Cely Velez was 39-years-old when she came to Toronto in 1997, leaving her home in the Philippines behind.
“My mom is here and she was not that young any more,” Velez said, adding that her lone sister lives in California with six children. “So for me, I wanted to be the one responsible for my mom’s care.”
Velez is the business administrator at the First Filipino Baptist Church of Toronto. Sitting in the heart of the city with a congregation of about 410 people, the church is a focal point for Toronto’s burgeoning Filipino community — the fastest growing enclave of immigrants in the nation, one expert said.
Dr. Sandeep Agrawal, a specialist in ethnic enclaves at the University of Alberta, said recent years have seen a big influx of immigrants from the Philippines, “even superceding (those from) India and China.”
A 2011 National Household Survey showed 662,600 persons of Filipino descent now live in Canada.
Agrawal said the Filipino enclave is replacing one of Canada’s oldest communities — the Jewish enclaves in central Toronto.
“When a Jewish business goes belly up, who takes over? It’s the Filipino,” he said.
Dr. Mohammed Qadeer, professor emeritus of urban and regional planning at Queen’s University in Kingston, said there are two dimensions to ethnic enclaves.
The first is a “residential concentration of people” and the other is a combination of various facilities, commercial establishments and churches, which together comprise an ethnic enclave.
“The most concentrated residential groups are Jews and then Italians and then Portuguese,” Qadeer said.
Ultimately, the communities within communities help more established immigrants support those who are newer to Canada.
Velez falls into the second category of enclaves Qadeer described — her work and personal life both revolving around the First Filipino Baptist Church.
“It’s always church-related events,” Velez said. “We usually go into each other’s homes. That’s very, very important for us.
“So a lot of networking, a lot of relationships being forged over the years.”
Enclaves booming in Canada
Ethnic enclaves are here to stay.
Dr. Sandeep Agrawal, from the University of Alberta, sees no downside.
“What we have seen is there is certainly growth in enclaves and what we project is that growth will continue on for quite some time, especially with the number of immigrants coming and where they are locating themselves,” Agrawal said.
In recent years, enclaves have started moving into the suburbs of major cities, and most of Canada now has enclaves of various shapes and sizes, he said.
A 2003 Statistics Canada report cast ethnic enclaves in a bad light.
“They basically measured ethnic enclaves as part of an isolation index, meaning those who live in enclaves are isolated and that enclaves are bad,” Agrawal said.
A follow-up paper “debunked that myth.”
“Enclaves are very lively and it helps and support immigrants and immigrant life in a number of different ways,” he said.
Another myth is that the words “enclave” and “ghetto” can be used interchangeably.
“Ghetto is an old word which is based on racial and economic exclusion,” Dr. Mohamamd Qadeer of Queen’s University said. “A ghetto is also a large concentration of poverty.
“Enclaves are not ghettos.”