Transcript: Filipina Activists/Organizing Domestic Workers: Intercede

Franca: So thank you for agreeing to participate in the Rise Up
oral history project called Women Unite on women’s activism 1970s to 1990s with the Toronto focus. I think we should begin by introducing all of ourselves. So if I can begin with Martha and we’ll make our way around.
Martha: Yeah, so I’m Martha Ocampo. Like I said, I came here as a nurse.
So I practice mainly in mental health, but I’ve been involved with the domestic care workers struggle since the 70s. And I have been part of Intercede as a supporter. But I’m also in the leadership, being part of that board of directors and, the, I guess, the training, the advocacy and leadership training that Fely [Villasin] and I started, and I continue to do along now with the people in the group, who now sometimes co-chair with me or co-facilitate with me. And, so, I am proud to continue to be part of this movement. And now I’m part of the Caregiver Connections, Integration and Support Organization, called CCESO.
Franca: Thank you. Cenen?
Cenen: So, I’m Cenen Bagon.
I’m with the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights – and that was organized in 1992. But I’ve been with the domestic work movement since the 70s. I’ve been, as a profession, I’m a computer programmer and that’s where I retired from. So, I was active in the women’s movement in the past with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women in the 80s.
So I’ve been with the struggle for domestic workers and caregivers’ rights for a very long time, I guess, all of us are, including Martha. But we do work in other coalitions. So the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights is part of the BC Employment Standards Coalition. And so we’re also, as I said earlier, we’re part of the Migrant Rights Network.
And, yeah, I’m really into making change, but I know that working in a collective is more important than just working on your own. And it’s really important that we connect to other movements, anti-racism movement because they’re all connected to our fight for justice, and the other movements, solidarity movement, women’s movement, labour, especially labour. And yeah, that’s who I am.
Franca: Thank you. Anita?
Anita: My name is Anita.
I’m from the Philippines, I came to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program, and I got involved with Intercede when I myself came to their office for assistance. And I ended up obtaining programs, attending programs which helped me a lot as well. Until I became one of the staff and eventually I became a settlement worker extending help to caregivers like me. So somehow, I know what they’ve been going through because I’ve been in their situation as well.
And I am very thankful that I got connected with Intercede. I met Fely, I met Martha, I met Coco [Columbia Diaz] and everyone at Intercede. They helped me a lot. They were my building foundation to be where I am right now. And I still, so at this time, I still continue to thank Martha – she’s the only one surviving among our mentors – because she still believes in me and she’s still active in advocating for the rights of caregivers, not only caregivers but for non-status individual, particularly now there is a campaign for Status for All and Black Lives Matter.
So she continued to motivate us. There’s no stop with advocacy work. So let’s get our butts working. And then, yes, sometimes we, we’re not attending and she’ll say, “What’s happening to you guys? Come on.” So the inspiration is still there. The patience is still there, and I will be forever grateful for everything. Thank you.
Franca: Thank you. Anita, Can I ask you to introduce yourself using your
full name for the transcription?
Anita: Oh sorry, sorry, yes. Sorry about that. My name is Anita Fortuno.
Franca: Thank you. And last but not least, Genie.
Genie: Hello, everyone. I am Genoveva or Genie Policarpio.
And I arrived here in Canada on February 20th, 1998 as a live-in caregiver from the Philippines. And I would say that my coming here is sort of uncertain: what would be my future? And then as I told myself, I wasn’t really planning to apply for citizenship. But things change when I experience those kinds of things that determining being a migrant worker and also between permanent residents.
So, time had provided me – that I met somebody to be connected at Intercede and that’s where my life changed. That, you know, I took the opportunity to take all the trainings that had been provided, and also joined the parade, International Women’s Day, on my first year. And also, you know, became part of the board and became staff of Intercede. And from 2001 – I joined Intercede as a member in 1999 and then I became a staff in 2001 until 2007.
And I left in 2007 Intercede and I joined Across Boundaries, an ethno-racial mental health centre which was co-founded by Martha Ocampo. And Across Boundaries is a non-profit organization that serves people from marginalized communities within the framework of anti-racism, anti-oppression and resisting anti-Black racism..
So, basically, the work of Intercede and advocacy is interconnected also with Across Boundaries, so, basically, because of the people that – who founded the organizations. And so in 2008, after I left Intercede, when members were approaching us, they were not the same as we were serving them. So we decided to set up Caregivers Connections, Education and Support Organization, which was headed by Martha Ocampo. That’s why, in 2009, we got the registration as a non-profit organization, and then I’m carrying a banner of Caregiver Connections, Education and Support Organization during my spare time.
So that’s why I’m part, still, of Marth’s mentoring. So I learn every year from her, so I would never stop. And, also, I learn from all the participants of the – human rights leadership training that she gives every year, you know, that runs eight series in a year, in collaboration with other organizations and also George Brown College. So, basically, it’s not only me who had been helped, lots of people have been helped all these years. And I’m so thankful that I got connected to Intercede. Thank you.
Franca: Thank you. And I’m Franca Iacovetta.
And I’m a historian of immigrant working women and labour history and so forth. I’m also the daughter of immigrants, who came from Italy in the 1950s. My mother was a laundry worker, my father was first a farm worker and then a construction worker. But they came in the 50s and they came with landed immigrant status, which is how all immigrant workers should be coming into the country with.
Franca: OK, so thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the Rise Up oral history project, which is on women activists in Toronto 1970s to 1990s, though, of course, today, we’re also going to expand beyond Toronto a little bit, and also beyond 1990s as well. The interview today is going to focus initially on Intercede and the 1981 campaign to create pathways towards landed immigrant status and eventually citizenship status for domestic workers who had arrived in Canada on temporary work permits.
And at Rise Up, we thought, Intercede is an important organization that brought together a diversity of domestic workers and feminist allies. And in looking at how we would build these interviews, we decided to focus them around moments and to us, the 1981 campaign looked like an important moment where there was massive organizing and some changes made in the federal legislation.
Now we know things went on, many, many restrictions continue to exist. But we thought the creation of some pathway, right, with the two-year rule coming out of the national campaign was a moment, right, that we could talk about, you could remember, you could tell stories about and you could also reflect on. So I thank you for participating in this. So, my first set of questions are really largely directed to Martha and Cenen for the reason that you were actively involved at the time. And because of our more Toronto focus, I am going to start with Martha but we are certainly going to talk a little bit about Vancouver and about the networks between Toronto and Vancouver.
So I wanted to start by asking Martha, how you came to be involved with Intercede and how you became involved with the 1981 campaign. And who were other key organizers, who were the people you were working with? How do you remember that time?
Martha: Actually, when, in the early 80s, I was active in the anti-Marcos dictatorship. But there was also a group of activists, Filipino activists who are members of the National Association of Filipino Patriots [IAFP], who, aside from the work that they were doing in the anti-Marcos dictatorship, against the Marcos dictatorship, they also realized that the women, particularly women who were coming to Canada, were actually domestic workers and were also having serious issues here in Canada.
So, aside from the work that they were doing in trying to expose the Marcos dictatorship, they began to start looking at what are the needs of these women who are fleeing from the country because of poverty and are ending as domestic workers here in Canada. So that was in the kind of late 70s. And at that time, Intercede was already formed. And so there were few domestic workers who became involved in the organizing of all kinds of protests.
I remember being part of quite a few protest actions right by the Ministry of Labour, again, asking women, really advocating for—first of all, their landed rights, but also improve kind of working conditions because they were really treated like slaves. Plus, the experience that we were hearing from a lot of these women. So I think that was how I got involved, mainly because I was doing some anti-dictatorship work but also because of some of my colleagues were also interested in doing this work, I became more like a supporter of that movement.
Franca: Thank you. Cenen? How about you? And first getting involved with Intercede and the 1981 campaign?
Cenen: Like Martha, I’m involved with the coalition against the Marcos dictatorship and I’m also involved with the International Association of Filipino Patriots. In fact, it was the IAFP that started to work on the plight of domestic workers. So, in Vancouver, we got involved because there was a domestic worker who was treated very badly in the community, in fact in the Filipino community.
