Vangie Ramirez wears a warm smile on her face and she laughs a lot. It is not a naïve or childish laugh; rather, it seems to be a quiet acknowledgement that life is treating her well.
When Ramirez arrived in the Yukon in 1990, it was the culmination of long journey, a journey that began in her native country of the Philippines. As a young mother of two daughters, Ramirez recognized that she would need to leave her home country and secure international employment in order to make ends meet.
Like many other Filipinos, she relocated to Saudi Arabia; unlike most, she got a job working for the royal family as a governess. It’s not as glamorous as it might sound.
“I was often beaten,” says Ramirez, “and I worked nearly 24 hours a day.”
What exactly is it that a governess does?
“Everything,” says Ramirez. “I worked with the prince and his family and I had to cover everything for them … and make all their arrangements.”
It was a thankless job, but Ramirez didn’t realize just how thankless it was until one of the royal babysitters got pregnant. Ramirez was blamed.
“[The royal family] expected me to keep track of everyone. When she [the babysitter] got pregnant, the princess spit in my face.” Unable to control her anger, Ramirez threw her shoe at the princess. It was time to move on.
Singapore was the next stop for Ramirez. There she worked as a nursing assistant and took care of an elderly woman.
“I cooked for her, I sewed her clothes and I nursed her,” says Ramirez. “We became very close.” Though Ramirez enjoyed her time in Singapore more than in Saudi Arabia, it still did not satisfy her – she considered her options.
“I had a relative in Canada who said ‘You should come here because it’s a better place. So I applied to come to Canada and came here as a nanny.”
The agency that employed her sent Ramirez to the Yukon. “My friend met me at the Vancouver airport when I arrived and she asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to go to the Yukon? It’s the coldest part of Canada’.”
As it turns out, the Yukon suited Ramirez just fine. “This is where I was able to live my dream,” she says. “I have a house, a car and my own business.” Ramirez owns and operates Ben and Vangie Janitorial Services with her husband.
But it’s not enough for Ramirez to have a thriving professional life; and so, since arriving in the Yukon, she has been very active in the local Filipino community.
“I helped to build the Canadian Filipino Association when I got here,” she says.
Today, Ramirez is still very conscious of the difficulties that many new immigrants face when moving to Canada. Like her, many of her fellow Filipinos have had a long, tiring life’s journey to Canada. Ramirez helps them as best she can. “I help newcomers secure Social Insurance Numbers, health care cards and even shelter.
“I love this country,” she says. Ramirez passes this love on through her volunteer work.
She has also created a tradition that we all can enjoy once a year. “I was the one who introduced the kababs and egg rolls on Canada Day.” It’s a taste of the Philippines that has become a mainstay of the celebration at Rotary Peace Park every July 1.
Knowing the story of Vangie Ramirez, those kababs are going to taste especially delicious next summer.