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Event organizers Angelique Maiquez (left), Cherlene Eloria, Venus Ramos, Lhori Webster, Sabrina Price, Julia Miraflores, and Marko DeGuzman are organizing the first Pinoys on Parliament conference Feb 23–24. Photo: Brianna MacEachern.

Conference hopes to show students can find success in wide variety of fields

From Feb. 23–24, young Filipino-Canadians from across the country will be coming to Ottawa for the first ever Pinoys on Parliament, a national youth leadership conference.

The conference brings together Filipino-Canadian students from Montreal to Vancouver and gives them a chance to listen to a host of Filipino-Canadian speakers and panelists who have found success in a variety of fields.

The Filipino Students’ Association is committed to promoting Filipino culture on campus through traditional meals, documentaries, liaisons with the wider Ottawa Filipino community, and other events. The club also offers a welcoming space for Filipino exchange students who want a taste of home and for out-of-town students looking for a community in Ottawa.

The impetus for the Pinoys on Parliament conference comes from the fact that, though Canada’s Filipino population is one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Canada, there is a lack of representation in politics and many other fields. This conference hopes to bring together speakers from many different fields to speak with the leaders of tomorrow.

It’s the variety that means so much to the event’s organizers. As Julia Miraflores, a fourth-year communications student and one of the event organizers, explained, there is a lot of cultural pressure for young Filipinos to pursue practical jobs, but she hopes that this conference will show young Filipino-Canadians that there are others working in every field imaginable.

“There’s a limited number of career options growing up for Filipinos, either nursing or more practical fields, so it’s hard to find representation in Parliament or comms, so this is an event that will show young Filipinos that there are different doors that will open for you,” Miraflores said.

As a fourth-year political science student, event co-organizer Lhori Webster pointed out that there’s a lot of pride in seeing Filipinos in politics, and there is a political leaning to the event. The keynote speaker is the Honourable Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, Canada’s first Filipino Member of Parliament, and there will be a panel specifically on Filipinos in politics. Other political speakers include Flor Marcelino, the first woman of colour to be elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, and Amelita Armit, previously Health Canada’s Assistant Deputy Minister.

While the conference has a political bent, it isn’t all just politics. A second panel highlights young, up-and-coming Filipinos in a variety of fields, such as Youtuber Elle Mills, public relations specialist Abby Albino, as well as several academics, journalists, and entrepreneurs.

“I think what’s really important about the event is that it’s not focused on one field, that it’s focused on representation in whatever field you choose,” said Webster. “Everyone is able to get out of it what’s best for them.”

This is the first-ever Pinoys in Parliament conference, but the interest is bigger than either Miraflores or Webster could have ever imagined. Many student groups are already asking for a conference next year.

“Just seeing the interest for it, we had to put a cap on the event this year, we had no idea it was going to be this popular,” Webster said.

The goal of the conference is multifaceted, Webster and Miraflores explained. It offers students a chance to meet and make new friends, and gives them a chance to meet people making impacts in fields that they want to go into, in addition to stressing community engagement.

“Everything that we’ve done has tied back to our theme — “Lift While You Climb” — and we just want to start having these conversations about what issues young Filipino-Canadians care about, but also we want to put people in contact with each other and close the gap between where people are that have accomplished what they have in their career and where students are,” said Webster.

Miraflores also touched on a desire to get Filipino-Canadians civically engaged on a national and local level, and to encourage other Filipino student associations to start their own conferences with the help of their communities. Overall, engagement in the community is a huge aspect of the conference.  

Miraflores gave the example of her hometown of Peterborough’s New Canadian Centre, which, through the efforts of one Filipino helping run the organization, has made her town a welcoming destination for Filipino immigrants. Miraflores hopes that sort of civic engagement will be taken to heart at the conference.

After the conference ends, the organizers hope that young Filipino-Canadians will have the encouragement they need to put themselves into any field they choose. Having so many speakers already making headway in their respective fields is inspiring.

“If we don’t see ourselves in these spaces it’ll be even tougher for us to be in those spaces,” Webster said. “Imagining yourself doing this work, doing all this, is half the battle.”