Giselle General - Paglalayag Series
Part of the Paglalayag: the Philippines to Canada Journey series. As contributed by Giselle General.
My family lived in a mining village of Philex Mines, Padcal, Tuba, Benguet, a family of five consisting of parents Glenn and Tessie General, and children Genevieve, Giselle (which is myself), and Gregory. On October 31, 1999, when the entire family was heading home from a trip from Baguio City, an accident happened. Glenn, Tessie, and Genevieve were killed along with many other passengers in the jeepney after it crashed and fell down the mountain roads. My brother Greg and I were badly injured but survived.
Losing them at an early age makes the title 'ulilang lubos' (complete orphans) an inevitable reality of our childhood, since I was eight at the time and my brother was really little, only four years old. My unique relationship with my brother emerged, as we were cared for by our relatives who tried to pitch in when they could, but I felt the fierce responsibility and burden. I awkwardly handled this intriguing mother-father-sister role since I was also just a kid growing up. It’s quite a dynamic between our typical sibling squabbles, my occasional feeling of helplessness because I had no idea how to teach him certain values, multitasking his schoolwork, my schoolwork and chores, and uncertainty towards explaining things that I was currently experiencing or have just passed through.
Two of my mother’s sisters, Debbie and Lanie, eventually made their way to Canada and brought their families with them, in 1999 and 2003 respectively. It was decided by the relatives that my brother and I will eventually be sponsored to Canada. They were able to eventually sponsor us, one at a time, due to the Family Sponsorship category that enabled people to sponsor nieces and nephews who were complete orphans. I arrived in 2007, sponsored by Tita Debbie and lived in St. Catharines, Ontario. I lived with my cousin Maylyn while her parents Tita Lanie and Tito Felix moved to Edmonton to find jobs. Due to the high cost of sponsorship, I was brought over first, leaving my brother behind, which was devastating for both of us.
After moving to Edmonton in 2008, I started to pursue a university degree while working part time. My brother was eventually sponsored by Tita Lanie and he arrived in 2011. Having a full-time course load, working part time at Future Shop, and trying to figure one myself as a young adult was a difficult road, with many commitments that needed to be juggled. Making sure my meager earnings was enough to cover for my share of rent and utilities, tuition money, expenses related to my brother’s sponsorship, and having fun as a young adult made those years pretty exhausting. Dating and making friends came with conflicts, both at home and with these people
I was trying to build relationships with. It took a while for me to realize that prejudice comes in all ways and forms. It was coincidental that the men I ended up dating happened to be not Filipino, and my relatives had all kinds of judgmental and stereotypical comments towards them. I have realized that fellow Filipinos would judge others based on how they came to Canada, whether it is from marriage, family sponsorship, or coming first as foreign workers. So, when strangers end up asking how I came to Canada, a strong reaction of sadness and awe come comes on their faces.
Due to having to move to Edmonton unexpectedly, I didn’t have the required Grade 12 classes to be admitted to the University of Alberta full time in 2008. In order to have the proper requirements to make it in my second year, I took part time Open Studies classes at the University of Alberta, Grant MacEwan College and Athabasca University. I took student loans for my first year and swore I will not incur more debt. So, I worked part time on nights and weekends throughout my degree. I got admitted for full time studies at the University of Alberta School of Business in 2009, which was an incredible relief. Between full time studies, I volunteered with student groups, and worked an average of 32 hours a week. I was also admitted to the Cooperative Education Program that provided 16 months of relevant workplace experience and helped me discover my passion for the non-profit sector. I completed my degree in December 2012 and worked in different places, from start up companies to non-profit organizations that serve the community. Another milestone was achieved when I completed paying for my student loans in 2017.
Community involvement outside of work hours is something I’m passionate about. In university, I taught children in elementary schools about the world of business, helped people get confident in public speaking, and wrote journals for future university students about my internship experiences. Now, outside of work, I write for the Alberta Filipino Journal as a columnist, provide research and feedback as a community board member of the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board, donate plasma twice a month at Canadian Blood Services, and also work on neighbourhood connectiveness by volunteering at my neighbourhood’s community league, Rio Terrace Community League, as well as the city-wide organization, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.
Two years ago, I finally summoned the courage to heal from one of the most horrific things anyone could experience, being molested by a relative as a teenager in the Philippines. I went to therapy for eight months and it was the most difficult and worthwhile task I have done for myself.
In 2013, my brother and I set out on our own, moved out of our relatives’ house and set up a new one with my long-time common-law partner, and now my husband, Corey. We continue to learn from each other and embrace our different upbringings. He has visited the Philippines many times, and won over the hearts of the relatives there, which I consider as a great sign. We had our wedding in Edmonton in September 2019, a small and intimate ceremony, where we tried to commemorate my departed family members by using items from my parents’ wedding ceremony. Many older relatives claim that we look just like our parents and here in Edmonton, we hear about it in every family gathering. A cousin claimed I laugh like my mom, which is weird since I can’t remember their voices anymore. Many relatives tease Greg for having my dad’s attention-grabbing big ears, but what I see more often is his sense of humor and the sly way he looks at you when he’s joking around. Some relatives tear up or give that loving bittersweet smile when they see one of us, even worse when both of us are together. With pride, I observe my brother evolve into a wonderful young man. With excitement, I aim to reach more ambitious goals for my future. I guess being a living, evolving memory of their relatives gone past and a testimony of the great life-sacrificing lengths that parents do is an honour to have. I always remember very proudly that my mother gave me life twice. My relatives repeatedly say “your mama and papa will be very happy to know that you are here".