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Maleta - Stories of Migration
“Maleta” (Suitcase) – Stories of Migration
Toronto -More than 180 Filipino women, workers, youth and allies linked arms in
welcoming the arrival of the much-anticipated multi-media arts exhibit dubbed Maleta (Suitcase) Project in Toronto last Saturday.
The arts exhibit and cultural event showcased the Filipino-Canadian community's “maletas”
before the public, exploring the history of migration. Entitled "End the Exploitation, March for
Liberation: The Maleta Project Launch was a milestone event for the Magkaisa Centre’s organizing work with the community. The art exhibit focused on enhancing women's equality, human rights and genuine development.
The cultural show also featured exhibits produced by member organizations of the
Magkaisa Centre: the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario;
SIKLAB-Ontario (a Filipino-Canadian workers organization); and Ugnayan
ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth
Attended by a cross-section of academics, community members, artists, trade unionists and members of other progressive organizations. The Maleta project launch showcased a
unique form of cultural creativity expressed with strong social content.
The art exhibit highlighted the concerted effort of the group to define and
produce a dynamic culture that aims to empower and transform the community.
Sinag Bayan Ontario opened the night with a song entitled “Bangon Maria,” (Rise to the challenge Maria) a call to enhance women’s rights awareness and liberation. Joy Sioson, Chairperson of the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario (PWC-ON) welcomed everyone as she announced the arrival of the Maleta Project in Toronto. Maleta, Sioson said ushers in another phase in Filipino women’s organizing towards full participation and entitlement in Canadian society. The day also marked the beginning of the 10th year celebration of PWC’s organizing work in Ontario.
Messages of solidarity were read from the Kalayaan Centre in British
Columbia and the Kapit Bisig Centre in Quebec, followed by a keynote
speech from Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National
Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC). Diocson shared the
journey of her maleta when she migrated in the 1970’s. “I only had
one suitcase. Being a landed immigrant and a nurse, I knew what I had
in my maleta – a dozen of nursing uniforms and nursing caps. I was
ready for work,” she narrates, illustrating how the migration of the
Filipino community in Canada has always been in response to the
economy’s labour demands. For Diocson, the maleta represented both the
community’s history and its future as the 4th largest community in
Canada. She encouraged the audience ”to unpack more maletas through
documenting our women’s oral histories to further reveal the
community’s inspiring stories of struggle and resistance.”
Marissa Largo shared her experiences and valuable insights as a community artist and educator who works with women and youth in Toronto and in Montreal. Largo emphasized the use of Participatory Action Research methodology in the art-making process. The method, she said, is rooted in genuine community participation and driven by the passion for social change.
"Everyone was involved in every stage, from the conceptualization to the art-making," comments Mark Serrano, a member of UKPC/FCYA-ON. "As participants of the project, working and integrating with others allowed me to connect my personal experiences to our community’s common struggles.” Serrano described the true contents of the maletas as actual narratives. “Art without social relevance is hollow, like an empty suitcase,” he added.
The closing remarks were delivered by Alleben Purugganan, member of
the PWC-ON. “What do art and women’s liberation have in common?" she asked. She challenged dominant notions of freedom in a world where systemic barriers continually hinder Filipino women from achieving genuine equality. As an artist and a community organizer, Purugganan described Maleta as a larger project of redefining culture – one that is for the people and raises a collective consciousness. “Art for the people is for liberation,”
Volunteers and participants of the project then returned on stage to perform a song called “Waving Flags” expressing the community’s strength and the continuing struggle for liberation.
"Interwoven through years of educating, organizing and mobilizing.The Maleta Project not only makes our task of community building more fun and engaging. But, more importantly,(it) reclaims the central role of women as producers of history and innovators of creative expression," explains Stephanie Sanchez, a UKPC/FCYA-ON and PWC-ON member. "We may not be what the mainstream perceives as artists, but the collective process allowed us to creatively harness our particular struggles and resistance. We were able to make art that our community can really relate to" she adds.
The ingenuity of the artwork and beauty of the art pieces, impressed viewers and participants as they noted the clear conveyance of the issues that they shed light on. Topics ranged from the Live-in Caregiver Program, traumas of migration, family separation, racism and access to healthcare. “It was fun getting involved with something like this for the first time," says Meryll Aguila, currently in high school and a project participant. “When I hear people say how good and well-organized the exhibit is, it makes me happy after a long day of hard work” she adds.
The Magkaisa Centre organizers know that Filipinos will continue to arrive with their maletas: there will be more stories to be told, and more battles to be fought. "The Maleta is the story of our lives. It is the tangible manifestation of our continuing assertion of making the Filipino community count in Canada," said Sanchez.
To view photos of the event and relive the successful night, visit
For more information:
Contact Qara Clemente