Do you want to understand a part of the Filipino community in Winnipeg? A good place to start will be 99 Isabel Street where you will find La Merage Restaurant.
La Merage Restaurant hosts the Breakfast Club (Winnipeg Filipino Breakfast Council) where interesting discussions between representatives of different political tendencies in the Filipino community take place. This is not surprising because the seniors are the natural repository of what went on in the past. They were the ones who have gone through and survived the challenges and who are able to share their perspective of the Winnipeg narrative.
When I first arrived in Winnipeg in 2010, I made it a point to immerse myself in the seniors community. The seniors hold the key to the history of the community. If you know the history, you will have an idea of the psychological terrain of where you’re at. Members of the Breakfast Club headed by Kuya Fred De Villa meet at La Merage every Wednesday and Friday. In these coffee sessions, you will know who’s who in the community. You will discover the different ideologies that influence the thinking of the community. There are people who adhere to New Democratic Party, the Conservatives, and the Liberals. You will also learn about the secrets of the community.
I first met Kuya Romy Tabanera at the Breakfast Club. He used to drive me around; he was the one who introduced me to GACIBO (Garden City Boys). Through him, I also met Neri Dimacali, one of the members of KAMPI (Kilusang ng Mangagawang Pilipino) – a community activist organization founded in 1996. I learned from them about the community mobilization that barricaded one of the big grocery stores (summer of 1991) on McPhillips for discriminating against one of the members of the community. Dimacali and De Villa shared a lot of information regarding this event. This story was my inspiration for my song “Dito sa Winnipeg,” which became an easy favourite since it tells about the different places in the city and some of the solidarity stories in the community. It has been played on the local AM radio station GMP-CKJS (Good Morning Philippines) several times since 2012, so many people are already familiar with it.
One advice that the seniors usually gave me was to observe and just listen to folks. They used to tell me that the city’s being so small should make me careful in my actions because gossips flew around so fast. Seniors cautioned me about dealing with some people whom they consider shady characters or opportunists. When Min. Flor Marcelino, MLA for Logan and Minister of Culture Heritage and Tourism, asked me in December 2011 to start exploratory talks with different community leaders about the possibility of organizing a Filipino street festival, seniors in La Merage and Garden City told me to look for the late Manong Conrado “Popoy” Gomez, who was then the head of BIBAK (Benguet, Ifugao, Bontok, Apayao, Kalinga). I remember Manong Popoy was so happy when he learned that I was an activist like him and a newly arrived immigrant at that time. The folks also suggested that I speak with Manoy Amado Mendoza of Bicol Association of Manitoba and Aklan Association of Manitoba. These conversations happened prior to the discussion with the initial leadership of the present Manitoba Filipino Street Festival. In the first dinner and dance fundraiser of the street festival, in July 7, 2012, I remember vividly that the seniors were the first ones I sold tickets to. I was so thankful for their help and advice during my early years in the city. Their warm welcome made me forget the dreadful cold of winter…
(to be continued in the next issue)
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