Name: Mila Astorga-Garcia* (Co-publisher and Managing Editor)
Place of Birth: Manila, Philippines
Elementary School: Leyte Normal Laboratory School, Tacloban City, Leyte, Philippines
High School: University of the Philippines Preparatory School
Name: Hermie Garcia** (Publisher and Editor-in-Chief)
Place of Birth: Manila Philippines
Elementary School: Ramon Magsaysay Elementary School
High School: Far Eastern University Boys High School
- Could you please describe how you came to be in Canada?
My husband Hermie Garcia and I came to Canada in 1984 with our three children, aged 14, 9 and 7 as landed immigrants. We left the Philippines during the time that it was still under the Marcos dictatorship. Working as journalists there, we wrote about the true situation happening in the country, from the oppression of peasants by big landlords to human rights abuses Along with tens and thousands of others, we were arrested and detained twice as political prisoners. After our release, we worked again as journalists, but because of continuing political uncertainty, we decided to join my husband’s family in Canada for a more stable life for our children.
2. Describe your experience of growing up, living, and/or working in Canada.
Life as new immigrants in Canada was difficult. Our first priority was to look for jobs so we could afford an apartment for ourselves and support the family. We learned it was difficult to get into the journalism field because of barriers such as the “Canadian experience” preference by employers, and discrimination against foreign trained professionals like us. Hence, we made do with whatever work we could find. I got a clerical position in Metro Toronto (which later became the City of Toronto) but through persistence, managed to work up toward a job of my choice in the municipal government – that of research analyst, where my investigative and writing skills came in handy for social policy research work.
Hermie worked in a number of odd jobs, among them, delivering newspapers (The Toronto Star) and chicken (Swiss Chalet); doing data input for a nursing care service agency; and performing administrative clerical duties in the municipal government. Through those years, he never gave up the idea of putting up a newspaper that would reflect the Filipino community’s life and times.
With fresh, self deprecating humour, Hermie talks about those early days in an interview published in TheOrigami Online Magazine, February 12, 2014.
“We came to Canada in 1984, so the paper came five years after. Mila and I had three small kids; work was hard. Mila was able to get a clerical position at City Hall. I had part-time jobs…We had applied to newspapers, magazines, publications we wanted to work in, but we never got hired. It was a very unstable market and you couldn’t practice your skills and profession. It’s still very much a reality now – you have doctors driving cabs. So Mila went into the bureaucracy. I did odd jobs: data entry, accounting… I bought a small car and I delivered the Toronto Star, Swiss Chalet, and pizza. It was hard, especially in winter. Sometimes I had to deliver in highrises. When I got back to the car I had a ticket. Lugi [a loss]. (Laughs)…The routes were also far, some houses had dogs and I was afraid of them. In highrise [buildings] I was afraid of being mugged in elevators…I landed a clerical job at Metro Toronto. It paid well compared to odd jobs, but I had no satisfaction. I was used to being a journalist.”
With some friends, Hermie and I started The Philippine Reporter in 1989 in a Scarborough basement. After our day jobs, we would rush home to see to it that the kids had supper and had their homework done, then we would go to work on the pages of the paper up to the wee hours of the morning. For both of us and for the rest, it was a physically exhausting first year of combining two jobs to get the paper done.
Hermie thus decided to quit his government job and work fulltime in The Philippine Reporter, emboldened with the positive response the paper was getting from the community. Meanwhile, as I continued work on the paper at night, I maintained my fulltime job with the City during the day, a necessity for the family, as the paper, as expected, would not be making money for at least a few more years. We did not have much then in terms of financial resources, so even the kids learned early in life how it was to live within our means. They helped with some odd tasks such as embellishing artwork on some advertisements. They also learned the importance of not giving up to pursue their dreams through entrepreneurship and self-reliance, and not just to rely on employment due to its many barriers.
Through all those years, with hard work and patience, and with the bold decision to use the latest technology to enhance the paper’s production, and with a number of writers with journalism education and experience joining us as contributors, and with the encouraging increased readership and advertisers, the paper not only survived but thrived, as it consistently maintained the kind of relevant, professional and ethical journalism that it had been practising from its inception. Also, it covered the crucial issues of the community, taking on a social justice stance in its reportage and editorials, especially in cases where there was clear injustice committed by the strong and powerful over the marginalized and weak, i.e. issues involving the police and the youth; caregivers rights and wellbeing; non-recognition of foreign trained professionals.