And because the coalition against the Marcos dictatorship is in the community, sort of had this, what do you call this, a notion that they are activists and are not afraid to face any of these people who are treating people badly. So, we got called and [caller] said this domestic worker was – couldn’t leave the house – and she was really treated badly by one of the leaders in the Filipino community.
So that started our work with domestic workers. So we found others that are also in the similar plight, but with different employers, different nationality employers. So the IAFP, then, because the coalition against the Marcos dictatorship is really focused on anti-Marcos work. The IAFP took the work to improve the plight of domestic workers. So because in Toronto, there’s also IAFP, and so we work together.
In Vancouver, there is an organization that we formed when we started working with domestic workers. We call it Committee for the Advancement of the Rights of Domestic Workers. It’s called CARDW. And so we, and quite a few women were involved at that time, not only Filipino women, but also other women in other communities. So we worked with Intercede on the issue of domestic workers. And at that time we started, well, actually, it wasn’t Intercede that we worked with, it was an ad hoc committee. Is that correct, Martha?
Martha: Yes.
Cenen: Yes. So it was, ad hoc committee with Coco and others. And this ad hoc committee of domestic workers in Toronto was the one who we worked with, including Fely and others. That’s how we started.
Franca: I’m going to go back to Martha and ask a few more questions about Toronto. So my understanding is that Intercede was formed, founded first in Toronto in 1979. And then it led the initial 1981 campaign in Toronto, but then it went more national. So could I ask you a little bit more about why 1981 and what was going on? What were some of the factors that, that led to Intercede’s decision to try this campaign?
Martha: No, I was not really, like, totally involved because, like I said, I was doing a lot of other work mainly in the anti-Marcos dictatorship. So I know that aside from the – there’s a funny sound – aside from the Filipino workers, there were also many other groups that were part of the organizing. So now we had some Black women, Caribbean women, and then we had some other interested folks, like a lawyer. And you know what? I can’t remember the name of the lawyer. Isn’t that crazy? But I know she was very active. And I know that when I see her on TV now, then I remember, “Oh yeah, that’s her.”
But anyway, so there were, like, lawyers who got interested in the plight of the domestic workers. So I think that was when in 1981, that was when we had the FDM – the federal Foreign Domestic Movement – Foreign Domestic Movement, yes. So that was when, that was actually from where we met, we’re now allowed: this is after a lot organizing protest actions, lobby work. And, you know, the work that they were doing was, I think, was really very interesting, the domestic workers became very involved in organizing.
So we felt that we needed to really help them become more skilled in their organizing, and also a lot of support. So the activists were there, but really working hard to get these women to become really good organizers. And so they became really good and I think one of the things that they did well was lobby work along with some of the lawyers, some of the other supporters, but also really out in the streets. They really were out in the streets, and then also looking for other domestic workers, who are not just Filipinos, but also mainly women from the Caribbean. So I think that was how the FDM got started, it was in 1981. Yeah.
Franca: Right, thank you. And you’ve partly answered my question, and Cenen responded to this as well. But there seemed to be in the formation of an alliance between the domestic workers and some of the activists, the feminist allies and so forth, that this domestic workers ad hoc committee, right, reached out and helped to form these alliances. And so I’m wondering if you can tell me anything more about that. I’m interested in the lawyer, but I’m interested in whether – how do people talk to each other? How did people get in touch with each other? Just wondering about, kind of grassroots organizing that was taking place. Can you say a bit more about that?
Martha: You know, in the early 80s, there was also a resurgence of the women’s movement and the peace movement. And, so, we became very visible in our anti-Marcos work, anti-Marcos dictatorship work, that we got to know a lot of other women who were also doing other work. And I think that that is how we’re able to get the ad hoc committee bigger in scope. And other people were really interested in doing that struggle.
So I think it was because we were not just – while we were concentrating on the anti-Marcos and also the domestic workers, we were also very much part of the broader movement, which was I think the women’s movement and the peace movement. We were there, International Women’s Day, we were there. And I remember us being even part of the first organizing of International Women’s Day, was done in that small room in one of these schools. That’s how we started. So I think it was more the working together with other groups.
Franca: Thank you, Martha for that, and the connection with the women’s movement and the other activism going on at the time is really important. And I’m going to get back to the activism that you were doing around the anti-Marcos campaign as well.
But, first, if I can ask some more questions about the campaign itself. Again, kind of, you know, the tactics, the strategies, what people were doing. So you’ve got this campaign in Toronto, it goes national, obviously, the Toronto-Vancouver networks were important, probably other networks were important.
But I wondered, you know, in an era, especially before social media, how were you strategizing? What were the aspects of the campaign? Were you doing big demonstrations? Were you doing petitions, the phone call campaigns? Just say more about what the actual campaign looked like, how did it get, right, the kind of public attention that it got? So I’ll ask Martha and then Cenen.
Martha: OK, well, yeah, we did some other things, like what was a petition campaign, like a signature campaign. That was one that was quite familiar to us and we’re good at doing it. In the lobby work, that was where we needed some help from maybe professionals like lawyers in the drafting of policies. But again, we were always emphasizing that the domestic workers have to be very central in the leadership of any kind of action we were taking.
We’re always taking their lead rather than us, and that was so important for us because we were always afraid that professionals like lawyers might take over, and then – So I think we were very conscious of making sure that that was done. So, lobby work, trying to see the change in the policy, that was where we were needing some help from people who are more good at it. And rally, we were always putting – we’re just a small group. We’re a small group protesting regularly, all over the, if I remember, I know it was on University Avenue. And I think it was the – anyway, I can’t remember exactly the office, but I know it was on University Avenue.
But another thing that also happened was, because we were really very active with domestic workers, it was like they have taken ownership of this. So I’m not sure now when exactly this happened, but I know that the Minister of Immigration, Lloyd Axworthy, was having dinner over at a Chinese restaurant, and Coco Diaz and a couple of them went upstairs to that restaurant and spoke to the Minister at the time and asked if he could grant us landed status. And all that kind of stuff.
That was really something. I mean, I don’t know if they can do that now with all the security that’s being imposed, especially protecting politicians. But at the time, we did it, and we were protesting downstairs outside of the Chinese restaurant. Yeah.
Franca: Thank you. Another question before I go to Cenen. As you said, the domestic workers and Intercede was a racially diverse group. At the same time, I get the sense that Filipino workers and Filipino activists were very much on the front lines, you know, very prominent in the movement. Can you explain why or could you talk a little bit more about the alliances, the relationship between the Caribbean and other workers as well as the Filipina domestic workers?
Martha: OK, so, yes, like I said, the activists, Filipina activists, were actually, I think, really good at organizing, and while it was a small group, they became very well known in the community – in the Filipino community. However, they also understood that it was important to make alliances or find other folks who are also domestic workers. And we know that, at the time, it was the Caribbean, and they were actually the first domestic workers that started coming into the country. So we started doing some work with them.
But I think some of the – also activists in the Caribbean community were also part of the women’s movement, were also part of the Women Working with Immigrant Women. You know, that group that was part of International Women’s Day. So we got to know each other and that’s how I think we were able to work with other groups, particularly the Caribbeans.
Franca: Thank you, so I’ll ask Cenen about the campaign as well. So wondering about conversations between Toronto and Vancouver, but also, again, how did you get the message out? You know, there are the demonstrations that Martha talked about, the lobbying.
But I did a little bit of research. I just looked up at some newspaper articles during the campaign, and the reporters had stories, they had women’s stories, right, of exploitation, of, right, the unfair treatment. And I thought that they must have been in some way supplied with these stories. I’m wondering, was collecting women’s stories really an important strategy? How did you get it to the journalists? You know, how to get it out there publicly?
Cenen: All right. So, in Vancouver, the IAFB is not only involved with domestic workers’ work. We’re also involved with the Coalition for National Liberation Movement. I think at that time, Filipinos and other countries where the dictatorship – like, there are dictatorships also in their country, like Chile, Nicaragua at the time, El Salvador.
