For better or for worse, the political arena has become the place where people look for understanding, representation, and solidarity.
On October 21, Canadians will have the opportunity to either re-elect the current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or usher in a new leader to redefine the country’s direction. Canadian values are thought to be constant and shared throughout all communities and ethnicities, but that doesn’t mean that all Canadians believe or feel identically about the same problems.
Rattan Mall, editor of the newspaper The Indo-Canadian Voice, and Leo Cunanan Jr., publisher at Dahong Pilipino, have shared their knowledge of their own communities and the way that some scandals and instabilities may not have shaken people quite the way it may seem.
Who is seen, who isn’t heard?
Canada’s large and diverse immigrant population has been vocal in support of Canadian ideals and present in Canada’s presentation on the world stage, but not all see themselves represented at home in politics. Many in the community have embraced politics with confidence.
“You know, us [Indian] South Asians sometimes call ourselves ‘political animals’ because everyone is in politics in India…” says Mall. “Everybody wants to become a counsellor or an MLA or an MP and to be blunt, it’s a little bit of a craze. Also, we are well received in all of the parties, even now the conservatives, at least for the past decade or so, have been wooing South Asians actively.”
Though this attention has created confidence in one community, it has left the Filipino community feeling neglected.
“As a matter of fact, Filipinos are underrepresented in politics,” says Cunanan. “In the 60 or so years that Filipinos have been coming to Canada, we have had only one MP – Dr. Rey Pagtakhan of Winnipeg – and that’s not for lack of Filipino political candidates among the almost one million Filipinos in Canada today.”
This representational discrepancy also manifests itself in news and media portrayals, prompting Mall to explain that a lot of people would love to trust mainstream media, but feel they are not represented honestly, and that many immigrants want to have their opinions heard fairly and objectively. He notes that immigrants tend to respect reporters who pursue the truth as opposed to asking leading questions or continuously quoting figures who will give them answers that they want to hear while disregarding wider community sentiments.
One of the largest issues that this election has been forced to tackle has been immigration. Though Mall points out that previously the Conservatives had higher immigration numbers in the 80s and 90s, Cunanan counters by reminding us that current memory and rhetoric is up for election.
“Filipino immigrants will likely support the Liberals because Liberal governments have done a lot of good for immigrants since Pierre [Elliot] Trudeau made multiculturalism a national policy in 1971,” he says. He also contends that other scandals have not bothered most Filipinos as much as the Conservatives’ anti-immigrant sentiments. “Many understand Trudeau’s father opened the door for non-white peoples and put the pressure on all successive governments thereafter.”
Recalling the relationship and influence between America and Canada, Cunanan reveals that most Filipinos don’t consider Trump a good model to follow, and in fact most Filipinos are proud that Canada has thus far stood behind Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister instead of someone ideologically or rhetorically motivated. Mall expands on this idea.
“People have faith, and communities are mixing more and more nowadays; they don’t expect [white] Canadians to behave like [white] Americans,” he says. “There will always be a certain fringe group that will never accept non-white immigration and we have to live with that reality.”
Scandalous for some
A series of photos made their thunderous arrival in Canadian media and politics late September depicting Prime minister Trudeau wearing “brownface” or “blackface” makeup in separate incidents. Though these photos have shaken Trudeau’s reputation, and the media gave it thorough coverage in the ensuing days, both Mall and Cunanan believe that their communities have not been massively shaken by the pictures.
“What he did eighteen years ago when he was young and in the spirit of fun is understandable,” says Cunanan. “Filipinos understood that he did it as part of his costume as Aladdin at a costume party with Arabian Nights as a theme. He had to be colored if he was going to appear as Aladdin. After all, Aladdin was not an Anglo Saxon.”
In addition, he points to the Filipino artistic and fun-loving culture as helping to smooth over the controversy.
Mall believes that the scale of these travesties is more important. “[People] are more interested in reality, are there jobs open for us or not?” he asks. “They don’t have the time to care about whether or not someone is dressing up as a black guy or a white guy. [Justin] Trudeau came wearing this ‘brownface’ but he was not standing on the road telling people to go back home. There is a big difference between the two.”
For all the uncertainty and speculation plaguing current political discourse, the points of view in both Mall’s community and in Cunanan’s is as varied and dynamic as the people in them – and that holds true for Canada at large.