If there is one Filipino who was employed at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who initiated the recruitment of Filipino garment workers in the Philippines in the middle 60’s, the name of Mrs. Carolina Custodio comes up into my mind.
Unfortunately, her name is incognito or non-persona in the various books, exhibition, notes and lectures on the history of the influx of the Filipino garment workers in Manitoba, and admittedly, the young generation of the new wave of skilled Filipinos in the year 2000 would not know how the Filipinos, with different skills and professions, have become the engine of economic bliss in Manitoba.
In my interview with Mrs. Custodio, being the President of the newly formed University of Santo Tomas Alumni Association, Manitoba Branch, she was so happy that the Filipino garment workers had gone a long way, making Winnipeg as their homes and sponsoring their boyfriends, their siblings and their parents into Canada and jacking up the number of Filipinos in Winnipeg by the thousands.
“Garment industry was booming in Winnipeg and the garment manufacturers had difficulty hiring garment workers The sons and daughters of the garment pioneers,most Jewish, took different professions. And at that time, our department was very active recruiting garment workers from Italy, Greece and Portugal.
Then, i suggested to try the Philippines where we have many skilled garment workers who speak English and with good work ethics,”smiling Mrs. Custodio said.
With the policy of the government of hiring only from European Countries and not heading to recruit from the non-white sources of labour, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration studied the proposal and the approval for the trial came in the middle of 1968. As noted in the history of labour in the garment industry, Meyer Kapman of PeerlessGarment, headed to the Philippines and landed at the Philippine American Embroidery, along the South highway. And recruited the first batch of 30 garment workers who were mostly supervisors. The first batch came in October 1968 and the owners of the garment companies were impressed by the skills of the newly-recruited garment workers, and added to that language was not a problem With the success of the first batch, another 1,200 Filipino workers were recruited until it stopped in 1972. And the booming garment industry needed more Filipinos and the Federal government started recruiting more Filipino skilled workers. And in the influx of the many thousands of garment workers, the Filipino community population ballooned.
My late wife Linda and I and some few Filipinos became active volunteers to welcome the new recruits even at the middle of winter, providing the new immigrants with host families, winter jackets and other necessary accessories to protect them from the cold. Due to the arrival of the garment workers, the booming garment industry was considered as an economic engine in the Manitoba economy, but behind this influx of new immigrants, some members of the Filipino professional group moved to stop the immigration of the non-professional immigrants.
“Yes, they wanted to stop the recruitment of non-professionals,” Mrs. Custodio said.
Added to this was the dark side of the recruitment in the late 70’s and early 80’s when led to shift of the recruitment of garment workers from Korea and other Asian Countries except the Philippines.
And when the dreaded toxic crab mentality of the Filipinos became a reality when in 1980, I was the only Filipino member of the Garment Recruitment Team to the Philippines, and on the eve of our departure, Mr. Murray Batte, Vice president of Tan Jay called me and he said:”Someone called me from your community that if you would be in our recruitment team going to the Philippines, you would only give favours to your relatives.” It was bomb for me when my passport, my ticket and my luggages were ready and then, a sudden stop. “Mr. Batte, i don’t have any siblings, or relatives engaged in the garment industry. Even when I arrived in Winnipeg in 1974, I did know that there were many Filipinos living in this city. Neither I was not involved in any garment employment in Manila. I had been teaching in Manila (UST). Mr. Batte said: “You’re not going.”
Just wait for my book-in progress: “I Swallowed My Pride and I Got Constipated”, citing the two sides -the bright and the dark – of Filipino immigration!