The First Elected Filipina and Woman of Color in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly

IN THE 2007 elections in Canada, Flor Marcelino, a Filipina businesswoman, made history as the first woman of color and first Filipina elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly for the electoral division of Wellington.

Her outstanding performance as a public servant resulted in her appointment by Premier Greg Selinger as Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism and the Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism in 2009. Prior to that post, she served as the Legislative Assistant to the Minister of Culture, Heritage, Tourism and Sport in 2008.

She was re-elected in the 2011 provincial election to a second term in office in the new electoral district of Logan. A member of the New Democratic Party, Flor has maintained the position of Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism after the 2011 election.

Marcelino was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada in 1982 where she and her family have since made Winnipeg their home. They first settled in the Weston community, one of the many vibrant neighborhoods located in the Tyndall Park constituency.

Prior to her election to the legislature, Marcelino was a small business owner and editor of a community newspaper for the Filipino Canadian community in Winnipeg –The Philippine Times. She has also been an active community leader, having served on with the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council, Project Peacemakers, St. Stephen’s-Broadway Foundation and the Broadway Disciples United Church and its international affiliate, the Global Ministries. Marcelino was also a support staff at Red River College for 17 years.

Late bloomer
In an interview with Asian Journal, Marcelino shared that she entered politics at a late age, at age 55. “I had five kids and was busy running a newspaper then. I had retired from my day job, and my youngest was 18.”

She shared with Asian Journal what she recently provided to the Winnipeg Free Press for an article for Mothers’ Day.

“Ever since we came to Canada in 1982, my husband, Orli, and I held full-time jobs. In spite of a hectic home schedule and active church life we started a community newspaper, The Philippine Times, along with a friend and our church minister in 1996.   At that time we felt the need for the Filipino community in Winnipeg to be kept informed of human rights violations in the old country.

“Aside from running a newspaper, I was very active in my church at the local, national and international levels, deeply involved in several community organizations, and from 1999, I became a member of the  Premier’s Economic Advisory Council.  I have always been involved in community work-when I was young I joined my church’s youth group then. My commitment continued even after our move to Winnipeg.  Working for the community, my whole family poured precious time, effort and our limited financial resources into our joint passion.”

“I never planned to run for office, not in the 2007 elections, nor in earlier election years. I never even entertained the thought of seeking a nomination. I was happy to help in election campaigns in my own small way. On May 2, 2007, two weeks into the campaign period, NDP representatives visited me around noon time and asked me to be their candidate when the nominated candidate for Wellington bowed out. They wanted me to respond immediately. I was hesitant to accept–I felt that public office was not for me.  I am not trained as a public speaker, nor did I have the means to finance a candidacy. I asked them to look for another candidate. They told me that Premier Gary Doer specifically directed them to ask me to run for the party. I asked for a few hours to consult with my family.”

“After seeking my family’s consent– granted grudgingly by some and outright approval by others, I sought the advice of my church minister, Rev. Dr. Ray Cuthbert. I remember his exact words: “you have enough integrity, go for it.”  By 4 pm I phoned the party officials and agreed to be the candidate for Wellington,” shared Marcelino.

“Later that evening I received an email with an attached You Tube file from a friend in Saudi Arabia. The attachment was a song entitled Lead Me Lord sung by a Filipino singer, Gary Valenciano. I listened intently and repeatedly to the song.  I knew that song before, but it had not touched me as it did that night. At that very moment it was conveying a deeper meaning to me. By about the fifth time hearing the song I was in tears. It finally dawned on me what life in public office would require of me-time commitment, integrity, determination to work hard for the communities placed in my care and make a difference in peoples’ lives, especially the disadvantaged.  Right then and there, I realized the opportunity for service to the community that an elected position can provide. With that insight, I decided to give this undertaking my best shot. The energy and inspiration I received that evening enabled me to go through an election campaign that I never had any experience going through,” Marcelino related.

The friendly and hard-working Minister admitted that two people influenced her most and served as her inspiration. “The first was my father. He was a church minister in the Philippines. He graduated from the Union Theological Seminary in Manila. He was very kind and helpful to others. I remembered him giving advice to people. He was very nice to his family. Unfortunately, he died when I was just ten years old. Yet his memory and influence guided me through the years. I have tried to live a life that would make him proud and happy, as if he were still around with me.  The second role model and person I look up to is Tommy Douglas. I have decided to be a committed member of NDP because of his ideals and principles. His speeches inspired me. I will never be a very good public speaker like him and my father, though. Both my father and Tommy Douglas  had the caring heart and strength of mind to help make life better for others. Tommy Douglas had great vision for his people despite living in a “poor” province. He envisioned that people deserved the best health care services, rural electrification, decent housing, employment insurance, old age pension,” said Marcelino.

Role model
As parents, the Marcelino couple instilled in their five children a combined strong faith in God,  commitment to family and pursuit of social justice. She said, “the actions the children saw from us, their parents, along with the support of extended family, influence of church, and excellent education from public schools made them what they are today-discerning, talented, independent and  strongly attuned to social justice issues.

In her role as a member of the Manitoba Assembly and the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism, Marcelino admits it is difficult balancing politics and family responsibilities.

“It is doubly hard to be a woman-politician, especially if one has a young family. She is expected to do most of the housework and caring for children. She should be a multi-tasker and good in time management. However, with a supportive and understanding spouse/partner, the difficult job of a female politician is doable,” she said.

Marcelino’s advice to women who want to enter politics: “Women contemplating a career in politics should prepare for long work hours, including weekends. They should possess genuine interest in peoples’ welfare and a deep desire to serve all. It also requires one to be ready at all times to accept criticisms–constructive or otherwise, including personal insults, and still maintain composure. Likewise, keep deep reserves of patience and sense of humor as they come handy in dealing with difficult people. All the hard work and long hours are amply rewarded when policies and programs redound to the constituents’ best interests. Statements of support and appreciation from happy constituents make life in politics worthwhile. I fully agree with a friend who is a civil servant when he said: public service is a reward in itself.”

A brighter future for Logan
Marcelino is determined to work for and with her constituents to help build a brighter future for the residents of Logan.

“I want a more vibrant Logan — where culture brings people together, where recreation options give at-risk youth a constructive outlet for their energy, where day care and schools help families nurture children and where the presence of police gives people confidence in their neighborhood,” shared Marcelino.

(LA Weekend June 9-12, 2012 Sec A pg.10)

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