Jerome & Gelaine in Philippines Visiting Artisans

Gelaine Santiago, co-founder of Cambio & Co. and Sinta & Co

Name: Gelaine Santiago
Place of Birth: Malolos, Bulacan
Elementary School: St. Aidan Catholic Elementary School (Scarborough)
High School: Brother Andre Catholic Secondary School (Markham)
After High School: 
University of Guelph (2008-2012) for Biological Sciences and Political Science 
George Brown College (2012-2013) for Human Resources Post Graduate Program

1. When did you come to Canada (year and age)? Three years old, March 1993

2. What are some of the reasons why you (left the Philippines) and immigrated to Canada? My parents chose to immigrate to Canada with me and my two older sisters in search of better opportunities. 

3. Why did you choose Canada above other countries? We had family members already from my mom’s side who sponsored us and encouraged us to immigrate to Toronto.

4. Describe your experience (what was involved) in the process of immigrating to Canada? I was very young when we immigrated so I don’t recall the specifics. We were first living with my mother’s aunt for the first three months we arrived in Canada. I would take the bus with my mom everywhere visiting apartments to find one we could afford.

5. Describe your experience of growing up, living, and/or working in Canada? Being a first generation immigrant who came to Canada when I was very young, my immigration journey can be categorized into two main struggles: first was the struggle to conform, and second is the struggle to assert.

From my youth up until my twenties, my life was consumed with the struggle of fitting in with the mainstream (aka. The largely white and wealthy narrative). I had little to no interest in learning about the Philippines where I was born. The white kids at school would talk about summers at the cottage and swimming in backyard pools, all of which was a sharp contrast to my own humble upbringing. 

The harder my parents worked to move us higher on the socioeconomic ladder, the further I distanced myself from others like me. By the time I was in my first year at the University of Guelph, I was ingrained with the mentality that to be worthy was to be white. I avoided other Asians for fear of being associated with them. All the while, I struggled with feelings of loneliness and insecurity, feeling like I never really belonged anywhere.

Today, being older and a little wiser, the last few years have been filled with the struggle for assertion. How do I reclaim my identity as a proud woman of colour and an immigrant? How do I reconcile my conflicting identities as a Filipina, Chinese, and a Canadian? And how do I reconnect with the community I’ve shied away from for so much of my life? 

6. What are some of your major accomplishments? What were/are some of your major struggles? I was recently named one of the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2019. I’m thankful for the opportunity to make my parents proud. 

I’m proud to be an entrepreneur working within the space of cultural heritage, ethical fashion, and sustainability. I’m the co-founder of Cambio & Co. and Sinta & Co – two e-commerce businesses focused on connecting Filipinos in the diaspora with their cultural heritage while creating sustainable livelihood for Filipino artisans. 

You can learn more at: 

Other Awards/Accomplishments:
I am also the winner of the Millennium Excellence Award Laureate from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the Kenneth O. Hammill-Blount Canada Scholarship for Student Leadership from the University of Guelph, and the Chubb Insurance Post-Graduate Training and Development Award from George Brown College.