Tina Conlon reflects on the stream of emigration and activism that carried her from the Philippines to community ministry in Toronto.

A glimpse of Lake Ontario, seen through trees and beyond buildings, from the 504 street car in Toronto.
Credit: Tina Conlon
Published On: May 17, 2019

With the start of the King Street transit pilot project in Toronto, I discovered a new way to get to work. Even if it took an additional 15 minutes more than taking the tube, it was worth it to see a glimpse of Lake Ontario. Memories of Luneta Park at Manila Bay flood in as I watch the waters of the lake from the 504 street car, just after Wilson Park Road to the Queensway. Forty-six years can make me imagine a lake to be the Pacific Ocean.

When I was 14, I noticed that almost all the boys in my class were missing. They were apprehended the night before and held with other boys and young men on suspicion of sedition. High school was an interesting time, where we mostly took to the streets in protest, or in outdoor teach-ins of growing awareness about the extent that our government was acting as an Asian puppy dog to empire. At one of those sit-ins, a Canadian boy sang, “Un Canadien Errant,” and spoke about the War Measures Act in his home country. This Act later became the blueprint for the declaration of martial law in my birth country in 1972.

At a conferment ceremony to name the late Fernando Amorsolo as the first National Artist, my papa had a special seat as one of his students and asked me to accompany him so I could write about the event for my school newspaper. At the press scrum that was quickly put together in the lobby, I joined journalists and asked, “Mr. President, what exactly do you mean by sedition?” In the silence that followed, the president smiled at me and said, “Young lady, if the child that is yet to form in your womb should ever aspire to be the next president of the Philippines – that is sedition.”

Shortly afterwards, my family left for Canada where I later became a candidate for ministry in The United Church of Canada. In a conversation never meant to be overheard, a meeting of a United Church committee on candidates for ministry was held in a private home, where an objection to my candidacy was made because I was not born in this country and could not possibly know how to speak Canadian English.  

That same year, in my summer internship, a man made several cryptic comments to me about his trip to Japan and his love for Oriental massage. I was puzzled, wondering what this had to do with me, and causing me to reflect on the suffering Japan had brought to my country and my family through their invasion and occupation in 1941 to 1945.  The discussion evolved into overt demands for massage and questions as to why I had no boyfriend. His behaviour puzzled me, even as I ducked his advances in a summer where I was becoming familiar with Canada’s “oil-rig widows.” He accused me of being a “Toronto feminist.”

After the graduation ceremony where I received my M.Div., another ceremony also took place, which was to unveil a portrait of Jean Calvin that was to hang in the lobby of the same college I just graduated from, painted by my papa.

— Tina Conlon is the Davenport Perth Community Minister in the Shining Waters Region of The United Church of Canada. Maria Christina, or “Tina,” emigrated from the Philippines in her late teens in 1972 and has been actively engaged as a community organizer in the communities where she has lived in Canada. She has worked in a variety of non-profit, charitable and development organizations and served both locally and internationally in community organizing, development and advocacy. 

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