Wherever Filipinos go, there is always a sense of doing good for others, especially for a kababayan. This is innate in many who, despite their coming to Canada, continue to do work for the community. Erie Maestro never stopped working for others in the community, and her zeal to be of service to many, has given not only the Filipino community but the community as a whole, the opportunity to grow and to have a voice in Canada.
Erie’s journey to where she is currently at, was an adventure for her and her family. Arriving in Winnipeg in 1991, with the snow in April and May greeting them, to be with her mother, was a great opportunity for her then four-year old daughter. All her seven other siblings were all over the world, and she was in Canada to discover what else she can do.
PNT: So, what was first on your list of things to do when you came to Canada?
EM: There was no graduate program in Library Studies in Winnipeg so I moved to Halifax Nova Scotia with my brother who was going to study Fine Arts at the N.S. College of Art and Design. I enrolled at Dalhousie University and finished my Masters in Library and Information Studies which I started at the UP Diliman. I moved to Vancouver for work and started at the Vancouver Public Library from 2001 until now. When we moved to Vancouver, my daughter was in middle school and I decided to take my second masters degree in Archival Studies at the UBC. I worked in a job-share position and studied full-time. Like me, my daughter enrolled in the Joint Masters Degree Program in Library and Information Studies and in Archival Studies which makes her a librarian and an archivist.
The library for me and my daughter was our favourite place. When I started to work there, I was the only Filipino in the entire library system. I started to work when I was in library school and later as a professional librarian. For recreation, I knew which places had free events for children and which places had days that were free for the public like the museum, the art gallery, the summer buskers in the city, the waterfront science shows, and of course, the park in downtown Halifax.
PNT: Tell us about your work at the VPL.
EM: I loved my work at VPL kasi nga I like being a librarian, being with people, regardless of age, ability, gender, ethnic group, etc. Also, I believe that libraries are among the last places where there is no user fee, where you are free to borrow and read anything you want, where there is no censorship, where intellectual freedom is upheld and guarded, where the public can go for their life long learning. In the library, I feel that I am making a difference in people’s lives — children’s lives. VPL gave me the opportunity to be an outreach children’s librarian and do my programs outside of the library where the families were – foodbanks, parks, churches, community centres, BC Housing, neighbourhood houses, family group day cares, etc. It also gave me the opportunity to deliver the first Filipino storytimes and the Parent-Child Mother Goose programs!
PNT:What is it like doing the storytelling at the VPL?
EM: Children are the best audience, they are genuine in their relationship with you, their reactions are so honest and they are also very forgiving if you forget a line in your song! Pre-Covid, you get to have their hugs and kisses! And if you are lucky, you get to see them grow! As a children’s librarian, I always enjoyed storytime. All children’s librarians make it look easy and seamless but it is because they work hours to deliver it. And also, what we do is part of literacy, reading, brain development and language development.
PNT: Now, your other hat is Migrante. What gave you inspiration to create Migrante?
EM: It was a collective dream and a collective decision. There was a vacuum in our community of a group that would take the issues of the most precarious and the most marginalized workers – caregivers and temporary foreign workers—and also link their issues and problems to the root causes of why our women and men need to go overseas to find work for their families. Filipinos have strong ties to the Philippines – naiwan natin ang pamily, pamayanan at ang ating mga komunidad. The numbers have gone up, government figures estimate at least 6000 men and women leave the Philippines every day to work abroad. So in this context, going abroad ceases to become a personal decision, the phenomenon of this kind of migration is because of unemployment and underemployment, landlessness, poverty, lack of basic services e.g. health care, education, water, etc.The export labour policy lets off the steam of an active social and political volcano.
The founding members of Migrante BC were former caregivers, teachers, students, professionals.etc. with the mandate to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrants, immigrants and refugees. It is a mass-based organization so it has members who are also volunteers, running on volunteer fuel and led by volunteers. We do fundraising, it is on the organized strength of our kababayan that service is done. Migrante also is known to be a progressive militant organization sa usapin ng rights and welfare ng migranteng Pinoy pero may social and cultural and educational programs rin ang Migrante: may basketbol na liga, may women’s volleyball, arts and cultural workshops, public education, social events like Fathers Day and Mothers Day, etc. Migrante will march on the streets if need be and as an activist organization, it will exercise its rights and freedoms here in Canada – to speak, to write, to organize, to assemble, etc. Several of our members were recipients of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal. Migrante BC was the recipient of the COV Excellence Award for Diversity and Inclusion in 2019.
PNT: Why is being attached to your cultural roots important for you?
EM: Cultural roots give you just that, roots. With that it means language, music, food, literature, knowledge and love of one’s history, values, nationalist sentiments, caring for each other, etc.
Our cultural roots are important for our children. They can hold their head high, proud sila, self assured, confident, hindi paaapi. I raised my daughter as a single mom and still managed to give her that sense of pride in being Filipino. I taught her the balarila when we came here hanggang Grade 2 level.She understands the language, it is music to her ears, not noise. So she is picking up the study of her first language again, by herself. When she was young, sabi niya, “Nanay, what is TGIF?” Ang sagot ko, “Thank God, it’s Friday, diba?” Sumagot siya, “Hindi, Thank God I’m Filipino!” Aba, Biglang nabuhay si Jose Rizal at Andres Bonifacio!
Erie believes that when children learn who they are from the people around them, they remember it forever. She says that as an adult, her daughter reads Philippine history, Filipino literature in English, watches movies and documentaries on and about the Philippines, and she feels good about it – “forever Pinoy na siya,” she muses. Her fervent wish is that the next generation of Filipino-Canadians will be the same, so that their heritage takes a deeper root, and their ancestral and cultural identities come to light in Canada.