Ethel and her brother after her PhD graduation (2015)
Name: Ethel Tungohan
Place of Birth: Manila, Philippines
Elementary School: Assumption College San Lorenzo
High School: Hong Kong International School
1. Could you please describe how you came to be in Canada?
My parents, 9 year old brother, and I first arrived in Canada in August 1999. I was 17 years old. Prior to coming to Canada, we were living in Hong Kong, where my dad worked for San Miguel Corporation and my mom worked for Bayanihan, a non-profit organization that provided services for Filipino overseas foreign workers. It was when we were living in Hong Kong that my parents applied to immigrate to Canada. They had enough ‘points’ to come as landed immigrants, and so the four of us moved to Vancouver in the summer after I graduated from high school.
2. Describe your experience of growing up, living, and/or working in Canada?
Living in Canada was initially difficult. It was hard for me to witness the transition experienced by my family members. In many ways, I was insulated from having to adjust to life in Canada because I was in university and thus did not have to experience difficulties accessing the labour market, which both of my parents experienced, or have to adjust to a new school environment, which my brother had to go through.
Despite decades of legal experience, and a long career helming one of the biggest multinational companies in Southeast Asia, Canadian employers found that my father’s work experience was insufficient because this all took place abroad. My dad’s law degree from the University of the Philippines also did not ‘count’ because it was a degree completed in a country that Canada deemed inferior to its schools. My dad applied for hundreds of jobs, without hearing back. My dad’s strength and resilience amidst constant rejection inspires me because he decided to go back to school in order to write the BC Bar exam. While my mom worked full-time, my dad was in school and took care of my brother. He was a full-time student and a full-time care provider! He passed the BC Bar and is now a practicing lawyer.
Initially, my mom accepted temporary positions with a temp agency and was our family’s breadwinner during our first few years in Canada. Her bosses at one of the companies which gave her a temporary position liked her and hired her full-time. She also went back to school in order to become an immigration consultant.
Ethel’s parents during her father’s induction into the British Columbia Bar
As for my brother, it was a big challenge for him to move to Canada because he was placed initially in the English-as-a-second-language stream despite the fact that he attended a school in Hong Kong where English was the main medium of instruction. In fact, my brother was fluent only in English; he understood, but could not speak, Tagalog. It was difficult for me and my parents to witness how his school streamlined all Filipino migrant children into the ESL stream without adequately testing whether doing so would meet their educational needs. My parents did launch an appeal, and eventually, my brother was placed in the regular stream.
3. What are some of your major accomplishments? What were/are some of your major struggles?
My major accomplishments are inevitably tied to what my family has accomplished. I am proud that my dad went back to school and successfully passed the BC Bar exam. I am proud that my mom did the same thing and is now an immigration consultant. I am proud that my brother finished a Bachelor’s degree at SFU. And I am proud that I’ve been able to get a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and am now a tenure-track professor at York University – the academic job market is particularly tough. I am thrilled that I am able to teach students at York University – many of whom come from immigrant backgrounds – and that I get to do research on areas that matter to me. Another major accomplishment that I am especially proud of is helping spearhead the publication of Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility, which is the first ever edited collection of research on different dimension of the Filipino community’s lives.
Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility (2012)
A major struggle for me is trying to make it in an environment where Filipinas (and people and women of colour) are rare. In Canada, at my last count, there were only eight tenure-track professors of Filipino descent. Because Filipinos in academia are relatively rare, it is sometimes difficult to fit into a world where some might be confounded by your presence and some might not really get why undertaking research on Filipino migrants’ lives is a crucial undertaking.
4. What are some of future goals that you envision for yourself and for the Filipino community in Canada?
My goal is to see more Filipinos represented in different fields, whether it be in the arts, in the trades, in the civil service, and in government. Another goal is to see the Filipino community become aware and become proud of their history in Canada. More importantly, I really want members of the Filipino community to feel empowered in the country, and not merely to take as given discriminatory policies and practices. I want the Filipino community to find its political voice.
Picture Four – my mom welcoming Freddie, my daughter, who is the first of our family to be born in Canada