3. What are some of your major accomplishments? What were/are some of your major struggles?
Hermie best describes our major struggles during the early years in the same interview published in TheOrigami Online Magazine, February 12, 2014. “I saw other [ethnic] newspapers and they seemed to be flourishing. But we had no huge capital; we had to get a loan from the bank and use our own money…We were losing money for a couple of years until we managed to break even and I became better at the advertising side of the business. It was hard because I wasn’t used to being a businessman. But I had to learn everything. I took a couple of courses in layout, accounting and statistics at Ryerson University. It still wasn’t easy…We were incurring debt, every issue we lost money. But I decided to look at the long-term. I told myself that the community is growing, and mainstream businesses would see that it’s a big market for their products and services and inevitably they will advertise… Luckily the time came. I had talked to advertisers and I got a sense that they had the advertising budget for Filipinos, who are ever present around the city…The community was growing at that time, not just in terms of statistics, but their presence in the lives of others. I also looked at other newspapers and saw we were competing for the same ads and thought, ‘I have to get out of this box and shift to mainstream advertisers’…Yes, we’ve paid our debts (laughs). In fact, we have no long-term debt. We pay cash for equipment.”
At this point, it can be said that The Philippine Reporter has survived its major struggles. Still, there is no room for us to be complacent. We continue to make sure we remain an integral part of the community we are writing about; we try to make improvements where needed; we ensure that the paper remains always relevant to our readers; we strive to always uphold truth, fairness and integrity.
The Philippine Reporter has been widely accepted by the Filipino-Canadian community and the mainstream community, as a credible and respectable source of information. There have been requests from the Filipino-Canadian community to have our circulation reach other provinces in Canada. Advertising both from local and mainstream businesses has increased.
Young journalists continue to write for us, most of them from Toronto. We also have contributors from Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina, among other cities. The Philippine Reporter also takes pride in its mentorship of a number of these young journalists –both those schooled in the Philippines, and those who graduated from Canadian schools. Many of them have already moved on to successful fulltime mainstream writing and journalism-related work.
Of major significance is the recognition of The Philippine Reporter for what it is worth, as it has now become a valuable acquisition in a reputable mainstream Canadian institution. The Philippine Reporter is the only ethnic community paper with its entire print collection archived in the prestigious Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto Libraries), the largest and most diverse cultural resource of its kind in Canada. Thus, the paper is now part of the special collections of Canadian history and literature well known throughout the academic world, used by scholars in Canada and abroad, and accessible to the public. This means that hundreds of years from now, just like the other specially archived collections of this Library, The Philippine Reporter’s hard copies will be available for everyone to see, browse through, and read. For us, it is our humble legacy to the reading world, to researchers wanting to learn about the life and times of Filipinos in this part of the diaspora.
The Philippine Reporter has been awarded a number of times by the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada (NEPMCC) for Best in Editorial and Design during ceremonies officiated by the Lt. General of Ontario, The Queen’s representative in the Province. The NEPMCC has also recognized with special awards our work in the areas of Human Rights, Free Expression, and Social Justice.
4. What are some of future goals that you envision for yourself and for the Filipino community in Canada?
There is a lot to be done to improve the practice of journalism as a whole in the Filipino-Canadian media community, as well as the larger community’s understanding of the role of media. We strive to see professional and ethical journalism upheld in principle and practice. We want to ensure that freedom of expression always exists. We want to promote journalism that is fair and responsible. We hope journalists will never stop to improve the craft of writing well, learn about new developments and issues in the field, will be mindful of the laws and ethics governing journalism, and always be vigilant in the protection of our rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression. We want to see a network of Filipino-Canadian writers – literary and non-literary, journalists, editors, playwrights, filmmakers, supporting each other’s works; and making efforts to make these works widely shared, promoted and made visible and accessible, not only in our community but in the mainstream Canadian community as well. We want educational, government and non-government institutions to recognize these works as valuable additions and contributions to Canadian literature and society. We want to see more Filipino-Canadian literature that are reflective of the Filipino-Canadian experience – including the community’s struggles and successes – to be used in Canada’s schools, libraries, and archives.
It is significant to note that at present, there is an effort to build the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network (FC-WJN) – of which The Philippine Reporter is an active member – to seriously take on the above goals with other interested organizations and individuals. Envisioned is a vibrant community of engaged and connected writers and journalists with activities that include speakers’ series; forums and discussions; display/exhibitions/literature fairs; workshops and presentations of works in progress as well as published works; writers exchange programs; etc.
We see the Network’s vision as complementing present efforts to include in school curricula studies on the Filipino-Canadian experience.
* Responses drafted by Mila Astorga-Garcia.
** Responses by Hermie Garcia quoted from published interview.
NOTE: For elaboration to responses 1, 2, and 3, and 4, please refer to the two links:
1. Filipino Canadian paper celebrates 25th anniversary, by Nicholas Keung, The Toronto Star, April 21, 2014
2. A newspaper worth its salt, TheOrigami, February 12, 2014