Ivy Lopez Sarmiento (second from right to left) with her twins Isabel (left) and Anabel (right) and her mother Tessie Lopez Harrison (far left) who immigrated from the Philippines when she was just 20 years old. (PHOTO BY LIGIA BRAIDOTTI, Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Is it the death of the Filipino language program?

Opinion

By Ted Alcuitas

Why is it that a community of 80,000 Filipino-Canadians cannot sustain a Filipino bilingual program?

Why can’t the community this size not come up with 20 students in kindergarten and 20 in Grades 2 and 3?

The first Filipino bilingual program in the country is facing closure if not enough students are enrolled by the end of this month, school officials say.

The program at A. E. Wright School in Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks School Division was implemented last year, the first of its kind in the country.

Educators and community supporters are calling on kababayans to help keep the program alive by enrolling their children.

“We’re appealing to the parents and everybody in the Seven Oaks community and school division to support this culture and cultural language,” said Socorro ‘Coring’ Juan, a bilingual program advocate.

Ivy Lopez-Sarmiento, a parent of twin daughters who attended the program in its inaugural year, hopes the program can continue.

Sarmiento claims there is hardly any support from the School Division.

“It has been a struggle to encourage parents to enrol their children because the support from the School Division is hardly there. We’ve been left out of information sessions and school open houses to let parents know this program exists. We are really hoping the Filipino-Canadian community can get the word out, show support, and stop the School Division from ending the program,” she pleads.

There are more than 80,000 Filipino-Canadians in Manitoba, and according to teacher Porfiria Pedrina, it’s important to know more about their culture.

“The diversity among our students as newcomer children, as well as second and third-generation Canadians, range from knowing so much to knowing so little about their heritage and language,” she says.

“The Filipino bilingual program is an important opportunity for them to build their own positive self-identity in a nurturing and safe cultural environment.”

The Program is based on the Manitoba Education Curriculum and divides the medium of instruction between Filipino in arts subjects and English in math and sciences. The Seven Oaks School Division also currently offers Ukrainian and Ojibwe bilingual programs.

To register children by the end of July, parents are urged to contact Cory Juan at 204-694-8517 or e-mail her at [email protected]

After-school program another option

Students still have the option to join the Filipino heritage language program, which runs three times a week after school at Maples Collegiate. There, they have the option of learning Filipino, along with 10 other languages, such as Cree and Punjabi.

The Filipino bilingual program might not have taken off since some parents like to combine the after-school programs with other immersion classes, says Ronald Iscala.

Iscala is a teacher in the current bilingual program and a mentor with the after-school Filipino program.

“I think the regular days, they prefer to have another activity, and then after that they prefer to have the Filipino culture and language,” he said.

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Ronald Iscala is a teacher at the Seven Oaks School Division’s Filipino bilingual program and a mentor at the after-school Filipino heritage language club. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Iscala says in addition to language skills, he teaches traditional aspects of Filipino culture such as dance as part of the after-school program. He helped put together a traditional dance that his students performed at the division’s biannual Arts in the Park celebration at Kildonan Park last month.

“I’ve taught in the Philippines and even in Dubai, but in Canada it’s different because they’ve been embracing the culture,” said Iscala.

“And when you pass on the baton to little children, I know that in the future they’ll be the ones who will do it for other generations to come.”

The division says it will consider reinstating the Filipino bilingual program if there’s more enrolment interest in the future.

The division currently runs Ukrainian and Ojibwa bilingual programs while other Manitoba school divisions offer German, Cree, Hebrew and Spanish bilingual programs. 

Rivergrove resident and parent advocate Ivy Lopez Sarmiento said this program is a chance for her five-year-old twin girls, Isabel and Anabel, who were born and raised in Winnipeg, to learn about their heritage. 

According to the 2016 census, Tagalog was the fastest-growing language. The number of people speaking it had grown by 32.9 per cent since 2011.

 Sarmiento is a second-generation Canadian and said she can understand her mother’s native language, but can barely speak it. 

Together with other parents and Filipino teachers, Sarmiento has been rallying for this program for the last three school years. “Why is it that Filipino youth know so many other languages except their own language?” she quoted a comment she saw on Facebook. 

“This happens to lots of cultural backgrounds. It becomes a loss of identity.” “This is a good way for the second- or third- generation (Canadian) to feel more connected to their culture and even understand the history of their heritage.” Also, the benefits are extended to newcomer students as well, who won’t quickly forget their own language and culture after they arrive in Canada while still learning English. 

 “Children are natural language learners. In a bilingual or heritage language program they learn an additional language and learn about the culture expressed through that language,” SOSD superintendent Brian O’Leary said. “The challenge is simply having sufficient registrations to ensure that the program will be viable.” 

“The bilingual program, they would be really immersed and integrated and they would expand more on the cultural studies,” Sarmiento explained, adding that even non-Filipino students can register and learn about a new culture. But most importantly, all Sarmiento wants for her children and for all the students who may enrol in the program is to feel proud of their roots. She didn’t have the opportunity to learn Tagalog in school, but now other kids can. “As a second-generation Canadian-born Filipino, this program allows me to give my kids the opportunity to learn about their heritage and the history of the Philippines, something that as a second-generation Filipino-Canadian-born person wouldn’t easily be able to teach them,” she added. “It’s about embracing the fact that you are Canadian, and embracing the fact that you are able, in this country, to proudly live your own heritage. “I want them to take pride in their Filipino roots and take pride in being Canadian at the same time.” 

Ivy Lopez Sarmiento’s daughter Isabel sings O Canada in Filipino.( PHOTO BY LIGIA BRAIDOTTI, Winnipeg Free Press)