Meet the cultural champions in Kapitbahay, a series of profiles of Filipino Calgarians

June is Filipino Heritage Month and to celebrate, CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Filipino Calgarians through a series of profiles. To continue the Kapitbahay: Meet your Filipino neighbours campaign, we introduce you to the cultural champions — Aurora Dacanay, Fourth Galvez, Noel Lloren and Zac Ardena. 

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Aurora Dacanay is a retired school teacher of 50 years and now the principal of Philippine Cultural Centre Foundation’s Language and Culture School. She is passionate about making a difference in the community, in other people’s lives and giving Filipino youth the opportunity to learn more about their heritage through cultural dances, language, history and music. (Lionel Migrino)

Aurora Dacanay, education advocate and youth mentor 

I was born and grew up in the Philippines. I speak the Filipino national language, Tagalog, and one of its regional languages, Ilocano, fluently. I still practise sound and logical Filipino values such as being family-oriented, hospitable, respectful and courteous, to name a few. 

I met and married my late husband in Calgary, and our two children and five grandchildren were born in Calgary. I am a retired teacher of more than 50 years and I am passionate about making a difference in people’s lives and in the community I’m in wherever I go.”

CBC Calgary: Why are you proud to be a Filipina?

Dacanay: The Philippines is a beautiful country with countless breathtaking views, warm climate all year round and a wealth of natural resources that can support a billion people if tapped. It has a rich culture and history, dating back 500 years. It is a multiracial and multilingual country, which makes Filipino’s easily adaptable wherever they go and whatever country they live in. A Filipina has equal independence as a Filipino man, meaning a Filipina can do anything that her heart dictates for the good of her whole family.

I am proud to be a Filipina because I possess the many Filipino values and traits that I believe are important in shaping family and human relationships in our world. Values such as being honest, truthful and courteous and having deep respect for elders and strong family ties.

CBC Calgary: What’s the best little known fact about the Filipino Calgary community that most people don’t realize?

Dacanay: The one best fact about the Filipino Calgarian community is that Filipinos are considered the most musical people in the world. And this fact is attested in the Filipino Calgarian community through yearly multicultural celebrations. Each Filipino cultural dance depicts movements of certain birds or animals, ways of life from different regions of the Philippines, traditions and different costumes from pre-Hispanic to Hispanic and post Hispanic eras. One can also see and hear Filipinos singing in choir during Sunday mass, singing in local restaurants that have karaoke and Filipino Canadian bands performing in nightclubs and pubs.

Fourth Galvez is a full-time cook at Chopstix in Calgary. He is motivated and inspired by the spirit of ‘bayanihan,’ communal unity, as it drives him to work harder and therefore allows him to help more people. (Lionel Migrino)

Fourth Galvez, chef

I spent my early years in the Philippines where I was born and happily raised by my Filipino parents. Growing up, I always loved food, which interested me in cooking and is why I pursued culinary arts at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management in Manila, Philippines. I came to Canada in early 2009 to seek out greener pastures, and after working in numerous culinary jobs for six years, I joined Chopstix Filipino Restaurant, which specializes in authentic Filipino cuisine in Calgary.”

CBC Calgary: Why are you proud to be Filipino?

Galvez: I am proud to be Filipino because of the values that have been inculcated in the hearts and minds of every Filipino. Our culture values strong family ties therefore Filipinos are usually family-centered individuals where we treat even our distant relatives as immediate family members. The Filipino is embodied with the spirit of Bayanihan.

Bayanihan is a Filipino concept which puts emphasis on helping those around you, especially those in need, and giving back to the community. This is why it’s easy to be friends with a Filipino. It’s also the reason why Filipinos are known to be perseverant people as we persevere through hardships together and believe we’re all part of one big community under God.

CBC Calgary: What’s the best little known fact about the Filipino Calgary community that most people don’t realize?

Galvez: In Calgary, Filipinos form groups and associate with other Filipinos based on their region of origin. This is because the Philippines is actually not culturally homogenous. Each region has its own set of unique dialects, customs and values. I, for one, am an Ilonggo (from Iloilo province) where our dialect is Hiligaynon, quite different from someone from Manila whose dialect is Tagalog. However, this regionalism doesn’t hamper us from helping each other and socializing as fellow kababayans, or countrymen, living abroad.

Noel Lloren advocates for the preservation of Filipino traditions through education and folk dance performances. He co-founded Binhi ng Lahi Philippine Folk Dance Troupe that aims to contribute to the vibrancy of Calgary’s arts community. (Lionel Migrino)

Noel Lloren, Philippine folk dance program director

There was a surge of temporary foreign workers who came to Canada in the late 2000s and I was one of them. I was in my late 20s and worked in the food industry as a server. Through that, I received my permanent residency in 2012. 

Like most Filipino immigrants, I came here for the opportunity. Initially, my main goal was to save enough money to start a small business in the Philippines. But as time passed, we were presented with different pathways to become permanent here. Eventually, I ended up helping my sister and her son move to Canada to join me.

CBC Calgary: What aspect of your Filipino culture inspires you to do the work you do?

Lloren: I advocate for Philippine arts and culture. Our group, the Binhi ng Lahi Philippine Folk Dance Troupe, aims to promote and preserve Filipino culture and tradition through education and public performances of different Filipino folk dances. I think, through this effort, we’re able to reach more Filipinos in the city, especially those who were born and raised here, to connect  to their roots. This is also our small way to offer our viewers a glimpse of what the Philippines is through its traditional dances.

CBC Calgary: What is your biggest hope for the future of the Filipino community?

Lloren: I have to acknowledge the first Filipino settlers in Calgary — they did a fantastic job starting this community that we get to be part of today. A lot has been established in the last few years, including the Fiesta Filipino — the biggest outdoor gathering and entertainment that showcases Filipino talents, foods, trades and everything about the Philippines. I hope we’re able to sustain it in the next coming year and that younger Filipino–Canadians participate and prepare to lead this community for generations to come.

Zac Ardena, chef 

I am a second generation Filipino-Canadian born and raised in Toronto. My parents came to Canada as teenagers and have spent most of their lives here in Canada. Luckily, my family has been really good at keeping the Filipino culture and tradition alive at home, especially with our food!

As an adult, I’ve been working on rediscovering my roots and learning more about the rich history and culture we have — there’s always something new to learn about us!”

CBC Calgary: What’s the best little known fact about the Filipino Calgary community that most people don’t realize?

Ardena: I believe that the Filipino community here in Calgary has been essential in keeping the city functioning on many different levels. I’m not sure if this is common knowledge, but the Filipino community makes up a significant portion of the population here in Alberta. The ongoing COVID-19 situation has especially attested to how important the Filipino community is to the city; the Filipino community has been one of the more at-risk demographics in regards to the pandemic, as seen in the Cargill outbreak (there are a significant number of Filipinos working in these meatpacking facilities) and the numerous Filipinos working in the medical field.

CBC Calgary: What aspect of your Filipino culture inspires you to do the work you do?

Ardena: Filipino culture is so rich in diversity. As you go from island to island, you can see a significant variance in regional cuisine. From Pampanga to Negros, you’ll see many different styles and influences in the foods, both local and foreign. There’s so much to learn, and with my personal mission to learn as much as I can about the culture, there’s a bottomless well of knowledge and inspiration I can tap into. The sky’s the limit in terms of creativity!

Follow #FilipinoHeritageMonth on Instagram for content throughout the month.

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