So, in Vancouver, we have a coalition. I don’t know about Toronto but we were part of that coalition. We called it a Coalition of National Liberation Movements. And so, at the time, they were actually one of our supporters in our struggle for domestic workers’ fight for justice and equality. So, how we reach the domestic workers; so, as I said earlier, the first moment we met a domestic worker who was being abused, we then looked for other domestic workers through the church and through community centres. And we were really active in leafleting because, at that time, the coalition against the Marcos dictatorship would leaflet about issues about the Philippines.
And so, for us to be able to reach out to domestic workers – because as we all know, up to now, domestic workers are really in a house with their employer, and even at that time, it was really live-in. So we really don’t know where they are. But we know they go to church, they go to Filipino stores, they go to community centres with the child who they’re taking care of. So that’s where we also go, then anyway, that’s also where we went to speak to them, to give out leaflets if we are doing any workshops, you know, and things like that.
So I think during that time in the 80s, the movements for, you know, the struggle for justice is not just on the domestic workers issue, but also on the issue about liberation, and that’s why the women’s movement was also starting. And, of course, the domestic workers issue is not just about women but also about workers. So the unions were also involved. So there are a lot of communities getting involved with the struggle.
And I think there are, of course, difficulties in reaching out to domestic workers, but we – as I said, we were young, first of all, we were young, we were active, we were really fierce activists and that we really wanted to do this work. And I think at that time, why landed status now, is because we immediately, even at that time, knew, through our analysis, that this work is an important to work in the country, it is domestic work, child care, elderly care.
The work is permanent work. Even at that time we already realized that this is not temporary. And so, with our work with the ad hoc committee at the time, I did hear about Intercede, but we actually work with the ad hoc committee. And through Fely, we had meetings over the phone. IAFP would meet also in Toronto, so I would go to Toronto with my husband and other activists from Vancouver to meet and discuss all this.
So, we do have strategy meetings, not only over the phone, but also face to face meetings in Toronto, and also in Vancouver. So all of this work – were all connected – because it is a fight for justice. So, in fact, even also in Vancouver, it’s not only Filipinos who we were organizing, but also other nationalities. Like, of course, there’s only few Jamaicans in Vancouver at the time who became active. There were Chinese, there were East Indians.
And, yeah, I think those were the main and, of course, there was quite a lot, quite a few Filipinos, but they were afraid because of the Marcos dictatorship. They didn’t want to be harassed by the consulate, you know, and all that, because the consulate was really very active in harassing people. Don’t wash your laundry or something like that… But then there were really quite a few Filipinas who were really active, like, they didn’t like their situation, they knew that they had to fight to get what they wanted, and they did, and there it is.
Franca: Yes, I was just going to say, Martha, do you want to add to that? I mean the coalitions and alliances are so important and the liberation struggle too.
Martha: Ok, so just to add to what you were asking earlier, what other things did we do? You know, we were lucky because one of our activists actually had a newspaper, a community newspaper called Balita. So, we were always able to, whatever we wanted out in the community, it came up in the local newspaper. So that was one of our great assets.
But like Cenen said, we also had leaflets that we would always kind of develop and would take it to the streets and particularly distribute it to the churches. We would be standing after the mass. And we know exactly which church to go to because that’s where the concentration of Filipino, mainly domestic workers. And, yeah, so that was one of the things that we did.
And, but Cenen also said, we were very much part of solidarity groups. We were very active with the Nicaragua group, El Salvador, ANC, African National Congress, they were very, very active. So I think that, in the ANC, there were quite a few Black activists who were Caribbean activists, who we became really good friends. And so that was also one source of how we were able to connect with other women. Yeah.
Franca: OK, that’s fascinating. And I wanted to ask, just one kind of follow up question to that, which is: the domestic workers themselves, who are temporary workers and have no legal rights, as Cenen said, I mean, must have been afraid, right, both afraid and then tremendously courageous.
So I’m wondering, do you have memories of, you know, when you’re trying to talk with them after mass and they’re trying to decide, do I get involved or don’t I get involved? And as you said, they’ve got, you know, they’ve got the consulate there that’s also trying to scare them. And we’ve seen this with other immigrants strikes, right, and the great fear of deportation that hangs over people’s heads if they get active. So I just wonder, do you remember, you know, meetings where you needed to kind of build the trust or help give support to women who really had no legal rights to be active? Martha?
Martha: OK. Like the ad hoc committee, there were only a few of them, so it’s not like a lot of them. I think there might have been five or six women. And I think how we kind of nurtured, how we were able to mentor their leadership was really having a lot of meetings with them, understanding what it is.
So we would focus mainly on their issues. While they knew that we were in the anti-Marcos, which was also kind of, they could be scared because of being connected with us. They also knew that we were very keen on really trying to do work with them so that they can have their rights, they are able to exercise their rights.
So I think that through the work that we were doing with them gave them a lot of strength and energy – to go out in the street. So even if there were just a few because, just like the anti-Marcos kind of movement, there were only a few of us, but we knew that there was a whole lot of people in the community that were supporting us. It’s the same thing with the domestic workers. Why there’s a lot of fear? Because of, I guess, that was where we were – our orientation is to be afraid, that was where we are coming from.
So it’s not easy for them to just join us. But there were like five or six very fierce women that were very determined. And one of them, I would say, was Coco. And the other thing that was also very interesting was, you know, domestic work is not something that people are proud of. So, the kind of work that we did in terms of valuing that work, doing education work, that domestic work it’s not a minor kind of a job.
So educating them and getting them to understand that there’s no reason why people should be ashamed of the job because it’s a job that is needed, that’s important, essential, in order for society to grow. So I think a lot of that kind of work helped them really become really good leaders among themselves.
Franca: OK, thank you. And to Genie and Anita, I’m going to get to you soon. But I wanted to – one of the related questions I wanted to ask is that, you know, our project, which is called Women Unite: Feminist activism 1970s to 1990s, is that we have a real interest in the activists themselves. So if I could ask just a few more questions about, you know, Martha and Cenen as activists, and also, if we could talk about Fely and Columbia, or Coco, as activists as well, that would be really terrific.
And I’ll ask Martha and Cenen to speak first, but then also turn to Genie and Anita to talk about those women as well. And then, you know, when we get to our second moment in advocacy work, I’m going to be asking Genie and Anita a lot of questions. So I thank you for your patience as we talk about the 1981 campaign.
So Martha, can I get you to comment on: one of the things that – your activist profile is coming out very clearly in the interview, and it’s fascinating. One of my questions is, were you already politicized and an activist in the Philippines before you came to Canada? Or did Canada help provide a context for that politicization? You know, I think you’re involved, obviously, as you said, you’re involved in internationalist liberation movements and struggles. And so what I’m asking you is to tell us a little bit more about your formation as an activist other than being involved in this campaign
Martha: No, I was not an activist. I was a nurse who immigrated to Canada with all the aspirations of a regular immigrant, who would like to earn a good living and very proud of being a nurse, a professional. And I was part of a very established group of Filipinos in the community that did not really care about what’s going on around the world. However, I have a lot of inspirations from my family back home. A lot of them inspired me on the kind of work that they were doing, which was very involved in the community.
And, of course, at the time was already very important, they were already very involved in the anti-Marcos movement back home in the Philippines. So the first time I went home – I came here in 1968. The first time I went home, I was totally amazed. And when I saw my family, my brothers and sisters, so active in the community and saying all the just perfect words. And there I am, I have money but I felt that, ah, it was not as interesting as they were.
And I guess the other thing that got me all interested was when my sister came to Canada and showed the – they were invited by activists like Fely and all the other activists who were here. They invited my sister, who was doing a lot of work in the Dole Pineapple in Mindanao, and showed how the workers were exploited. And were, you know, the pesticide killing them and all sorts of things. And they invited me to come and see the presentation and it moved me. I couldn’t believe it, that just really what’s happening, and that was the start.
