Among the 2018 Civic Merit Award recipients, Leonora Angeles PhD. and associate professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), was recognized for her academic and community work on participatory governance, social and cultural policy and gender and race analysis.
The Civic Merit Award, first awarded in Vancouver in 1942, is conferred through a unanimous vote from the City Council.
From student activist to community leader
“I could not think of any particular event or experience that served as a catalyst to becoming
who I am today,” she says. “I consider it mainly a series of fortunate ‘accidents’ – some merit-induced.” Angeles initially studied political science in the Philippines to become a lawyer. At the time, the Philippines was under martial law and the Marcos dictatorship. Law was used as a tool of repression, and she ultimately decided to pursue Political Science at the graduate level instead.
Angeles went on to start a feminist organization, to complete her Masters thesis on the political sociology of the women’s movements in the Philippines and to win a Ford Foundation scholarship for a Diploma in Women and Development Policy at the University of Nottingham. In 1989, a doctoral scholarship at Queen’s University brought her to Canada.
The ubiquity of culture
Now in her 20th year at UBC, Angeles is a researcher, teacher and community leader active across multiple locations in Canada and in the Philippines. She teaches her students that research is often partly autobiographical.
“The narratives we tell ourselves and stories we tell about other people and their commun-
ities of practice are inspired by our own life stories, encounters and experiences,” says Angeles. “Whether we are conscious of it or not, our policies are not culture-neutral, but almost always cognizant of and bearers of our culture.”
If culture is explicitly or implicitly integrated into policies, this suggests that programs that promote cultural understanding are fundamental to good
“Our societies and nations are composed of many cultures merging, morphing, hybridizing and changing,” she explains. “Culture broadly defined as our way of life is a dynamic system that continuously grows with the people who create and participate in it. Problems arise when we have a static or fossilized view of culture, or when we say that there is a permanent “essence” or feature that make a particular culture.”
Addressing social issues
Angeles appointment at UBC is a cross-appointment that spans two interdisciplinary units. She holds cross-appointments in the School of Community and Regional Planning and in the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. As such, she advises on social issues ranging from immigrant youth issues to the housing crisis in Vancouver.
“I have become more passionate about immigrant youth issues as my own two children became teenagers and inquire more about their hyphenated Canadian, mixed race identity,” she says. She leads the Rethinking Responses and Responsibilities in River Regions program at UBC’s Social Justice Institute which supports young Filipino-Canadian community activists working with marginalized immigrant youth in Canada’s public-school system.
“I have witnessed Filipino-
Canadian children of former caregivers and domestic workers struggle over their own identities, the stigma attached to the work their mothers had to do to gain permanent residence in Canada, the cultural adjustment, and related family issues they experience due to long years of family separation,” she says.
Angeles also advises on policies that address Vancouver’s housing crisis. She recently penned an article for the Vancouver Sun advocating for solutions that combine the best ideas across party lines and mayoral candidates.
“The key is to accept that no one person, no single party or organization, has to answer to our ‘wicked’ problems but that all parties and all city residents have something to contribute to get us out of this housing crisis,” she says.
In an increasingly polarized society, how should people with different points of views set aside their differences to solve society’s common problems? Angeles believes that differences should not be ignored but address directly.
“It is not so much about setting aside our differences but rather talking across and through these differences, understanding the foundations and nuances of those differences that would be the starting point of our desire to come together and develop multiple solutions to our common problems.”