Scientific research might be able to tell us a lot about the facts and figures on global migration, brain drain and their effects. One thing this data cannot tell is how it actually feels to leave familiar surroundings behind and start a new life in a different part of the world. That kind of knowledge only comes from living the experience, something which Chito Sta. Brigida has been through. He left the Philippines in 1992 and moved to Canada, a country with one of the highest immigration rates in the world. Annika Schall talks to him about the decision that changed his life.
What education did you receive in the Philippines and what was your career outlook there?
I am an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student – a dropout in other words. I had the opportunity to study at one of the best Engineering schools in the country, Don Bosco Technical College in Manila. I was lucky enough to get an academic scholarship to complete high school there. Later I did a few years of college at the same school. My father passed away in 1982. I was 17 and tried to support my mother and sister by taking on various different jobs whilst trying to finish school at the same time. However, I was eventually forced to give up my education and find work to support my family. Being an undergraduate, I was unable to find work related to my education and ended up working in a five star hotel in Manila instead. I was hired because of my football skills. Most (if not all) of the hotels in Manila were active in an annual inter-hotel football competition. It was fortuitous that I was looking for a job while the Manila Mandarin Hotel was looking for football players. I was a very good defense player in my time.
Why did you decide to leave the Philippines and what made you choose Canada?
I never really wanted to leave. It started when my aunt arrived in Winnipeg in 1968 as one of the second batch of new immigrants. She was a seamstress by trade and in the late 60s to 70s there was a great demand for skilled seamstresses from the Philippines. My aunt tried to sponsor our family, but unfortunately my father’s credentials were not enough to qualify him as a landed immigrant. Instead, my other aunt and her family were the fortunate ones that ended up arriving in Winnipeg in 1973.
In turn, my second aunt decided to sponsor my mother, my sister and myself after my father passed away. I believe that the circumstances that followed after my father’s untimely death and the hardships my family faced made my second aunt willing to sponsor us. Finally, 10 years later, I arrived in Winnipeg on February 15th, 1992.
What was your first impression of Canada and what happened to your career there?
When I arrived in Canada, I was actually worried and disappointed when I saw downtown Winnipeg. Compared to Manila, Winnipeg looks like one of the smaller cities in the Philippines. I was thinking that there may not be enough opportunities for me. However, because of my varied work experiences in the Philippines, especially in the hotel industry, I ended up working in another hotel in the city. I was not excited about working in a hotel again. I was hoping to get more technical/skilled work. Fortunately, after I lost my job in the hotel, I ended up taking a PC repair course provided by the government. I was so excited and from that point on, I decided to seek out computer-related work.
After the course, I started working as a computer assembler. One day while I was busy assembling computers, I thought to myself, “I’m worth more than this. I will not be a computer assembler forever in a backroom with no windows. I will become a manager someday.” That’s how I stayed focused. I worked my way up and now I am an IT manager. I also worked as a janitor, a newspaper delivery driver, a driver for the mentally challenged and a caretaker in between.
What were the obstacles you had to face in the new country and how did you overcome them?
The first three to four years in Canada were the toughest years of our lives. We were trying to adapt and learn how to live in this new land. Even after finishing the PC Repair course, it was still a struggle to find a truly decent job related to computers. One time, after I was turned down for a job I knew I was very qualified for, I told my wife I wanted to take a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer course. I took a gamble and my wife and I went to the bank and took out a loan for the course. It was a huge amount of money ($11K). It eventually paid off and right after I passed my certification in 1999, I was hired as a technician in a call-center and was promoted as a Systems Administrator in less than a year. That was the beginning of better opportunities for me. I also took up management courses to prepare for a leadership role.
Even now there is still some adapting to do. Racism has been the hardest thing to deal with. There were instances where I could tell I did not get the job because I was an immigrant. Here is a story from my PC Repair course. One of my Caucasian classmates was hired in one of the government clinics as a Systems Administrator, even though he had no knowledge of Netware. He quit the PC Repair course just when we were about to start on that very topic. I took a job in the same organization as a part time janitor. The joke in the office among the nurses and staff was that “If you need help with computers look for the janitor.” My friend used to come to me during my night shift to ask me for help while I was trying to do my janitorial duties. When he eventually quit the Systems Administrator job, it was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. I applied for the job and guess what I was told: “Ah Chito, I am very sorry but we feel that you do not have the necessary skills to qualify for this position.” I was shocked because my friend who did not know half of what I knew was considered for the position. I used my anger to focus on getting better in this field and thought: “I’ll show them that they made a mistake in not hiring me.”
What are the most notable differences between the Philippines and Canada?
Until you live in another country, you will never have an accurate view of your own country. There are so many differences. After seeing how the government is managed in Canada, I made one remark about the Philippines: “Immature.” Compared to Canada, the Philippines is immature when it comes to running the government. Secondly, it is very corrupt, probably partly because of this immaturity. There are differences in the way the Canadian government handles the services provided to its citizens that do not exist in the Philippines; there are such benefits and privileges. However, when it comes to family ties, I think in Canada there is less emphasis on moral values. The people and the government are so concerned about freedom, to the point where it is being abused.
Canadians do not realize how lucky they are and they complain about things unnecessarily. I hear people complain about how poor they are and yet there is an effective and working welfare system. They do not really know the meaning of being poor; I can tell you what being poor is like. They complain about how bad the health care system in Canada is. There are long wait times but, depending on your situation, health care is free and you are always looked after. In the Philippines, there is no such thing as free health care. Three years ago, one of my best friends passed away because his family has no money for dialysis. Here in Canada, you do not need to worry about this because dialysis is free.
Are you still connected to the Philippines in some way?
I still have relatives and friends in the Philippines I stay in touch with through facebook and I’ve visited the Philippines twice since I left. I have also sent donations to charities back home. I try to do it every year. Every now and then, I will send some boxes of items to help old classmates who are in need or friends and relatives. I do not do it regularly and I only do it usually once for one person or family. I try to avoid making them used to getting hand-outs. It is not really helping them if they expect to receive something from me regularly.
Where do you feel “at home” and what do you miss about the Philippines?
I feel that I am more at home in Canada now. I’ve been living here for 20 years. I left the Philippines when I was 27. I can say I’ve spent most of my adult life in Canada. However, I do miss life in the Philippines, particularly the warm weather. The real problem with the weather in Winnipeg is the length of the cold months. Half the year it is cold here. I also miss fresh seafood from the ocean and not those caught in lakes. My first month in Winnipeg, I avoided eating frozen fish because it tasted rotten to me. And best mangoes in the world come from the Philippines. Not from India, not from Mexico, but from the Philippines.
One thing I do not miss is the disorganized way the Philippine government manages the country. There are many things the Philippines need to learn from Canada.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.