All I did was a tear in my eye, and they spotted me, and they never stopped bothering me and to the point that they were harassing me, “Come, come, down you study” and all these things. Before I knew it – as a woman, it’s very easy for us to, once you are connected, once you know the issue, it’s not easy for us to just sit down anymore. And that was where, yeah, before I knew it, I was so involved in anti-Marcos movement. I was so involved in the women’s movement, I was so involved in the domestic workers movement, but that’s how it was. It was really more, I think, the influence, the inspiration of a lot of activists in my life.
Franca: That, that is fascinating. Cenen, can I ask you to tell us a little bit about your political formation? Were you already active in the Philippines or did it start in Canada, and a little bit about the context?
Cenen: In the Philippines, before I came here in 1978, in the university I was already active as a student activist. And my parents were really, really afraid of what could happen to me. So when there was – so, I actually got married young and had two children before I came to Canada. But before I came, I got sort of disconnected from the movement in the Philippines, I was just in the periphery. I wasn’t as active when I was a student.
So when my family and I came in 1978, my parents were, of course, so happy that we would no longer be connected to the anti-Marcos movement. And that really relieved them of the fear that I could get, you know, I could get imprisoned or whatever, right. So, when we came here, we thought, oh, OK, so we’re just going to be a family, you know, not involved, things like that. But then there was a meeting. No, not a meeting, but it was – I can’t remember who spoke. Oh my god, Teresa [Planas] is that correct, Martha?
Martha: Yes, yes, yes.
Cenen: So we got invited because she was a speaker. So we got invited. And that was the start because then I think it was the coalition against the Marcos dictatorship who organized that event. And so, of course – actually, I wasn’t in that event, it was my husband. And so because I’m sure they got to talking about who my husband is, etc. And, of course, as activists, as Martha said, once you got into talking about activism again then you started becoming involved, even if you told yourself that, “Oh, I won’t get involved in Canada,” you know.
But no, it is actually that call for social change that gets you involved again. So, and also, I guess there was a feeling that, oh, it is safer to get involved in Canada. But no, actually it wasn’t because the Marcos dictatorship’s long arm was still there because of the consulate and stuff. So, yeah, so that’s how we got involved again in Canada, and since then became really very active. And up to now, I guess.
Franca: Can I ask – I’ll ask all of you, maybe starting with Martha and Cenen, but to say a little bit about Fely and Columbia, who were clearly very important activists in all of the things that we have been talking about. So can you give us a sense of who these women were, Martha?
Martha: Yeah. OK, Fely was an intellectual. She was, I think, she was a born organizer and was very principled in her ways. And so she had a very great ability in terms of analysis, but she also had a good sense of the community. Somehow, she knew who are the enemies, who are the people that – but she was also very passionate in educating, she was a great educator. And so when she was interested in a person, in mentoring a person, she was really good at it. And I felt I was mentored well.
So, Coco was one of the domestic workers who was not afraid to talk about her work as a domestic worker. Like I said earlier, there weren’t that many who were proud of talking about the domestic work, but Coco was fearless and was not at all ashamed to talk about it. And Coco did not have any – she couldn’t care less who you are. She would talk to you to make sure that you understood what she was trying to say. So she did not have much about, OK. And she also had a good, a very good presence in the community.
She knew how to outreach people and she was very, very, very friendly. She would just be sitting in the TTC [Toronto Transit Commission], in the bus, she would know that one is a domestic worker, she would already have started conversation. She was really good at it. So she was – she became a really great advocate for the rights of domestic workers. So I think that was where her great – and she was a good storyteller. She was not afraid to talk, sometimes her English was not the best, but she was not at all ashamed.
And because she worked in Spain, she would sometimes use her little Spanish knowledge and she would try to talk to, maybe some Spanish speaking folks who she thinks are domestic workers. So she really did not have any qualms about – she would just be sitting in, like I said, in the bus or in the train and the next thing you know, she’s having a great conversation with people. I think that was a great thing about Coco.
Franca: That’s great. Thank you. Cenen, some comments, some memories of Fely and Coco?
Cenen: So I first met Fely in Toronto, actually, in my first IAFP meeting – because it wasn’t actually an anti-Marcos meeting but it’s an IAFP meeting. And she really struck me at first as a real leader. Because at that time I wasn’t too convinced that this is what I wanted to do or this is the group that I wanted to join. So it was, I think, at the time, I’m not sure, when – Martha, I’m not sure when did come the IAFP started in Toronto?
But here in – I can’t remember, but in 1978, there’s already come, there’s already IAFP when we arrived in Vancouver. So she was, so she really impressed me as a good leader who would sit with you and talk to you about the movement, about what is going on until you actually said “OK, I’m in it.” So that’s how I got involved I remember. And also, IAFP wasn’t only created in Canada but also in the US.
So there were also people who were from the US who were in that meeting. So, when I started working with Fely on the anti-Marcos, the women’s movement, especially in the 80s when we got involved with the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, that’s when we get to be closer, yeah, with Fely and Martha. So it’s more on not actually on the domestic workers issue that we got to really work together more but more on the IAFP level and on the women’s movement level.
With Coco, I think I really did not work with her much because I, because my work is, of course, in Vancouver and Coco’s work is in Toronto. So Coco must have worked with Fely and Martha more than of course with me. So I only met her during meetings of domestic workers in Toronto and also here in Vancouver. So we would organize national meetings.
So the committee here in Vancouver and Intercede in Toronto would organize national meetings of domestic workers and so that’s when we get to work together. So Coco would be there and Coco would do some facilitation. Yeah. But I know from Martha’s description about Coco, she really, really wanted to do that work. Very passionate, very sincere in fighting for the rights of the care workers and … she is, she was really an activist. And so of course was Fely, a feminist and an activist.
Franca: OK, thank you. One quick question, when you refer to the IAFP, do you mean the International Association of Filipino Patriots?
Cenen: That’s correct, yes.
Franca: OK, I just want to make sure that I did have that correct. OK, thank you. So let me turn to Anita, I think both Anita and Genie. Of course, you came to Canada later, you came in the 1990s, and through the Live-in Caregiver Program, if I have that right. But you did come to meet Fely and Coco in the time in which you came to Canada. So I know that you weren’t directly involved in the national campaign. But I still think again, we’re very interested in learning about activists. So if you could tell us about your – how you met Coco and Fely and some stories or some memories you have of them. So I’ll start with Anita.
Anita: When I arrived to Canada, I came under the Live-in Caregiver Program. So when it was time for me to apply for permanent residence, I went to Intercede for assistance in filling out the forms for permanent residence. That’s when the settlement worker during the time invited me to join the job search workshop. So I did. And then while I was taking that program, there was an opening for administrative assistant at Intercede.
So the facilitator encouraged me to apply for the position. So to make the story short, I got the job. And when I was at the job already for a few months, Fely approached me and she said, “Anita, we applied for additional funding for another settlement worker. I want to offer that position to you. If you will accept it, I will not post it outside Intercede.” So, at first I was hesitant to accept it because I don’t have any background on what the things that they are doing. I was an accountant back home and I had no idea about the law in Canada, more or less, more likely on immigration and labour issues.
So I said, “Fely, I don’t think I can do that.” And she said, “No, I can see you can do that. You will undergo training, you will undergo mentoring. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to come to me or to Coco. And believe me, I know you can do it.” So I tried and the rest is history. That was how I started.
And I remember when I was just new as a settlement worker, she attended a conference in St. Catharines and she asked me to go with her. So I was hesitant again because she was our executive director. I don’t have that friendly and close relationship with her. And then while on our way to St. Catharines, we were seated together and she said, “Anita, the reason why I asked you to come is I want you to observe what’s happening, what’s happening in the community, how community leaders ask questions to government officials. And I want you to be exposed to that kind of environment.” And I said, “OK.” “You don’t have to ask questions. Let me do the asking, just observe.”
