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Collective identities: How Filipino and Canadian culture converge in Athabasca

Longstanding community welcomes two new citizens ahead of Canada Day
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The Mencede and Cunanan family poses for a family photo after Genaro and Angelina’s citizenship ceremony in Calgary on June 27. Back row, L-R, Angelique Mencede, Minowa Mencede, Joaquin Mencede, Jennifer Mencede, Rod Cunanan, Laury Mencede, Gen Mencede, Ryan Cunanan. Front row, L-R, Genaro Mencede and Angelina Mencede. Missing is Genesis Mencede.

ATHABASCA — July 1 is a day most Canadians look forward to each year; planning trips, events, and festivities in the name of the country’s birthday is a staple no matter the location, and no matter of race, creed, or religion.

For the Filipino community in Athabasca, Canada Day is a day to recognize and honour both Canadian and Filipino identities. In lieu of celebrating during June, dubbed Filipino Heritage Month in 2018, one local man said the community prefers to party with the rest of the country, and this year was a special occasion to commemorate.

Rod Cunanan has lived in Northern Alberta for almost 20 years after migrating from the Philippines as a skilled worker. He first landed in the Perryvale area, where he worked as a beekeeper helper, and his wife Lorna and daughter Nicole joined him in 2008.

In 2013, Rod took his Oath of Citizenship, followed by Lorna and Nicole in 2014. Now, 10 years after officially becoming Canadian, Rod and the rest of the Filipino community celebrated his parents taking the same step.

“Funny story,” wrote Rod in a June 28 email. “Dad had long spread the news of it back home, while Mom was quiet all throughout. At the end of the day, I felt pride in them, mom was even teary eyed saying the Oath. It was really special for her, it meant a lot.”

Genaro and Angelina Mencede have been living in Athabasca since late 2018. They made the move from the Phillippines with two of Rod’s siblings after an eight-year process. On June 27, the pair took their Oath at a ceremony welcoming 123 other new Canadians from coast to coast.

“It was so special, it was another excuse for our family to gather, be reminded of our blessings, and be thankful!” wrote Rod. “This was actually their second application, as the first one got lost in the system. We are just thankful that the second one went through.”

New roots have strength, too

Rod began his life in Canada working for Semrok Apiaries in 2005. He quickly earned himself a good reputation, and after stints at apiaries in Colinton and Westlock County, Mario Paradis and Beatrice Hunt sponsored Rod, allowing his wife and daughter to join him in 2008.

The same year, Rod got a job with Blue Heron Vocational Training Centre, where he has proudly worked since. In addition to their day jobs, Rod and his family now have their own bees to care for.

“What’s so great about that story? Three different beekeepers of diverse backgrounds helped us out, from learning the language, seeing the culture, et cetera,” wrote Rod. “It took a group of people, a village, to help us with that journey. We are forever grateful!”

Rod, Lorna, and Nicole have been in the Athabasca region now for 16 years. He said the family did have connections with two or three Filipino Canadians who had migrated to the area 20 years prior, and during their time here, Rod and his family have watched their community grow and flourish.

“Now, much to our surprise over the course of time, I believe close to 50 (Filipino Canadians) have their citizenship, still with a mix of permanent residents and temporary foreign workers calling Athabasca their home,” wrote Rod.

He said connection, community, and a deep respect for elders are remnants of Filipino culture still honoured by those in Athabasca. Families and friends gather nearly every weekend, and trips to events like Taste of Edmonton and the Heritage Festival are a staple for both getting in touch with their own culture and celebrating others.

When it comes to the intersection of Canadian and Filipino identities and cultures, Rod said he’s noticed many similarities. Though the language barrier was an obstacle at first, he listed professional, entrepenuerial, and community opportunities as avenues that allow personal and familial growth.

Rod is a longstanding member of the local Lions chapter, part of the Aspen Ridge Christian Fellowship congregation, and is furthering his education through courses at Athabasca University.

“I believe that having seen two realities gave me a better perspective of community and of life,” wrote Rod. “I am a proud Filipino-Canadian.”

Lexi Freehill, TownandCountryToday.com