Identify: Discovering a Different Filipino Experience

A Filipino Canadian story as told by social entrepreneur and co-founder of Cambio Market, Gelaine Santiago.

“Growing up, I never thought about race much. We lived in Scarborough, a neighbourhood in Toronto made up of immigrants from all over the world. When everyone comes from somewhere else, race doesn’t define you in the same way. I distinctly remember feeling proud to be Filipino, though what ‘Filipino’ meant, I had no clue.

When my family moved to the suburbs into a predominantly white city, I was suddenly just ‘one of the Asian kids’—devoid of personality or story and reduced to the color brown. Until that point, I had proudly identified as Canadian before Filipino, though iconic Canadian activities like playing hockey or eating maple syrup never resonated with me. I realized the word ‘Canadian’ would never fully capture me.

When I returned to the Philippines for the first time after 20 years, I felt electrified. There’s something special about visiting the town where my dad grew up, sleeping in the house where my sisters and I were born, and meeting the titos and titas and cousins I had only ever known by name. For the first time, there was something stirring deep inside me. I yearned to connect and belong.

After that trip, I began to research what was going on in the country. I was surprised to discover a vibrant community of Filipino social enterprises. These socially conscious companies were doing business differently; they were creating beautiful and innovative products, all while combating poverty and inequality. These businesses were run by young Filipinos who shared my desire to create change. I was inspired and found my calling.

I launched Cambio Market with my Québecois partner, selling handwoven bags and jewelry designed and crafted by Filipino artisans. In our products, I see beauty and craftsmanship and raw talent. I’ve traveled places across the Philippines and learned a lot about myself and my country in the process. This is my opportunity to be seen and heard genuinely as a Filipina, to tell our people’s story and no longer be ‘just one of the Asians.’ I’m proud of who I am and where I come from, and am excited for what I’ll discover next.”

In this series powered by Mailchimp, we reimagine a narrative that celebrates immigrant women as innovators, successful entrepreneurs, job creators, and industry disruptors.

NextDayBetter Storyteller: Candice Quimpo