Name: Vanessa A. Ibe
Place of Birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Elementary School: Chester Elementary (K-6) and Westwood Junior High (7-9)
High School: East York Collegiate Institute (10-OAC) Graduated 2003
1. Could you please describe how you came to be in Canada?
My parents immigrated to Canada in the mid-1970s. Both of my parents had university degrees in the Philippines – my father in Electrical Engineering and my mother in Math and Physics. When they arrived in Canada, they settled in Toronto and specifically the St. Jamestown area of downtown Toronto. My older brother who was born in the Philippines immigrated to Canada in 1979. I was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1984.
2. Describe your experience of growing up, living, and/or working in Canada?
The neighborhood that I lived in and my school was very multicultural. I had friends from various backgrounds including Greek, Serbian and Chinese. I was one of very few Filipino students in my school from elementary school all the way up to high school. Although my elementary school had approximately 700 students, less than 10 were Filipino. As a result of this, I took pride early on in my upbringing in being somewhat unique. Friends and classmates often would ask me about Filipino culture, language and food. During multicultural events, I regularly represented the Philippines (often times by bringing Filipino treats for students to sample). I used projects and assignments as a means to learn more about my culture. Although I couldn’t speak Tagalog, I nevertheless felt a very strong connection with Filipino culture.
Because there were not many Filipino students in my school, my connection to Filipino culture was through my family. My parents, aunts and uncles had immigrated to Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. I would often see them at family functions and parties where I learned about customs, traditions and general aspects of Filipino culture.
In retrospect, I wish I had learned how to speak Tagalog early on. My parents had me focus on learning English, would speak to me and my older brother in English and generally did not require either of us to learn or become proficient in Tagalog. This, and the fact that I was Canadian born, made it difficult for me to relate to other Filipino students who I went to school with because they were opposites from me in these regards – they had immigrated to Canada and spoke Tagalog (not English) primarily.
It actually wasn’t until I went to university that I started having Filipino friends. I attribute this to the fact that other Filipino students I met in university had similar backgrounds as me in that they were born or spent the majority of their lives in Canada. We were all members of the Filipino Students Association of Toronto (FSAT) and, through FSAT, I was able to further develop my knowledge and appreciation of Filipino culture but also issues affecting Filipinos in Canada. FSAT also provided numerous opportunities to do community outreach including tutoring of Filipino students.
My connection to my Filipino background hasn’t waned over the years and in fact, I would say that it has gotten stronger. Since graduating from law school and commencing my practice as a lawyer, I have maintained a commitment to community outreach (directed at Filipino youth) by giving talks to Filipino youth about setting goals and career planning as well as being a panelist on the “Tips from the Pros” panel at Proudly Pinoy. There are not many Filipino lawyers and, just as I did in elementary school, I take pride in being unique in my profession.
3. What are some of your major accomplishments? What were/are some of your major struggles?
I have been awarded numerous academic awards and scholarships over the years. However, one of my proudest accomplishments was being awarded the Gold Medal for the Juris Doctor Program at Windsor Law. This award is given to the first year law student who achieved the highest ranking in first year.
Graduating from law school and being called to the Ontario Bar are also very significant achievements. I am the first lawyer in my family (on either my mother’s or my father’s side) and as such, becoming a lawyer is viewed by my entire family as an accomplishment.
In addition, becoming a partner at my law firm is also a major achievement as it is like a culmination of the many years of hard work that I have put into university, law school and the practice of law.
One struggle that I had to deal with was living away from my family during law school. I went to law school in Windsor which is a 4 hour drive away from Toronto. I had never lived away from my family (mother, father and brother) and as such being on my own in a new city was very difficult for all of us.
In general, due to a hectic work schedule, I often struggle with achieving a work-life balance.
4. What are some of future goals that you envision for yourself and for the Filipino community in Canada?
There remains a stigma about Filipinos in Canada whereby they are stereotyped as being nurses or nannies. In fact, a comment that has frequently been made to me (once I say that I am Filipino) is “My nanny (or my kid’s nanny) is also Filipino”. This stereotype was around when I was growing up and, I feel, has become more prevalent over the years. As such, I’d like this stereotype to no longer be associated to Filipino-Canadians. I’d like to see more Filipinos encouraged to expand their horizons insofar as what career paths they want to take. I’d like to see more Filipino professionals and entrepreneurs. I believe that Filipinos have skills and traits which contribute greatly to Canadian society and I’d like to see more opportunities for Filipino-Canadians to showcase them.
With my cousins (approx. 1999)
With members of the Filipino Students Association of Toronto (2007)
Graduating from Law School (2012)
Call to the Bar Ceremony (2013)