And I did, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot and I admired her from that time on. And she asked me to go with Coco when there was a nationwide roundtable consultation on immigration, about immigration on Live-in Caregiver Program. So we were invited by Immigration to participate. She said, “Anita, you go with Coco.” So again, oh my god, it’s nationwide roundtable consultation and I’m not that well versed yet with the Live-in Caregiver Program. And she said, “Anita, believe me, you will learn, just go.” So I went with Coco and I really learned a lot as well. So that’s where I started.
Fely is the kind of leader who believes in empowering women through knowledge. She don’t hesitate to impart knowledge to us, to caregivers. That’s why she start – she and Martha, they are both the same. They encourage women to be knowledgeable because they know you can be a good advocate if you know what you’re fighting for.
And then, when, yes, when Martha and Fely, they started the leadership and advocacy training when we were still at Intercede, we were the first batch, the first participants. And most of those participants came out to be good leaders in our field. They became board members, they became – they’re still active until now, continue support with the caregivers. And that’s how they had inculcated that knowledge and inspiration in us. So that’s what Fely is and I can say that’s how, what Martha is as well, because we learned from them as our mentors.
And with Coco, she was my co-worker, she was a veteran settlement worker. She knows the policies on Live-in Caregiver Program upside down. So whatever direction you take her, she can point you to the right path and she will tell you you’re wrong. You won’t believe that even lawyers, they will call Intercede during the time to consult her on Live-in Caregiver Program. And Coco said, “You won’t believe this. Those are lawyers. I’m not a lawyer and they’re asking me.” And I said because they know she’s more experienced than anybody else. And she’s very courageous, she’s so brave. I can say she mentored me as well.
When I have difficult cases, I come to her. She will not tell me what to do. She will just tell me, “Sit down. What is the situation? What did you do?” So I will tell her what I did and she will point to me what was missing on what I did. “OK, you should have asked her this, this, this and when you have cleared this up, what do you think is the situation?” And then it will lead me to the proper advice I can give to the client. So I learned so much from her.
It’s just, it’s just a big loss for all of us that she’s gone now, but we still have Martha. So she still continue to lead us and inspire us, even when we started the CCESO group. She inspired us and we are always tell her, “Martha, don’t leave us. Don’t leave us.” And you know, these women, Martha, Fely and Coco, they are the kind of person who put their words into action. They’re good leaders, they’re born leaders. They have the quality to be good one and that’s all I can say. Words will not be enough to describe what kind of people they are, what kind of leader they are, yeah.
Franca: Thank you. Thank you. Genie? Some memories of meeting Fely and Coco and working with them, being mentored by them. And I know Martha’s in there too for you and Anita.
Genie: So, basically, for me since I came in Canada in 1998 as a live-in caregiver, and actually from the Philippines. And, at the time, I was telling myself that I won’t become citizen of Canada for some expectations that I didn’t see on the first day when I arrived.
So, unfortunately, I was released by my employer. So when I look for a new employer, I asked, I demanded for a salary that I found out that it was not for migrant workers who doesn’t arrive in Canada. That salary was meant for permanent residents of Canada, and then I was told I didn’t have Canadian experience. So when I said, “What’s the difference between Canadian experience?” they said, they couldn’t say anything.
But long story short, I was given of the salary I was asking for, but it’s the long way before I met Martha and Coco. But along the way, you know, every month I get the chance to go and get forms from CIC [Canadian Immigration and Citizenship] to ensure that, you know, I’m going to apply with all my application, be prepared because I realized I’m not having a paper in Canada. You don’t have right; you don’t have the same rights even just for the salary. You don’t have the same salary, though you can do the job better than a permanent resident. So you don’t have that right.
So what happened was that, when I got involved with Intercede, it was accidental because I was having my screening. And then the staff of Intercede, was one at my screening on the team. And what happened now is that I was invited to join the party in 1999. And when I went there in the office that very afternoon, they showed me all the activities they were doing. I said, “Oh my god, you have this one here. You have this, you have this.” So I was so happy. And then I even took the job search workshop on the third day as my first day because I didn’t want to miss the CPR on the last day in December.
So I took my last day of my job search workshop. And then, subsequently, I took the first, second and third. And then so another training that I come to Intercede, you know, that one is involving Women’s Studies provided by York, in collaboration with York University. And March also came with the IWD and, you know, the International Women’s Day March, I joined in 2000. And then that’s where I met Martha but she didn’t know me, I was behind her banner.
So basically, I didn’t realize that Intercede would open that door for me where I am right now. So I was invited to join the board membership. So I became a board member in 2000 as well. And then also that I’m human rights leadership, advocacy training that was, that Anita mentioned, basically from 2000 until today, every year, I’d been attending that workshop. And actually, it was a very, how would say, that it gives you the kind of opening your mind, even though you’re deceased, you know what’s going on around the world or around you.
But through late Fely, and Martha, you know, they didn’t stop. They are so patient, also giving you the kind of information that you try to reject as well because from colonization, all the social location that you are in and then all the topic of social issues: feminism, heterosexism, violence against women, and also globalization, mental health, and that’s happening to you every day around you. It’s very close to you, that’s happening to you. And then by showing that to us, Fely and Martha, they are so patient that, you know, if you don’t understand it today, attend it the next session.
So basically, that became every year. And then – so it means, they’re mentoring to me, they didn’t stop in 2000 because I became a board member. And then in 2001, I applied for the position that Anita vacated when she got the job as a counsellor. And from there, I met Coco as well. But, imagine, I didn’t realize that these women around me are prominent women who change lives of women in Canada, in the Philippines, that contributed to the whole community, to the whole country, you know changed lives of people, individual or across the nation.
And I would say that maybe when I realized that they were the people that who campaigned for all the changes in the Foreign Domestic Program that became LCP [Live-in Caregiver Program] – though it’s not a perfect program, but I benefited from it among the others. And then you are unlucky when you’ve got employers that who don’t really listen to your rights. That’s what’s the danger of being a migrant worker.
Employers knew that you are human, that you have the same rights, but they won’t give you that. So that’s why, you know, having the demand that they were demanding from the very beginning, by Fely, Martha and Coco and Cenen, and with other activists, is real, because we live through that. They are seeing it and we have lived experience. For me, I am lucky because my employers listen to me with all what I do, she supported me.
But then from the very beginning when you hear her, she didn’t want to give me the salary. You could see that she will also be part of those employers that who will take advantage of you if you let them. So that’s why if you don’t have a voice, you have a voice but you fear to lose your job or you fear to lose your roof over your head because you are tied in with them.
But then, these women that who are fighting for you, but some people they didn’t know they are existing. But I am a lucky one, that I am with them. And then if I turn a blind eye not to do anything, it means what person am I? That’s why I remember my father saying that, “In order for you to fight for your rights, you have to know other people’s rights.” So it means their rights are your rights, so therefore, you have boundaries.
And then, you know, in order for you to fight for your rights, you have to fight for their rights. And then that’s what I’m looking at. I said the prominent women that have influenced me to this day because without them, I won’t be here. I cannot be existing this way that I would be with Martha until now that who didn’t leave us. Also, to form another organization, Caregiver Connections, Education and Support Organization. If not because of her, Fely, won’t be here, that I would say.
Franca: Thank you. OK, and you’re confirming what Martha said. They won’t let you go, Martha, they just won’t let you go. I wanted to ask one last question about the 1981 campaign, and then move on to what Anita and Genie have already started addressing in such an important way, which is the continuing advocacy work. But if I could just ask whoever wants to comment, all of you, if you wish, on what your reflections are of the changes that we made. And this will be my last question about the campaign and then we can take a break and move on to advocacy if that’s OK.
So I’ll start with you, Martha. So, we know many restrictions continue, many issues are still so much, you know, with us. But this pathway that was created, the argument is that thousands of women were able to use that in order to gain permanent status and eventually citizenship. Is that a victory? Not a victory? How do you see it?
