long-term care facilities need subsidized haircutting services because they don’t have enough money from their pensions.

      Vargas is running as an independent candidate, and she launched her bid for Vancouver city council at the Joyce-Collingwood transit station on July 16.

      One of her supporters is Erie Maestro, a Filipino Canadian community organizer and a retired Vancouver librarian.

      “Lina is a keener, especially in the issues and advocacies she has a passion for,” Maestro told the Straight.

      These include “giving back to the community with her skills as a hair stylist with her hair-cutting drives for seniors and women, her blood donation drives ,which drew in first time donors from our community and hopefully regular donors, and her founding of the DISG of B.C. [Diversity and Inclusion Support Group], which celebrates diversity across ages, cultures, gender orientation, ability, and faith”.

      “She is willing to put in the hard work and she puts in the hard work,” Maestro continued.

      “She listens and she hears the issues from the ground up. She engages with genuine interest and nurtures that relationships and commitments,” Maestro also said.

      “It takes courage to take this step. And that inspires people. That's Lina for you,” Maestro added.

      East of Boundary Road, the Burnaby Citizens Associations is fielding a slate for council that includes Filipino Canadian candidate Maita Santiago.

      “The Burnaby Citizens Association has deep community roots in every corner of our city. I’ve joined the BCA team because of our shared commitment to creating a more affordable and diverse city,” Santiago said in a media release.

      Santiago added that she is running for Burnaby city council to “build an inclusive and progressive city that puts the needs of Burnaby residents first”.

      Across the Fraser River, Ramon Bandong, a Filipino Canadian finance professional, has joined the Surrey Forward council slate of mayoral candidate Jinny Sims.

      On July 31, Vargas and members of the Diversity and Inclusion Support Group will join the Pinoy Pride group in the Vancouver Pride Parade.