Filipino-Canadian in Focus: Violeta “Bolet” Arevalo

By , , on February 1, 2014

Why would an AVP in the Philippines—enjoying a prestigious career that she loved (with travel perks), friends and househelp—leave that life in favor of uncertainty and a migrant life abroad?

It is a question that is not easy to answer. But in Bolet’s case—and for most Filipinos in Canada—the answer is “the children”.

Because of her children, Bolet moved to Canada, and despite a less-than-charmed beginnings in Vancouver, she was able to overcome the pangs of being a new immigrant—and even write a book about it.

“I am not an extraordinary mother with extraordinary talent. I am just an ordinary mother with extraordinary love for her children,” she says

Life in Canada

She arrived in Canada in November 2008, and says “[W]hen I first came in to Canada, it was like being released from prison or detention. I had worked all my life in the Philippines and had always been tied up to a permanent job.” So she enjoyed “not doing anything but roam around the streets of Vancouver, discovering, exploring or simply gallivanting.”

But that first year took its toll on Bolet as she was unable to find a job because of her lack of Canadian experience. She also had difficulty in re-integrating herself into the Canadian workforce.

Instead of being disheartened, however, Bolet looked at this as an opportunity and found a reason to do what she has always wanted to do—write a book.

“Writing has been very close to my heart since I was a student at University of Santo Tomas (UST),” Bolet says. She was the editor for research and special reports page of The Varsitarian, and graduated magna cum laude from her mass communications course.

In fact, her first job was as magazine writer for an internal publication of the Philippine National Bank. But a career in bank marketing beckoned and she had to leave writing.

Until Vancouver.

“I attended a half-day course on how to write a book offered by the Vancouver School Board in May 2009. Luckily, this became the turning point of my dream to publish my own book,” she says, adding, “In reality, many people know how to write, many want to write a book but only a few ever get started and actually are able to finish and publish one.”

Her book “The Most Practical Immigrating and Job Hunting Survival Guide” catalogued her experience, and gave the most practical tips to Canadian immigrants. She hoped it would inspire others who find themselves neither here nor there, often questioning their decision to leave home.

Her book turned things around for Bolet. She has since entered a Top 50 Canadian company, but true to her roots and advocacy, she became part of the team handling the Saturday Fun Group, a program for Filipino youth at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House on Joyce Street. She was also certified as a Tesol teacher (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and is in the process of accumulating teaching hours as a volunteer ESL Facilitator of the University of British Columbia under its UBC Learning Exchange Program.

She said it succinctly in her book: Destiny is where you are. What you will be is the result of what you do where you are.

A practical guide

In her book, Bolet compared migrating as going through the 5 emotional stages of cancer (the Kubler-Ross Five Emotional Stages of Grief) – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. “My conclusion is we have go through these 5 stages to be able to experience full healing.  Only with healing can we able to hold the new reality by the hand, with new relationships and friendships and able to function in a new role.”

Survival jobs—a reality accepted (oftentimes grudgingly) by newcomers to Canada—was also tackled in Bolet’s book. She says, “We all grow up believing that survival is an instinct. My own conclusion is when you are an immigrant, survival is not an instinct, it is a decision. And taking on a survival job is the tougher part of this decision. But after taking on survival jobs myself in the beginning, I should say that survival jobs are jobs that will teach you to continue your battle, that will make you discover how much strength you have in you, that will enrage you from within to want to be someone better, to have something better.”

And during those times, this is what she told herself: “Just keep going. You will get there. That is as certain as the rainbow.”

She kept going, and so did her children.

Now, 3 years after the move, she looks to her future—Ponch, who remained in the Philippines and is employed by HSBC; Paolo, a film and TV scriptwriting graduate of the Vancouver Film School; Patrick, a UST Fine Arts graduate, with a degree in digital animation from the British Columbia Institute of Technology; PJ, who studied game design and modeling at the Art Institute of Vancouver, and Yeye, a grade 9 student who is flying to Toronto to compete for a slot in a prestigious Catholic arts school.

Despite all the odds, she knew she has made the right decision. She has inculcated in her children the idea of a greater dream, and a brighter future as certain as the rainbow.