Martha: Yeah, you know, for the work that we’re doing, any little thing that we accomplish is a celebration. So if you look at the history of domestic work, of care work here in Canada, you’ll find that really women were treated like slaves. They were doing all kinds of work, doing really not just care work, you know, caregiver work. They are really doing domestic work as well, doing a lot of housework and all that.
So, and also women who came here, particularly Caribbean women, actually, they were sent home after having worked here as temporary workers. So I think that FDM, that 1981 was a victory because they are now allowing women to apply for permanent residency after working, of course, live-in for two years.
Now, in this particular policy, did not really say, like, what kind of contract did they have. It was still like a hush hush kind of law. So, it was just something that was passed and so, OK, so women can apply. And as a matter of fact, I don’t even think that, for example, the Caribbean women, I don’t even think they know this policy, but you will find that even today, they never applied for permanent residency.
They just continue to work and then they realize that they should have done it. Because I think it’s not something that was totally, like, put out by the government, everybody knew about it. No. So I think while it was a good one, it was not a good one. So then you will find that 1981, it took until 1992 to have the Live-in Caregiver Program, 11 years.
So I think for every policy, for every program that’s developed by whatever government is, it takes forever. You can imagine the kind of struggle, the kind of organizing, the kind of lobby work, all kinds of work that had to be done for a new program to come out. So live-in caregiver program, LCP, 1992. It was ‘91 or ‘92. But anyway, it took many, many years. And the other thing is that they still want women to be so vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
So in the LCP, they still want women to live-in and knowing that that’s already the kind of vulnerability that they have. And those were the kinds of things that we were constantly talking about, whether it was in the media or in our lobby work – but even the United Nation. I think I remember Fely going to the UN to talk about these issues of how domestic workers are really continuously being exploited.
So, yeah, I think that any little victory is a cause for celebration. And yeah, we celebrate it. But then you say, “Hey, listen. This is not good enough. This is not good enough.” The only thing I will say that is good enough is when we have landed status. That is really our main strategy and that is our goal. Yeah.
Franca: That would be a kind of message too to today’s young activists that you keep going. You know what the final goal is and you keep going. And Genie and Anita, do you want to say anything about – I know you weren’t there for the 1981 campaign, but do you have any comments about whether you think it was a victory or not?
Anita: For me, I can say just like what Martha said, any little victory is a celebration. Because really, people or activists during that time really had to work hard to get attention of the government on what they were asking for.
I remember when we, Coco and I, were in Ottawa, one of the immigration officers said, “Caregivers should be lucky because they are now here in Canada, they were allowed to come to Canada. And they were given the chance to apply for permanent residence after two years as long as they will meet the requirements for the program. And you should be careful because there are no other countries in the world, any other country in the world, that will allow temporary foreign workers to become permanent resident. So what else are you looking for? What else are you asking for?” That’s what they told us.
Women who came here under the program, if they stayed home, they will be doing the same job but they don’t get paid. But when they come here, they do the same job as they were doing back home, providing service, taking care of the children, cleaning the house, cooking and here, they get paid and they have the chance to become permanent resident and they become a citizen and they can bring their family as well.
And those people who were there, mostly Coco, she raised her voice and she said no. It’s like, its like looking at the program as sexist, because we participants in this program are mostly women. So that’s why they don’t give that much value on the work that we do. They said, “Well, anyway, they do that whether they come here or not. So what else do they want?”
And Coco said, “No, they were here as worker. They were lured to apply because they wanted to improve the quality of the life of their family. And at the same time, because they believe that this is Canada, and they know that human rights are protected here. But not to be abused the way that live-in caregivers are being abused. And we have to be heard, because Live-in Caregiver Program has many loopholes.”
And then the officer will tell us, “What kind of loopholes? It’s a perfect program.” That’s what they said. But we, Coco said, “No, I can enumerate with you, but we just don’t have time on what are the loopholes of this program.” And they would even say, “Why would they have difficulty finding an employer after they left one employer? Why can’t they complete the 24-months within three years?”
And Coco would say, “Yes, they left their employers. And if you left your employers because they are violating your rights as a caregiver, do you think they will give them a good reference? And if you don’t have a good reference from previous employer, no one will hire you.” So that’s why caregivers are forced to stay even if they knew that they are being abused, and being taken for granted by the employer. They will tolerate all of those just to complete the two years. And employers knew that and they’re taking advantage of that vulnerability of the live-in caregivers.
So that’s what – when Martha said, a little victory is one step at a time, one step at a time, and we are moving forward, just don’t stop. We are not done yet. We keep on fighting. If we are good to work here, we should be good enough to stay. And Canada needs us. Many parents will not be able to go to work if nobody will take care of their elders, their children, so they need us. They cannot just scrap away this program because they themselves believe they need caregivers here in Canada. So they should give us consideration, acknowledge our skills and allow us to become permanent residents.
Franca: Thank you. Genie?
Genie: So, as I mentioned earlier, coming here as a migrant worker holder of temporary foreign work permit, basically, it doesn’t really allow you to do many things. And then you are, you know, as what already mentioned by Anita and Martha, is open for abuse and exploitation. So, basically, little thing that was given to us but they take out more. Because each time they give us something, they remove something and they give you the more difficult or more complicated requirements that is not necessary anymore, just like for, you know, around this time.
What is the requirement of, you know, the language? In the first place, they shouldn’t be here, they shouldn’t be allowed to come here if they are not able to speak English. Every Filipino that to come in here in Canada as a caregiver or a care worker, they pass through psychological tests, their health test, their national test, their local test from the police. And then educational requirements, they have everything. The only thing that they’re missing is their Canadian experience.
Once they have completed their 24 months, they should really be having the paper already. But what we are demanding is status upon landing. And now it’s Status for All. For what reason? Because before they come here, they have already completed the requirements. Why you are going to require again? Double jeopardy. So that’s what, you know, they give you one thing, they remove many, and then they give you higher requirements.
So that’s why the fight will never stop. So that’s why sometimes I ask, you know, there were activists who were there before us, alright? So we are continuing what, you know, they have fought for, but it seems it’s not going to be, to be ending soon. Because for this one, yeah, they gave us the kind of provision that caregivers could come their family, but with what kind of requirements they attach with it? It’s not easy for any regular family to meet because of financial requirement. So that’s why activists will still be continuing the work.
Franca: OK, thank you. So we’ve been talking about this moment of 1981 and the limitations of the victory, and also how right, the struggle continued, the lobbying continued. But also my sense is that Intercede itself moved increasingly towards, you know, advocacy work rather than a kind of direct lobbying that we saw in ‘81. And so I think it’s important for us to talk about why advocacy work is also really important and what you were doing. And where you found, you know, positive – where you found victories, where you found continuing challenges.
So, Martha, I’ll begin with you since you were there for the campaign and you made part of the transition to the advocacy work. So can you talk about some of the things you were involved with?
Martha: So, you know, so Intercede, because of the name, Intercede for the Rights of Domestic Workers and Newcomers, suffered by not getting approved, for example, by a charity, charitable number, because it is an advocacy organization, which was not just doing advocacy but doing service as well as education and all kinds of things. But the government has always been very suspicious about any advocacy work.
But because, like I said, activists know how these things work. Part of the advocacy that was done by Intercede and other domestic workers was really being part of the community. So, for example, every single year, because it was – at least it is mainly Filipino domestic workers, caregivers.
Every year, because it was so intertwined with the anti-Marcos movement, there was like a very large gathering of Filipinos in Toronto as well as in Vancouver and other parts in the US, I think it was also in Montreal, called Philippine National Day. Which was a celebration instead of Philippine Independence Day, because Philippines has never been independent.
And so we have this Philippine National Day. And this is where we found that, while there were only a few of us who were the forefront and was seen as the ones that, you just know that there was a lot of support from the community. And domestic workers were very, very central in both the organizing of that and also being very much part of it.
So they would show all kinds, whether it was a dance or some education but all kinds of activities, they would be part of it. And Philippine National Day became like an institution in the Filipino community. And at some point, we would have about 10,000 or more people that will be gathered in the park. And so that was part of the advocacy work that was being done by domestic workers. But it also attracted other solidarity work, you know, people who are doing solidarity work.
