The Immigrant Experience as Resource for Art Production: Patrick Cruz’s Homecoming Exhibit at Vancouver’s Centre

Here in Canada, more than 40,000 Filipinos became permanent residents in 2014, and this means that the Philippines is now a top source country for Canadian immigration. In fact, only since 2004, the number of newly granted permanent residence permits for Filipinos has already tripled (Canadian Immigration Newsletter 2015). These numbers do not automatically imply visibility, with Filipinos often concentrated in underpopulated rural towns. Filipino participation in the public domains of politics, media, scholarship, and art also continues to be minimal. We often enjoy hearing about the wonderful successes and resilience of our immigrant friends, and celebrate such achievements, but empirical findings also tell us about the continuing struggles in several aspects of everyday immigrant life.

Researchers have written about the Filipino-Canadian youth’s lower educational attainment than their immigrant parents (Kelly et al. 2011). Looking deeper into this alarming regression in the educational attainment of immigrant Filipino-Canadian youths in Vancouver, May Farrales and Geraldine Pratt (2012) report that among the reasons for this is the interruptive effect of temporary labour programs on the educational trajectories of immigrant children. For example, Farrales and Pratt found that the Filipino-Canadian youth’s academic performances and educational attainment are often disrupted by their ambiguous placements in English as Second Language classrooms. This delay in the students’ academic advancement is often complicated with issues of migration. They found that because the youth have to deal with lengthy separation times while they wait in the Philippines to be sponsored by their mothers, their educational advancement also gets suspended.*

Michael Jackson (2013), an anthropologist of everyday life, writes of migration itself as a “rite of passage.” A migrant passes through several stages, in the process committing to new transformations, adding to his or her mindset new layers of acquired experiences and knowledge. The University of British Columbia Philippine Studies Series (UBCPSS) met Patrick Cruz, last year’s winner of the prestigious RBC Painting Competition, during one stage of his own rite of passage. This was the time when he worked at fast food chains frying chicken, mopping floors, and washing dishes. One time he told us that he was fired from a cake shop on Granville Island for his tardiness. One day, he excitedly told us that he found a better job, this time as an assistant window designer, and he could finally apply his talents honed at Emily Carr. But that is just an anecdote that I wanted to share because I think it’s a little interesting, but also symptomatic of what both Filipino migrants to Canada, and Filipino-Canadian youth themselves often experience.

In 2011, the UBCPSS started to take shape, with the primary goal of bringing together a small group of friends and professional contacts, and creating a space within UBC for conversations on the Philippines, and Filipino-Canadian issues. Patrick came to the first planning meeting – I don’t know how he knew about it – and he later found himself here in UBC, attending the academic and community events we organized.

With the UBCPSS, Patrick co-curated at least three multi-media art exhibits. This series of exhibits was collectively titled “Mahal” – the Filipino word which translates to “love,” but it also means “costly” or “expensive.” The exhibit played on the paradox of migration as maybe an act of love which may also strain familial relations, as also discussed in the book Families Apart co-authored by Gerry Pratt and the Philippine Women Center of BC.

The first Mahal exhibit was held in October 2011 at the Yactac Gallery, and was co-curated by Patrick and Chaya Go, with the theme of exploring the desires which carry Filipinos and our immigrant friends across borders.


“Rebulto, sculpture by Patrick Cruz (Philippines/Canada), for Mahal 1 at the Yactac Gallery


Francisco‐Fernando Granados (Guatemala), for Mahal 1 at the Yactac Gallery

MAHAL number 2, which opened in January 2012 at the Lobby Gallery of the Liu Institute, featured works by transnational Filipino artists, with the aim of showing the multiple facets of the migrants’ experiences.


Installation by Patrick Cruz, for Mahal 2 at the Lobby Gallery, Liu Institute for Global Issues


“Home-Made Revolutions” by Chaya Go, for Mahal 2 at the Lobby Gallery, Liu Institute for Global Issues

The third and final installation of the MAHAL series was co-curated with Edsel Yu Chua and its theme was on the act of transnational gifting often practised by overseas Filipinos. Balikbayan or homecoming boxes are large gift boxes incrementally filled by overseas workers, which, once ready, are sent to families back in the Philippines via sea cargo. For the third installation of Mahal, instead of releasing a call for artworks, the co-curators released a call for the members of the Filipino community in Vancouver to ‘submit’ things they wanted to send to their loved ones in Manila.

                          Boxing of Gifts at the Yactac Gallery, 2012

Eventually, two balikbayan boxes were filled, and then sent to a partner art gallery in Manila, where the boxes were then opened, and the items received by their recipients who attended the exhibit and boxes opening.

                          Opening of Gifts at Kanto Gallery, 2012.

Finally, please allow me to briefly comment on Patrick’s winning piece in the 2015 RBC painting competition, in which he problematizes the idea of time in relation to the process of painting itself and in relation to immigrant life. Patrick calls his work “Time Allergy” – what he also drives at here, I think, is the alienation of the migrant’s time through its control, monetization and regulation. Asked about his move to Canada ten years ago he tells me, “Isinalang kami dito, galing Kamias,” which roughly translates to “we were moved here, from Kamias” – Kamias being the neighbourhood that his family still considers to be their home. That home is now host for the Kamias Triennale. It is not however a complete translation because the word“isinalang” refers to the act of putting something over burning fire. To be isinalang means to be put in a state of uncertainty, and maybe even of agitation. Patrick did not have to look far for resources from which he could understand the experience of temporal disjuncture brought by mobility. What fuels the desires that could temper the patience of Patrick and his family as they wait for visa decisions, only to be rejected in all three rounds of applications?


“Time Allergy” by Patrick Cruz, 2015 RBC Painting Prize Winner

Already studying Painting at the University of the Philippines, Patrick’s move to Canada meant adapting to an academic schedule that is quite different from the educational system in the Philippines. This meant for him a regression, a re-orientation of the self again as a high school student, which was for him a strategic move to begin from scratch – earn new friends, maybe even slow down the race of time towards becoming a racialized adult immigrant where, as Patrick says, one typically gets caught up in a “cycle” of doing odd jobs that nobody else wants. Embedded in Patrick’s works, as well as in the RBC submission, is his intense engagement with his own personal and familial mobility. His works tell us about what anthropologist Dorinne Kondo calls the “things that matter deeply,” but these things that matter at the very personal level also reflect social and collective histories of other people in the diaspora.

We are glad to welcome Patrick in this homecoming to Vancouver – the mention of “home” here evokes affects of sorts. In the exhibit that will open today at the Centre A, Patrick’s works, chaotic, loud, visually noisy, painted in untamed colors and bold brushstrokes, takes a leap from the narratives of marginalization and invisibility of Filipino-Canadians. His take on the diasporic experience is not unlike a collage based on the self-reflexive problematization of the immigrant experience, taken as a valid resource for cultural production. His work as collage is cluttered with the history of multiple colonizations of the Philippines. They are a reflection of the layering of his enculturated values from the Philippines, with the more rigid and structured immigrant experience. It is only on very rare occasions though that such renderings of one’s subjectivities and of immigrant life can be transformed into a public conversation.


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