Hazel Venzon embraces the Filipino community

Hazel Venzon is holed up in Porter Creek when she Skypes me. She’s been in Whitehorse since December working on her play.

“Vancouver has a lot of distractions,” she says, waving her hands a bit to either side of the screen. She came up on her own dime, taking a few risks to be here. She is in love with the wilderness. She smiles when she talks about packing along her cross-country skis.

Venzon is a graduate of Studio 58, the professional theatre training program at Langara College in Vancouver. While she is primarily an actor, her playwriting has been featured in the Fringe circuit — the Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton venues.

She is here working on her play, Embrace, a story that uses multiple voices, recorded conversations and multimedia, as her journey to understand her mother’s immigration to Canada from the Philippines.

It is being presented at Nakai Theatre’s Pivot Festival Wednesday, Jan. 27, at the Old Fire Hall.

“Embrace is my own understanding of my heritage — the movement of Filipinos to Canada. My mother immigrated here as a seamstress. I never got a clear understanding of what made her stay. How did she integrate? How did it feel?”

To write the play, Verzon came to Whitehorse to talk to our Filipino Community: “Coming to Whitehorse is my way of understanding her moment.” Her mother moved first to Winnipeg in the 70s. It was a lot smaller then, remote, subject to extreme weather. In Venzon’s journey, in order to understand her mother’s move, Whitehorse becomes the stand in for Winnipeg.

“When she first arrived, Winnipeg was a smaller, industrial town — not a lot of Filipino culture. The community was starting to grow when she arrived.”

But with Whitehorse, Venzon admits she walked into a very large community. “The Filipino community here is crazy, vibrant and organized,” Venzon says. “Very organized.”

When she came, she remembers talking to someone over the counter in Subway: “Are you Filipino? Yes, they said. So am I? And then I was immediately given a contact name and invited to a basketball game at Vanier.

“When I walked into the gym, it was packed. I was shocked and overjoyed. People had such a freshness to them. I felt like the people here gave me a connection to Filipinos, not Canadians. All the Canadianisms weren’t in place yet — not like you see in other Filipino communities.”

In Whitehorse, she explains, the Filipino community is rather new — having really enlarged over the last five to 10 years. This was exactly what she was looking for — what a new immigrant community might have been like for her mother in Winnipeg.

She wanted to capture that moment in Embrace … that leaving a place for the first time … that coming to a new place. Venzon interviewed the Whitehorse Filipino community for their stories, what they could remember about leaving, about first seeing Whitehorse.

But she also knows that, ultimately, Embrace is a very personal story. “I wanted to understand how [my mother] and I get along or didn’t get along.” In the play, “I play myself and an ‘everyone’ character.” She interacts with real, recorded conversations between her and her mother on stage.

Embrace is an interim step to a greater piece, she says, a Part 1 of 3 probably.

Embrace has a performance at the Old Fire Hall, Wednesday, Jan. 27. Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.

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