So, for example, we had a guest who was also a Caribbean, Sierra Hall, who was, who talked about issues of domestic workers of Caribbean descent. So that was part of it. And because it was such a huge event, it attracted so many other organizations, also many other countries that are kind of interested in joining us.
So we would invite people, but not politicians. Politicians were not a part of it. So that was one. But there were so many other events in the community, where Intercede would always be, if they see that as important gathering, it would be there, you will find them there. So that was part of it. But I think the other – I was mentioning earlier was that, because again, it’s being led by folks from the anti-Marcos movement, one of the things that we thought was very popular was theatre. We would have theatre, theatre industry, we would have play and all this. And that was one of the most people are interested in and they would say they would want to join the group.
And so we formed a group called Carlos Ballosa [Theatre] Group. It’s named after a Filipino immigrant in the ‘30s in the US, who was uneducated but became self-educated, even he wrote a book called America is in the Heart. So this is Carlos Ballosa, we named after him. But one of the things that we did was to actually develop a play, produced a play. It was directed by Fely and I was the producer.
We produced this play and it was mainly by domestic, all domestic workers, mostly domestic workers, if not all. And we started with workshop, workshop, workshop, workshop, until we developed the play, which became very – you know, we would – it was a play that was mounted in regular theatres. It was seen by many, many. In Toronto, it was shown twice, two years, I think two years in a row, and then it attracted other places.
So we took it to BC, to Vancouver, and not just in Vancouver, but all over BC. And interestingly, aside from educating people about the plight of domestic workers, we also learned other issues, like mail order brides. How they are being enslaved by some community, you know, all kinds of things when we were touring this. And so we also went to, I think we were also in Winnipeg.
And what was so fascinating about it was when we started this, a lot of the domestic workers said, “Oh no, no, we don’t know how to act. We never really got involved in this.” But after the workshop and, you know, getting them to really take part of the play and owning that play, we had a very successful, successful play called If My Mother Could See Me Now, in Tagalog because there was like a Tagalog version. The way we did it was English-Tagalog. So it was called Inay Kung Alam Mo Lang.
And one of the things that I felt so good about it was, it really developed people’s confidence. And after we produced it to see the transformation of women from being so afraid of talking out in the public, being like actors, they became really good actors. So again, that would be part of advocacy but also education work that was done mainly by domestic workers. Yeah.
Franca: Thank you. Is, where, is the script available? I wonder if we could find that play and put it in our archives, if possible. That would be wonderful to do. That’s so important, drawing on the women’s stories and then workshopping it into a play. That’s fantastic advocacy work. Yeah, so try to follow up with you about the play. Anita, can you talk about some of the advocacy work you did?
Anita: As a settlement worker or settlement counsellor during that time, our clients would come to us with their employment problems: violation of their human rights, issues with their immigration status. So what we did was, in my situation, I wrote letters of support to the clients. We send it to Immigration to explain their situation and to advocate on their behalf for consideration up to explaining the situation of the caregiver.
And then there were also situations when the caregiver would come to me and ask to call her employer to explain what her rights are under the Employment Standards Act, because the employer won’t believe her. The employer would tell her, “No. How would you know anything about those regulations from the Ministry of Labour? You’re staying at home, you don’t know anything about that. You’re not covered under the Employment Standards Act because you’re a caregiver. You’re working at home, you’re not covered by that.”
So I ended up calling the employer, explained to them everything. And before we part, I will always suggest to the employer, this is the number of the Minister of Labour Employment Standards Act. You can call them and you can verify what I have told you.” And then the caregiver would come back to me and she said, “Yes, changes had been done on how she was being paid by the employer.
And then we also do outreach. Not many caregivers can come to our monthly meeting, first Sunday of the month. So, on weekends, we go to places where they assemble frequently. We do outreach there, we give information about the caregiver program, what are their rights and responsibilities. Where to go when they have problems and issues, and assure them that no matter what, they are not alone here, even if they don’t have their family.
We are at Intercede, are just waiting for them to come and approach us and we will help them to the best we can. And it’s a good thing for them because, you know, when you are working with your employer 24 hours, almost 24 hours a day, and very seldom that they go out on weekends, it’s good to know that there are places where they can come and ask for advice or ask for suggestions, or who will speak on their behalf? Who would represent them when they complain against their employer at the Ministry of Labour? How are they going to express themselves and fight for their right when they are in front of the employer and the officer from the Ministry of Labour?
So if we go with them, at least they have the confidence that somebody is backing me up, I’m not alone in this process. Somebody they trust, somebody who will not judge them, but just be there to help them get what they wanted, what they deserve. So those are the few of the advocacy work that we do aside from the advocacy training program, the advocacy and leadership training program that we have.
Martha and Fely, they were doing it annually just like what Genie said. She always attend. Sometimes I also attend, because we do some presentation as well. Because people has to understand the roots of all these abuses, they have to understand what racism is. Why are we in this situation? Why are we being treated like this? So there are good process on those situation, which they also have to understand.
And then what other advocacy? Yeah, we invite, sometime we invite immigration lawyers. We invite officers from the Ministry of Labour to do presentation with our members. So that they themselves could, will hear the issues by the caregivers with their employers. And there was even a question when somebody said, if we are covered under the Employment Standards Act, how come nobody is visiting the home of the employers to see that these policies on Employment Standards are being implemented for the protection of live-in caregivers?
And officer from the Ministry of Labour said, “Because your situation is different. You are working at your employer’s home and we cannot just go there and do inspection because that is invasion of the privacy of the employers. Unlike if you’re working in the company, we can do inspection and everything. So we rely on you to report to us any abuses by your employers. Otherwise we will not know about it.”
So at least the caregivers know they have the right to report. They can make complaints against employers and we explain to them, don’t be afraid of the consequences, because once we started the complaint with the Ministry of Labour, we will inform CIC about the situation.
So that if you will not be able to complete your 24-months requirement because of the repercussion or the employer would like to get even with you and delay the processing for you to meet the 24-months requirement, Immigration will know. They will understand that you had been in that situation and they should give you consideration. So those things and just like Martha said, education is empowerment for caregivers.
Franca: Thank you. Genie?
Genie: Yeah, so based on my experience, because, you know, I would say that I started my advocacy piece when I attended the advocacy training. And when I joined Intercede, I was the admin support, but my position is not a counsellor. So what happened is that, for me, it’s more on referrals. And also, to – what’s going on with my lights?
So, what happened was that I refer them to the counsellors and also, I listen to them. And also, what happened is that, with their experience, I could relate to them in the sense that having a lived experience, so it means you could connect with them. And then they could feel that you understand them, because you could hear them, you could feel for them, and then now, you know, so you will give them a good referral.
And then, you know, based on my experience working with Anita and Coco. So what I witnessed with them is that they put their selves into their shoes and then that’s why they were able to give that very good support to them. And then I would say that I learned from that as well. Because after I left Intercede, you know, before founding Caregiver Connections, Education and Support Organization, we continue the services in the community, though Intercede – we were no longer with Intercede because the members had been seeking for us.
And, basically, you know, we applied all those experiences we had learned from Intercede and we continued the process of advocacy. And that’s why we were saying the human rights and leadership training had been there every year since 2000 because that piece actually is very important for every individual. If you cannot advocate for other people, at least for yourself, you learn what are your rights? You know, that’s what we share with our members. And by educating them as well, as Anita say, education is very – empower[s] people.
It’s very powerful, because with our experience, and Martha could attest to that, that she has lots of participants that who were able to advocate for themselves. You know, after a day of training or two days, they will come back, “Oh, I talked to my employer with this, blah, blah, blah” because right at the moment of your training, I, myself, because I attend every year, with all my experiences, I will share them the strategy.
