Jose Rizal, national hero of the Philippines, once said “Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” (“He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”) After all, he was the sublime traveler, educated in European schools and life, yet he chose to go back to his country and die for it. Many of us who chose to leave our home come to live in another and claim it as ours, and still have our heritage on our list of the most important things in our lives. For Carmelita Salonga Tapia who was born in Malolos, Bulacan, being the chairman of Philippines Historama Society of BC, which through a stage play called HISTORAMA, re-enacts history of the Philippines in short plays, songs, and dances, is her way of staying true to her roots and at the same time sharing her heritage with the rest of Canada. For many years now, HISTORAMA has been an on-going educational roadshow for showing the rich cultural heritage of the Filipinos from Stone Age to the present Republic. But this is only one of her passions.
Carmelita finished her accounting degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and worked as Executive Secretary for 18 years before migrating to Canada in 1988. She is married to Edgardo, a Mechanical Engineer, and a registered Mechanical Technologist in British Columbia. He was a recipient of the Professional Achievement award from Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia. He was also a recipient of The Outstanding Mapuan Award from Mapua Institute of Technology. Both of them established Odessa Manufacturing Inc. 32 years ago, and is the only manufacturer of pollution control spare parts in Western Canada. Odessa is their daughter’s name.
Edgardo and Carmelita were working in their respective fields in the first two years of their arrival in Canada, but in 1990, through the advice of a friend, their entrepreneurial spirit made them incorporate Odessa Manufacturing Inc.
“We were determined to make it in Canada,” Carmelita shares. Their belief, which they want to impart to immigrants like them, is to be determined, be persistent! “Do not let failure dampen the spirit. Remember – for every door that closes, another one opens,” she says.
Since arriving in 1988, both Carmelita and Edgardo have been involved not only in business but also in the life of the community. Apart from HISTORAMA, Carmelita is an active member of Rotary Club of New Westminster, she participated in various dental missions to the Philippines, since 2003, bringing in Canadian Dentists to treat the indigents who could not afford the high cost of dental treatment.
“You can never forget your roots, knowing what the needs of the people are back home,” she says of her philanthropic work. She is also the Executive Director of Asian Heroes Canada Foundation, which honors Canadians and Asians who dedicate their time, money and effort to help alleviate the plight of the poor and marginalized in Asian countries.
While raising two children, Carmelita pursued more interests, such as undergoing training at Vancouver Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy and was a past member of Vancouver Police Department Diversity Advisory Committee. She was also a Provincial Government appointee to the New Westminster Police Board. Carmelita also pursued her love of films and attended Vancouver Film School and took Low Budget Filmmaking and Producer’s Workshop, being a former member of the Philippine Movie Press Club and Philippine Board of Censors for Motion Pictures in the Philippines.
“There are always things for you to do and pursue, as long as you focus on what they are and enjoy the process,” Carmelita shares.
As a businesswoman, she is the president of Southeast Asia Canada Business Council, which acts as the bridge to promote trade and investments between Canada and the 10 Southeast Asian countries. Previously, she was President of Philippines Canada Trade Council and the Filipino business representative to the Asia Pacific Gateway Committee of the Burnaby Board of Trade. She organized several trade missions to ASEAN since 2003 – to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. The trade missions focussed on education, health and wellness, skilled workers and immigration, power generating plants, commercial goods, and mining for both Indonesia and the Philippines.
Don’t hold your breath, but Carmelita was also involved as a Director of New Westminster School District #40 BC Business Company which operated secondary and ESL schools in Wenshou, China and Seoul, Korea.
“When I know I am needed somewhere, that’s where I will be,” she adds. “There is nothing more fulfilling than to be able to serve others in every possible way you can.”
Indeed, through all her pursuits, Carmelita has found her niche in the world, and she always looked back to where she came from for inspiration, just like Rizal said. While she has reached her destination, she will keep moving on to forge more paths for herself and for others.