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Importance of research with Filipinx communities including LGBTQ

Burnaby, B.C.

Opinion

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian News.com

May Farrales, PhD joins the faculty of the Simon Fraser University (SFU) as an Assistant Professor in Urban Social Change and cross appointed between Geography and  Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

Her appointment takes effect on August 1, 2020 although the university announced the appointment on July 9, 2020.

The first Filipina to be appointed as a tenure-track professor of the university, Farrales returns to her alma mater after obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in 1997. SFU’s main campus is in Burnaby but has campuses in Vancouver and Surrey. It is one of three largest universities in the province which includes the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver and the University of Victoria (UVic) in Victoria.

Farrales holds a PhD (2017) in Geography from UBC and has recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George.

Her research has “centered on the embodied and lived experiences of people of colour in settler colonial urban geographies.” 

At SFU, she plans to develop her research with immigrant communities and the racial geographies of smaller Canadian urban centres.

A passionate teacher, she will teach courses on migration and Queer geographies in the Department of Geography.

Farrales was a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Health Arts Research Centre and ECHO project at the University of Northern British Columbia. Her research interests are nested in understanding how different forms of colonialism work over time and space. Her areas of research include transnational, critical race, feminist geographies, critical Indigenous, and queer studies.

Her doctoral dissertation, “Gendered sexualities in migration: Play, pageantry, and the politics of performing Filipino-ness in settler colonial Canada,” examined how Filipinx sexualities in Canada are informed and influenced by colonial legacies and its continuing logics. Specifically, the dissertation sketches out how gender and sexual paradigms in the Philippines are brought to Canada through labour migration and are re-scripted in relation to racial, gender and sexual regimes in Canada. It examines how these negotiations take shape at three particular sites and Filipinx community-organized spaces on the unceded, traditional and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples (Vancouver). 

She is also the assistant managing editor of ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. 

An immigrant journey

Born and raised in Vancouver, Farrales went to the French immersion school Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and finished her secondary education at St. Patrick’s High School. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree at SFU in 1997.

Her family  immigrated to Canada in 1973 with two of her elder sisters, the eldest only three years old at the time. May is the third child, followed by another sister.

“ We place a high value in education and so we decided early on that their mother Lydia, should stay home and look after their early schooling,” Emmanuel (Manny)Farrales told Philippine Canadian News.com (PCN.com). “ Our first purchase in Canada was a set of World Book encylopaedia,” he added, saying that the books exposed their children to a love for reading. 

Like most Filipino immigrants, Lydia, who was a teacher in the Philippines and Emmanuel, a Chemist, did not find jobs in their professions as they settled in Vancouver. But the hard-working couple who placed a high value on education, managed to raise their four daughters and send them to post -secondary schools. All four have university degrees with eldest daughter, Lynn as a Medical Doctor and now May, a tenured professor. Another sister graduated from Nursing at UBC and another, an arts degree from Emily Carr University.

May Farrales lives with long-time partner Leah Diana, a registered nurse and adult son Sol.

Community activism

Farrales first got into community activism when she joined the Philippine Women Centre (PWC) in Vancouver in the early 90s together with other young Filipino women. The PWC is credited with a substantial work in advocating for the rights and welfare of Filipino domestic workers and women in general. Their research and advocacies has resulted in major changes to the federal government’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), among others. 

It was at the PWC that Farrales met UBC Professor Geraldine Pratt who was doing a participatory research into the Filipino domestic workers in Vancouver. Pratt encouraged her to pursue a Master’s program at UBC and was her main supervisor during her studies.

Praise from academic colleagues

The Filipino-Canadian academic community greeted Farrales’ appointment with joy and pride that a prestigious university like SFU chose a kababayan – the only Filipino professor to hold the position.

“It is a testament to the importance of her research with Filipinx communities in BC, including LGBTQ Filipinxs and Filipinxs living in smaller cities and towns in BC,” said John Paul (JP) Catungal, of UBC.

Catungal is Assistant Professor of Critical Racial and Ethnic Studies in the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC and was a member of May’s doctoral supervision committee.

He says having an institutional home at SFU will “enable Dr. Farrales to continue doing this work and to grow it in exciting directions,” adding that it also opens up the opportunity for students, including youth from the Filpinx communities to learn from Dr. Farrales through the courses that she will offer.

Farrales’ appointment is a recognition of her “path-breaking accomplishments, including the strengths of her community-engaged research and advocacy, her student-informed pedagogical approaches, and her strengths as a geographer,” said York University professor Ethel Tunguhan.

Tunguhan, an assistant professor of Politics and Social Science at York, is currently Research Chair of Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts, and Activism.

Dr. Robert Diaz, Associate Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto said May Farrales’ joining SFU “highlights the significant intellectual and political work that she has already given to communities that Filipino Canadian Studies needs to include. It is an acknowledgement of the richness of  research and teaching on gender, race, sexuality, and migration. She is already a mentor and leader in the field, so I a look forward to teaching, engaging with, and conversing with her scholarship.”

Other Filipino academics are in line for appointments in Ontario universities in the next month or so. According to a source, the official announcement could come anytime soon.

May Farrales was an activist in the fight for women’s rights and welfare in her younger days. She is seen here (at right) with the author during a rally in Vancouver to stop political killings in the Philippines during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Behind at left, is Danielle Bisnar, now a Human Rights and Labour lawyer in Toronto. Bisnar has several doctoral degrees to her name. (Photo: Ted Alcuitas)