When a family in the Philippines needs to relocate their home, often to avoid an impending flood or landslide, it is customary for the entire community to take part in helping them. This is called bayanihan: members of the community work together to literally carry a family’s home from one location to another. The concept of bayanihan captures the spirit of unity and what can be accomplished when everyone works together for the greater good of the community. Bayanihan is emblematic of what the Victoria Filipino Canadian Association (VFCA) has sought to do since its creation in 1969.
The association was established in response to the growing number of Filipino immigrants—largely women working as teachers and nurses— who came to the West Coast of British Columbia throughout the second half of the 20th century. Founding members of the association recognized the value in maintaining the spirit of bayanihan to help newcomers navigate their lives in a new country, as well as doing good works to improve the Greater Victoria community.
Victoria has changed a lot since the VFCA was founded nearly 50 years ago. “I’m one of the pioneers; I came here in ‘67,” says Norma Duy, one of VFCA’s directors. “Victoria then was flat, no high rises, just flat. Only old people and newborns, no teenagers. ‘Newlyweds and nearly deads’!” Along with other changes, new immigrants to Victoria, both from within Canada and globally, have brought new industry and development. The Filipino community grew along with the general population, and in the early 1990s the VFCA decided to band together and purchase a permanent facility to serve as a dedicated base of operations for the services they and their associated groups provide.
The Bayanihan Community Center opened its doors at 1709 Blanshard Street in November 2001, thanks to fund-matching initiatives from the provincial government. Within five years the Bayanihan Cultural and Housing Society (BCHS) celebrated paying off the entirety of the building’s mortgage. Laila Pires attributes this success to their members’ dedication to a long-term goal: “We had to get it off our shoulder… so now we are in a bit more of a position to plan programs.”
The Bayanihan Centre offers a range of programs and services to the Victoria Filipino community- everything from newcomer settlement and employment services to recreation activities for the general public. The centre is a space of possibilities: the open common area one day serves as a classroom for Tagalog language lessons, the next day it transforms into a yoga studio. On Thursday nights the space becomes a lively dance hall, where everyone is welcome to join in weekly Line Dancing classes. While Bayanihan is a source of entertainment and a space to cultivate a social network within the community, it is also a site where Filipino customs and traditions are passed on to younger generations. In addition to Tagalog language and Sampaguita dance classes, kids can learn how to cook traditional Filipino cuisine in the center’s on-site kitchen.
The kitchen is a teaching space, but it also serves Victoria in other ways. For example, food trucks rent the space to prepare for their day as mobile food vendors. The VFCA cooks up a storm to stock kiosks located at the annual Saanich Fair or provide for its weekly Sunday Open House lunches- a draw for Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. According to President Agnes Mhyre: “[People] like to have our traditional food, and a place where we can eat, where we can gather and socialize.”