20 Filipinos to Watch

Ally Gonzalo is one of the prominent names in Winnipeg’s photography scene. He specializes in portraiture, showcasing his subject’s beauty and boldness through his lens. His work has been featured in various publications such as CBC News, The Manitoban and The Uniter. He has also collaborated with multiple Winnipeg ventures such as RIND, Pride Winnipeg, and Winnipeg Folk Festival. In 2019, Ally was commissioned by CBC Arts to highlight Winnipeg’s Filipino queer community through the art exhibition called “bakla!”. Ally hopes to continue highlighting the beauty of minorities around the world, especially in the Philippines.

Tell us about yourself.
I am a History and Political Science graduate from the University of the Philippines who moved to Winnipeg in the summer of 2016. I have been taking photos since 2013 and have taught myself the craft for a significant amount of time. When I began living in Canada, I began formal training at PrairieView School of Photography where I graduated at the top of my class in 2017, striving hard to develop my own style.

I tried various trends in the industry until I realized that it’s easier to stand out if your work doesn’t match that of others. This allowed me to intentionally represent folks and bodies who belong to marginalized intersections giving birth to my project that challenged conventional masculinity as well as my most recent project which was originally commissioned by CBC Arts in 2019, “bakla!”. Having done these projects have allowed to me to integrate my education from various institutions into one cohesive art practice that aims to challenge expectations in the art from while paying homages to the masters of the craft and interpreting their work into my own eclectic “brand”. Doing photography full time has to be one of the most challenging occupations right now due to the fact that you have to not only be an artist, but also a social media manager, marketing and branding agent, PR person, secretary…the list goes on! Having said that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world (unless they pay me a loooooooooot of money to push pencils all day.)

I spend my non-working hours (cos let’s admit it, I can’t not work for a day) getting coffee from my favourite 3rd way coffee shops, catching up with my various social circles, throwing around heavy barbells to fulfill my Olympic weightlifting fantasies, submerging myself in lavender baths, thrifting, binging Mad Men, excessively consuming content in the realms of Drag Race, KPop, pop music, OPM, and admiring my plants which are all slowly getting named cos of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thoroughly enjoy putting together outfits as an extension of my self-expression. Sometimes what I wear challenges the socially-constructed gendered clothing and getting looks because of that has to be one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had recently. I love it!

What excites you most about what you do?
The fact that I no longer have to doubt myself when it comes to my identity and how I want to express it. I’ve spent 22 years of my life in the closet, hiding my true self and I want to make up for that in order to encourage folks like myself, brown, queer, immigrant, to express themselves however they want, whenever they feel safe. Do what you want. If you’re not harming anyone, you’re fine.

What impact have you witnessed from your work?
Throughout my various projects, I have seen that my subjects, and the circles to which they belong, have begun to open up more. With “bakla!”, a lot of them haven’t even come out to their families. One of them, in particular, came out through having their parents see the documentary during the opening! I can’t claim that I single-handedly caused all of this, but I can for sure I can claim at least a smidge of it.

Tell us a story about an obstacle you faced and conquered.
Learning that depression and anxiety aren’t things you overcome but rather learn to cope with has to be the biggest obstacle I’ve faced in my recent life. It’s difficult because mental health problems, similar to physical health problems, require constant care, unlearning, unpacking, therapy, medical help, and so on. Self-care is essential but we have to remember that it’s not all baths, candles, and retail therapy. It’s catching yourself when you get into self-destructive patterns of thoughts and behavior and knowing how to correct it while being gentle, kind, and patient with yourself.

Unlike physical health, mental health is mired with stigmas and misconceptions. I am aware that even though I am a triple minority [a gay Filipino man living with depression] in this hemisphere, I still possess a lot of privilege. I believe that the only time that having privilege is good is when it’s used to empower those who do not. This is a mantra I constantly practice now.

Domer Rafael

Don’t tell the others, but Domer Rafael may have the coolest job out of all our 20.
His literal job is to taste some of the world’s best wines and share it with his clients. It wasn’t an easy gig to get though – after years in the hospitality industry, Rafael took the leap and entered the International Sommelier Guild committing to three years of intense studies and blind wine taste tests. In 2010, he officially became the first Filipino Sommelier. But he didn’t stop there; in 2017 he was crowned Manitoba’s Best Sommelier and competed on the national stage at the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers.
Today, he’s the Food and Beverage Manager and Sommelier at one of Winnipeg’s most prestigious venues, the Manitoba Club.

Tell us about yourself (personal, business, and passions).
I am a proud Filipino that grew up in the inner city (West End). The food and beverage industry took me away from a dark place and bad lifestyle, and allowed me to enjoy the finer things in life. I am an Oenophile, a Craft Cocktail enthusiast, a Beer Lover and Cigar Aficionado.

What excites you most about what you do?
Putting smiles on people’s faces and giving them great service, product and experience.

What impact have you witnessed from your work?
One is learning from your mentor, and the other is passing on knowledge and skills to your staff and protégés. In this business, it is a continuous circle of learning and challenging others. With this philosophy follows success, and success is a team effort. This will also drive a great working environment.

Tell us a story about an obstacle you faced and conquered.
The Sommelier diploma program exam was probably the toughest thing I have had to do. After 3 years of intense studying and learning, everything was all on the line in one day. The exam consisted of 200 multiple choice, 5 essay questions, 2 service exams and 22 wines (and other) tasted blind. I passed and become the first Filipino Sommelier working in Winnipeg.

What would you want to see in a potential Filipino District in Winnipeg?
What I’d LOVE to see is a Goldilocks Bakeshop. I’d also see a cool restaurant with Filipino flavours and tradition as a focus, but offering a modern dining style. Toyo Eatery in Manila is a perfect example.