Lucenia Ortiz - Paglalayag Series
Updated: Apr 13
Part of the Paglalayag: the Philippines to Canada Journey Series
* Text reprinted from Tatak UPAAE (2019), with permission from the University of the Philippines Alumni Association Edmonton (UPAAE).
Lucenia Mabasa is the youngest of six children and her formative years were spent in Kalibo, Aklan. When her elder siblings were already in college in Manila, their relatives convinced her mother, then already a widow, to make their home there. Her eldest brother, who was by then married, remained in Aklan.
Her enterprising mother had a thriving jewelry business back in Aklan that assured the family of steady income. And it was the same kind of business that she engaged in with her siblings while they were raising their own families in the big city. One would think that the next generation would take up the reins of the family business but such was not the case. Her siblings and her cousins all became professionals - doctors, engineers and accountants and as for Lucenia, she would pursue a career that was influenced by the events of her time.
Awakening in the 1970s
It was the First Quarter Storm and an uneasy time at the UP Diliman campus. Exams had been scheduled on a particular day and she went to school not knowin
g that classes had been cancelled. Many other students were uninformed. After word had gotten around, they started proceeding to the Quezon Hall area where they could take the bus to get home. (Note: Transit buses plied the route of UP until the 1980s.)
The police who had already surrounded the university campus mistakenly took them for demonstrators and started shooting at them. Lucenia along with the other students ran away as fast as they could to dodge the bullets and made their way to the direction of faculty housing. There they hid for their lives. It was her first awakening.
She then started to question the situation at that time and began to read as well as listen to speakers at rallies at AS (Arts & Sciences). When she moved to the Institute of Public Health, she joined a progressive group of doctors and nurses and was drawn to social justice and development.
After graduation she would work for the Department of Health and later on at the Development Academy of the Philippines where her involvement in health, forestry and agriculture motivated her to go into planning for development.
Moving to Canada in 1994
Migration beckoned and Lucenia, along with her husband Cesar Ortiz, also a UP
Alumnus (BS Fisheries), moved to Edmonton with their five children. Fully aware that the non-recognition of her educational qualifications would leave her with limited options, she decided to go back to school. It was while she was studying at the University of Alberta that she came into contact with immigrant communities and the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative where she would eventually serve as a Co-Executive Director for at least 10 years.
Social Development in the City of Edmonton
Another opportunity to serve came when Edmonton launched its Poverty Elimination Project. It was what she cared most about and so had to say goodby to the Co-Op. She is currently a Planner with the Social Development Branch of Citizenship Services.
Wider Scope of Influence
As if the responsibility for the city were not enough, when the Alberta government formed its first Anti-Racism Advisory Council this year, Lucenia was chosen as a member and currently serves as one of the co-chairs. Of the ten key actions identified, the Council will be focusing on these priority areas this year: tackling hate crime; incorporating Indigenous history in the K-12 curriculum; ways to recognize foreign credentials and making the provincial government diverse and inclusive.
QUESTIONS WITH LUCENIA
What is your fondest memory of UP?
My fondest memory of UP is the activism in the 70s and 80s. When I was an undergraduate at the Diliman Campus, I experienced my first intro to activism when the national police entered the Diliman Campus and shot students who were initially protesting the increased tuition fees in January, 1970. This event galvanized all the other student organizations across Metro Manila that led to the First Quarter Storm and catalyzed a national protest movement in the Philippines. It is true that UP is a hotbed of activism because students in their first two years of university are exposed to well-rounded liberal education that advanced critical thinking and debate, openness to new and radical ideas and encouraged students to speak up and voice their concerns.
If you didn't do what you did for a living, what would you be?
I would still be working in the non-for-profit organizations serving immigrant and refugee communities.
What's the best thing about Edmonton?
Edmonton is laid back with urban amenities. It is not as busy and crowded as the big cities in Canada while at the same time one has access to all the modern amenities available in most cities. It is the best place to raise children as well as retire in one's old age.
Tell us how you got your career started in Edmonton.
Like many newcomers with professional backgrounds in their home countries, I had challenges getting work in my own field - urban and regional planning. To fast track my career, I realized that an advanced Canadian degree would open opportunities for me. So I decided to pursue a PhD in Human Ecology at the University of Alberta and completed it in 2003.
What do you miss most about the Philippines?
I miss my hometown with fine white sands in Boracay, Aklan. When I am there, it's an entirely different world with no worries.
What is your favourite TV show?
I like watching the news - Canadian, American and World News stations. I like to keep abreast on what's happening in the city, around Canada and the world. I also enjoy shows with political content whether it is late night talk shows or comedies, i.e. Saturday Night Live, The Cartoon President.
What's the one thing you haven't done that you'd love to do?
Travel to places I haven't been to yet - Eastern Europe, newly-formed democratic countries in Asia such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don't think there is perfect happiness. What would life be if you don't face a challenge every now and then - life would be boring and unexciting and you wouldn't have an opportunity to truly realize your full potential if you have reached the ultimate satisfaction. I think humans were created to make mistakes and we exist in an imperfect world so that we will continue to explore new things and new ways of doing things.
What is your greatest fear?
I have a fear of flying and each time I travel I always remember that we can always conquer our greatest fear.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I don't really know maybe doing nothing at home just sleeping all day. I'm always busy with work and community activities that having a day all for myself is such a luxury.
What is the quality you most like in a person?
Integrity - I have the most respect for people who are honest and sincere and who act in the most ethical manner.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Who else - but my one and true friend and partner for life, my husband. We share the same values and principles in life and we like the same things. We have been together through thick and thin so to speak and each time we face a difficult problem or situation, we always come through stronger.
When and where were you happiest?
When I'm with people I love - my husband and children and relatives.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I can sing better because I love music.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not much really. I could lose some weight.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I'm still working on it. I would really wish I can make a contribution in making the Filipinos in Edmonton (and Alberta) be a stronger community who have a voice and a presence and working towards the best interest of Filipinos in our city. And more broadly, for visible and racialized minorities to find their rightful place in Canadian society enjoying the same rights and opportunities like everyone else.
Where would you most like to live?
I would still like to live in Edmonton.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your favourite occupation?
I've always enjoyed being a planner in whatever context - urban design, social development, community development. I'm always enthused and inspired to think about the future, to be grounded on current issues and to plan how to get a long-term vision.
What is your most marked characteristic?
People say I'm warm and friendly which is a good description of who I am. I always smile, congenial to strangers and very cautious to say anything that can hurt people.
What do you most value in your friends?
Sincerity - I like friends who don't put up a good front just to be endearing. It's hard to imagine being near someone whom you cannot trust.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I have many and most of them have many things in common - they are transformational, brave and inspiring leaders i.e. Andres Bonifacio, Che Guevarra, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Barack and Michelle Obama - they have transcended race in their leadership and inspired many people to overcome barriers in pursuing their dreams.
What is your motto?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
What was the best piece of advice you received when you had just arrived in Edmonton?
Go back to school and pursue an advanced education - this is the best way you can break through the barriers of getting the much-coveted "Canadian experience". I would say the same thing to a UP alumnus arriving in Canada - you have to create opportunities to level the playing field for those who were here before you.