A Filipino Christmas in Steinbach

A Filipino Christmas in Steinbach

On December 2, I traveled to Steinbach to attend the South East Manitoba Filipino Association (SEMFA) Christmas Party, held at Pat Porter Active Living Centre.

I was happy to respond to the invitation of the president of the association, Kris Ontong, to perform original compositions about migrant life and struggles. I trekked the roads to Steinbach, excited about the prospect of performing my songs. I was not disappointed. After my performance, there were folks who approached me to let me know that they liked the songs. They told me that my songs made them teary-eyed. They also laughed and smiled as they reflected on their own migrant experiences, as I sang lines from my song “Na-Shock Ako” (available on iTunes).

The Christmas celebration was a big success, with about 250 people in attendance. Prizes were given and performers whom included NAMBA, P-Noise, and Los Amigos entertained the crowd. Everyone partook in the different varieties of delicious food.

The Mayor of Steinbach, Chris Goertzen, and the MP for Provencher, Hon. Theodore “Ted” Falk, graced the event. I also saw my lawyer friends Gary Sarcida and Daniel Cleto from Pullan Kammerloch Frohlinger, as well as my friend Won Jae Song of Diversity Times.

Steinbach, Manitoba, according Jorie Alivio Sawatzky, the founding Chair of SEMFA, could boast of the presence of approximately 1,500 Filipinos actively contributing to the economy of the city. SEMFA President Ontong confirmed this data, adding that “there is a constant flux of 50 to 100 Filipinos arriving yearly on average.” Edwin Sonsona, a friend and longtime Steinbach resident, relayed that most Filipinos worked in barns of HYLIFE, Maple Leaf, and ProVista Agriculture Ltd.; and that many held non-barn jobs at companies like Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Granny’s Poultry Cooperative, Loewen Windows and Doors, and Barkman Concrete. According to former SEMFA President Raymond Chua, back in 2015 there was approximately a thousand Filipinos in Steinbach. Given these figures, one could estimate the notable presence of the Filipino community in the locality. Aside from their economic contributions, Filipinos of Steinbach worked hard to keep the culture alive. This may be seen at events like the 2015 Pioneer Days Parade, which showcases diverse cultural forms that reflect Philippine history, customs, and traditions.

SEMFA Founder Sawatzky was gracious enough to provide me with the list of SEMPA’s leaders through the years. In October 2006, he was elected as the Interim President, assuming presidency from March 2007 to March 2009. Jun Narvaez became its second president (March 2009 to 2011). He was followed by Rommel Gallego (March 2011 to 2013), Cesar Valdez (March 2013 to 2015), Raymund Chua (March 2015 to 2017), and finally, Ontong (2017 to 2019). These leaders were and continue to be instrumental in laying down the requisites of unity that SEMFA has exemplified.

Going over the Facebook page of SEMFA, one will see a lot of things going on in their organization. Although SEMFA was primarily organized as a support system for newly arrived immigrants in Steinbach, it also participates at numerous events like the Annual Pioneer Days Parade, as mentioned earlier; Summer in the City; Cultures in the City, where SEMFA sells Filipino barbeque and hosts musical presentations, both traditional and contemporary; Volunteers Appreciation; Pick Up and Walk (for a Clean and Healthy City); and other programs that serve to welcome newcomers. SEMFA has also organized workshops on different immigration concerns, like the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program in cooperation with the Friends of Filipino Migrants. The association has also joined events sponsored by Eastman Immigrant Services like “An Evening of Fun” at the Mennonite Heritage Village. Indeed, to be a part of the leadership team of SEMFA is not a walk in the park; it actually involves dedication and sacrifice in serving the people of Steinbach. From the first Chair of SEMFA and the succeeding leaders who tirelessly gathered the community through the years up to the present, leadership is really a significant achievement in itself.

Ontong has this to say about the Association: “SEMFA Council is proud to cap off the year with a well-attended Christmas Party that doubles as a membership sign-up/renewal event. The feedback has been very positive about the new features that were introduced in the event—as examples, Interac machine for payment convenience, major raffle prizes that boosted ticket sales, and a featured kababayan performer whose songs resonated deeply with the Filipino immigrants of the area. Earlier this year, many other improvements were brought into SEMFA and they all resulted in increased interest in the association, bringing in new members to the Facebook group and more volunteers helping out in projects and activities. These achievements are worth pointing out as they were accomplished by just a handful of Council Officers and some dedicated volunteers. Next year, the restructuring of the SEMFA Council will begin so that it will be made up of representatives from the different job sectors of the region. It is our hope that SEMFA members will take part in this historic transition to make the association stronger and more reflective of the community that we live in.”

Again, I would like to thank SEMFA’s current president, Kris Ontong, and the rest of the team. The same goes to the volunteers for inviting me over to perform my songs that reflect our experiences in the Canadian diaspora. I can’t wait to write a song about Steinbach Pinoys and their stories. For what is the worth of art and culture if not used to reflect our people’s experiences of success and struggles? Truly, after all the events that they organized, our kababayans in Steinbach deserve to celebrate the best Christmas Party ever. Congratulations! Mabuhay! Until we meet again!

*Levy Abad is a freelance writer, a singer-songwriter/recording artist, a member of Migrante Canada–MB Chapter, and a founding member / program coordinator of Winnipeg Multicultural Human Rights Forum. He has released three albums: Canadian Experience vol. 1, Never Give Up, and Rhythms of Compassion (Canadian Experience vol. 3). He is currently working on his fourth batch of works, titled I Love Canada. You may contact Abad via lev67.abad@yahoo.ca or on Facebook.

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