And Martha would also encourage them to stand up at the front of the room to practice it, you know, to role-play so that they know that if they’re going to speak to their employer, how do they feel. They have to train themselves in order for them to speak. So basically, that’s one of my line for advocacy and also referral. It’s very important that, you know, you have resources because if you do not know any resources, how can you help people? So that’s why I always equip myself with resources because I am not, by profession, I am not a counsellor. It may jeopardize my profession.
So that’s my thing but, overall, I learned a lot for having a live-in experience and also with the people around me, that who became my mentor. And I would say that, you know, listening skills is very important. That’s one of also Martha’s subject matter with the training, because, if you do not know how to listen, how will you be able to advise? And also with all the members that we have right now, we also join when there’s a campaign, so all of them will be joining us. So basically, one person can invite two people and then became big. So that’s the power of advocacy in that small room of education training. Yeah. Thank you.
Franca: Thank you. So your own empowerment through experience, learning and doing it, and then you’re empowering the women with whom you’re involved too, which is so important. So thank you for that. Is there anyone, does anyone want to say more about advocacy work before I turn to the question of the current campaign?
Anita: Can I add one more, Franca? I forgot to mention that, aside from doing advocacy work for the clients who are having problems with their employers, we also help clients who are having problems with their families. You know, being away from your family for several years, you don’t know what’s happening. And then most families ended up being separated from the husband. And you know, the unification is a huge challenge.
So we do advocacy in a way that we inform clients what to expect when your family come, when they arrive here. “Don’t expect the usual closeness because you’ve been away for years.” During that time, there’s no Skype. There’s no Zoom like this. You only call by phone, you communicate by phone or through letters. So that’s why we prepare them. “You must be prepared emotionally, financially. And, basically, because it will be lots of challenges that you’re going to encounter once they arrive. It’s not totally happiness when you get reunited. It’s just, actually, it will be start of another challenging chapter in your life here in Canada.”
So we do the advocacy, that part for them. And many caregivers are socially isolated. So, what we did was, we have dance, fundraising dance, for them. We have trips to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec.
So that’s another way for them to unwind, to be with fellow caregivers where they can do what they want, away from their employers, even for three days. And then lots of activities, we have picnics during summer. So, at least, those socialization that could get them away from their employers just even for a few hours or a few days. And yeah, it meant a lot for them, you know.
Martha: Yeah, I just want to emphasize that advocacy work is not an easy thing to do. That’s why we put a lot of time and effort in consolidating people’s knowledge. So, we do this not just here in Toronto, but I will say that we do this in Vancouver as well, where we do a lot of – really work with our core members, so that they understand what this is that they are trying to advocating for.
So when we talk about, for example, how women are so abused or vulnerable, abused, we need to understand racism. We need to understand, you know, so confidence: why is their confidence so low? So there’s so many aspects to it when learning how to advocate. And I really feel that, in order for people to be able to go out there and advocate for themselves, they have to truly know exactly what it is they are advocating for.
So they also have to do a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of educating themselves, so that they are doing it out in the community, whether they’re asked, you know, there’s a disorientation, that are disoriented by this person telling them, they will still know what it is that they’re advocating for. So I feel that education is truly so important in learning to be good advocates.
And, so, I just want to add that the work that was done by Intercede both by Sedef [Arat-Koç] and Fely, the book on breaking the silence [Caregivers Break the Silence] was an important tool that can be used again. It’s a form of advocacy, not just for education, but again for advocacy. And I think Sedef can talk a little bit more about it because she was one of the authors of it.
Franca: Right, right, thank you.
Cenen: Franca, I just want to also add to the importance of advocacy. Because I guess especially now CCESO – used to be that Intercede has funding and all that, right? But now that CCESO, and also our organization in Vancouver, has never had funding from the government. So there is no funding. And I think education and advocacy work really build an organization. It really, it really creates organization because sometimes people would ask, “How can you exist for over 25 years without funding?” We do get donations, you know, from the union and from individuals.
But I think that once the care workers are empowered through education and through advocacy, they really get involved. They really get into the organizing and they find that there is really an importance on building a movement. I think that’s the key in terms of a lasting environment for organization. If you know what you’re fighting for, if you are empowered to fight for it, I think that’s how you create activists. And then you create folks who are actually working into, also creating others to become activists.
So even their fellow care-workers, you know, and others in the community to learn about the plight of care workers. I think those are key in terms of building a movement. I think it’s key to organizing, it’s key to making change.
Franca: Thank you for that, and all of you, because, I think, sometimes people draw a distinction between, you know, kind of the political activist organizing over here and then advocacy over there, but it’s also interconnected and so important for building the movement. And what you have to say relates very much to kind of what my sort of last question was. Which, you know, conversations about the past are also conversations about the present.
And here we have, right, the present is our pandemic and domestic workers and other migrant workers are living a cruel irony, where they’re being hailed as heroes and essential frontline workers, but they have no legal rights and they have hard working conditions. So I know all of you have been very involved in ongoing campaigns, current campaigns.
And, now, so I wanted to ask about – and I think too this relates to, you’re still building alliances, younger generation of activists who are involved in the Migrant Workers Network and so forth. So could you talk – I’m going to start with Cenen. Could you talk about the current campaigns?
Cenen: So when you say the current campaign, is it the current campaign for the Migrant Rights Network? Or is it for the care workers that we are doing?
Franca: Well, I saw them as related, but the Status for All is what I was thinking. But you talk about what you want to talk about.
Cenen: OK. So I think it is key, the formation of the Migrant Rights Network, I think it’s quite crucial in terms of building a national movement of migrants, because it’s not just migrant workers. There are refugees, there are undocumented and even people who are not even migrant workers, but just migrants because they’re not working. So, I think creating that network is really empowering for us who are activists, who are sort of isolated, especially here in Vancouver, which is very far from Ottawa, you know.
And, so, it’s really empowering too, And so with regards to the pandemic, I think, you know, when people are actually, like, honking for the essential workers, doing all this thank-yous and all that stuff. I felt like, OK, that’s enough of thank-yous. Let’s give them the support, let’s give them the money that they could enjoy, even if they couldn’t enjoy it, because they’re supposed to be working. They are, they’re out there risking their lives, and all that.
And I think that it is crucial for the government and the society to understand that, although they are doing this because this is their work and this is their passion, they really need support, you know. Like not just support to safeguard themselves against the disease, but also financial support because their family is probably not working. Or she probably is the only one who’s working, and she’s doing overtime work, you know, things like that.
So, I think that whatever the essential workers are doing, they should be compensated, they should be protected in terms of their employment conditions, in terms of their own health and welfare. So, yeah, I think the movement for Status for All, especially for those migrants who are here and who have been struggling, even before the pandemic, should be compensated. They should have the status that is in fact theirs. It’s, it is justice, it is justice, to give them permanent residency because what they’re doing are permanent. So, the farm workers, the care workers and other kinds of work, construction, you know, and all those. Those are important work and those are permanent work.
So they should really become permanent residents. All of migrants who are here right now in this country should really become permanent residents, you know, and those who are newly coming in who are migrants should come in as permanent residents. I think when we talk about, what do you call this – oh god, I forgot the word – the Live-in Caregiver Program – pathways.
These pathways have been proven to really cause, what do you call? Really cause the hardship, the hardship for these workers. These pathways are not what they call good because they’re being given a chance to become permanent residents. No, it is really giving them all kinds of problems: isolation, being far from their family and all those problems that have been experienced by those care workers who probably are now permanent residents or citizens.
But they had to go through hoops and bounds, you know, like, to get into that situation. Why do they have to? Why do they have to, when their work, as I said, and they’ve been saying now, [is] essential and permanent. And I think no more, no more of this LCPs, no more of this. They just have to come here as permanent, you know. No pathways. Pathways are really bad for workers.
Franca: Thank you. And, you know, with domestic workers, historically: all those other domestic workers who came before the 70s, they all came as permanent immigrants, right. They had landed status when they came, right. So, it’s a system that is oppressive. And I want to really thank you for the tremendous work and activism you have been doing, and also for sharing some of this with me. So thank you very much.