A banker with a university degree from the Philippines, Tobias Enverga moved to Toronto in 1981 and started at the bottom, in the Bank of Montreal’s mailroom.
Enverga describes himself as just an ordinary guy, who had never been an active Conservative party member or campaign fundraiser.
That’s why he was shocked to get a call from the Prime Minister’s Office this fall about his appointment to the Senate as the first Canadian senator of Filipino heritage — a symbol of the growing clout of the Filipino community, Canada’s top immigrant source country over the past two years.
“I was so surprised by the appointment, because I am just a regular folk,” said Enverga, 57, who is nevertheless in GTA’s immigrant community for his involvement in the Canadian Multicultural Council, Asian Heritage Month celebration and the Philippine Independence Day Council.
News of Enverga’s appointment was splashed across Canada’s Filipino community media, from the ABS-CBN television broadcast to The Philippine Reporter, all hailing its historic and symbolic significance.
“It’s long time coming and the community’s expectation is high,” said the Reporter’s managing editor, Mila Astorga-Garcia.
Enverga isn’t the only new senator making history. Thanh Hai Ngo, a former teacher from Orleans, Ont., became the first person of Vietnamese descent appointed to the red chamber. Ngo, too, came to Canada as an adult.
The son of a diplomat, Ngo was educated at the Paris-Sorbonne University and was working in South Vietnam’s foreign affairs department in 1975 when his country was taken over by the Communists.
“Nobody expected its fall. All of a sudden I was stateless in Bangkok,” recalled Ngo, 65, who fled to Canada with his wife and two children with help from Canadian diplomats.
It took Ngo months to get his foreign credentials recognized before he started a career in teaching.
“There was no program then to help refugees and new immigrants. You didn’t know what to do to find an apartment or get a job,” said Ngo. “I ended up working at an optical factory here.”
He retired from his career as a math and French teacher in 2002, when he was appointed to the Employment Insurance Board of Referees and later as a Citizenship and Immigration judge.
Both rookie senators have been invited to celebratory parties and town hall meetings across the country. Although they represent all Canadians, both are proud to serve as the voices of their communities in Ottawa.
Enverga, who left his jobs as an IT project manager at BMO and Toronto Catholic school board trustee for the Senate, said promoting an inclusive Canada, immigrant issues and protection of migrant workers are on his agenda.
Ngo, who plans to create a paid student internship program for Vietnamese-Canadian youth with the Vietnamese Association of Toronto, said he has set his eyes on promoting human rights and freedoms in Vietnam.
“As immigrants, we have to be flexible and adapt to our new home,” said Enverga. “We have to keep working hard and come together as one to make sure our voices are heard.”