A Tribute: Mike and Julia Tecson

By , on May 16, 2014

Author Mel Tobias with the Tecsons
Author Mel Tobias with the Tecsons

Mike and Julia Tecson, one of the five pioneering Filipino-Canadian couples to be honored during the 2014 EXPLORASIAN Recognition Gala, will be recipients of The Community Builder Awards 2014. They, as well as the other four couples, certainly deserve it.

The erudite, friendly, well-travelled and unassuming couple migrated to Vancouver in the early 60s, long before the city became a much-desired destination of Filipino immigrants.

Mike and Julia are both from San Miguel, Bulacan, Philippines but they never met there. Fate, destiny, mysterious coincidences or maybe a synchronistic situation brought them together for a reason.

Mike initially wanted to be an architect but ended up taking medicine at the University of Santo Tomas, specializing in psychiatry. He interned in Hawaii then completed his residency in Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. While his US papers were being processed, he spent the time exploring Canada. Vancouver was his first stop. That’s when he realized he could actually practice medicine in Vancouver.

Julia, on the other hand, majored in Sociology at Ateneo de Davao and was about to be a Fulbright Scholar of the United States Information Service. Her plans changed when she was accepted to work at the Philippine Pavilion in the Seattle World Fair in Washington. This meant that she must stay in Seattle for 10 months and must learn everything about the Philippines. During this time, she visited Vancouver when the Bayanihan Dance Troupe performed at the University of British Columbia. According to her, there was no highway yet and the trip from Seattle took a long time.

It was at that time in this part of North America that these two people from San Miguel Bulacan finally met and got to know each other. It was love at first sight for Mike, who had to act fast as time was limited. Due to his private practice, he couldn’t possibly go back and forth between Seattle and Vancouver. Also, Julia’s 10 months at the fair was coming to a close after which she will proceed to Fordham University for her scholarship. Mike made an urgent decision and told Julia, “You can either have me and Vancouver or be a Fulbright scholar at Fordham University.” Clearly, Julia made the right choice. They were married on December 15,1962 at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Kitsilano, and Vancouver became their home.


Mike and Julia with their granddaughter
Mike and Julia with their granddaughter

The marriage was blessed with two children—Marisa lives in Los Angeles with husband Greg Johnston and daughter Natalie. David lives in New York.

Sadly, Julia’s Recognition Gala award will have to be given posthumously. Julia passed away this April. She was 80 years old.

The following are excerpts from an interview of the Tecson couple sometime in January.

When asked about their Vancouver impressions in the 60’s, both were candid about their observations. Julia was first to reply, “Vancouver gives the impression of being a really small town. Movie tickets were $.60 cents then $.75 cents then a dollar. We met the Philippine consular people. I was working in an office and my office mates could not place me. The fact that I am not yellow, I am not black, not Chinese or Indian confused them. When I asked them if they know about the Philippines, they said they did not know anything about the country and about Filipinos.”

Mike expanded on Julia’s story. “There were very few psychiatrists in Vancouver. The first thing I was told was that to practice medicine was like being a member of a private club. When you’re ‘in’, you’re ‘in’ no matter where you came from. The color of the skin is irrelevant. There were only 7 Filipinos I knew, 3 doctors and the others from the Philippine consulate. Then, many Filipinos came slowly. Vancouverites did not know anything about the Philippines. They said that the Philippines is not a commonwealth country. Therefore, Canada may be at war with you. The orientation in the 50’s and 60’s was very British. My fellow doctors walked around with their pipes, tweed coats. In meetings, we started with a toast to the Queen.”

The UBC Museum of Anthropology has a Tecson Collection, which Mike explained with passion—”They are all from our personal collection, collected during our travels abroad. You see many artifacts, ceramics, pottery, fabric, textile, and paintings. Many are from the Philippines but there are also many from Southern China, Thailand, Vietnam. I trained at the Oxford University so I have the academic training in archeology. The Tecson Collection is at the Asia Pacific Foundation at the Vancouver Museum and UBC. More items will be included and the exhibition will be expanded after the certification process.”


Mike and Julia's wedding day
Mike and Julia’s wedding day

The Filipino community in Vancouver is now huge and more new immigrants are coming daily. Having lived in Vancouver for a long time, Mike and Julia had this to say to new arrivals or immigrants.

Mike answered first. “First thing is to get a job before landing in Canada. It is helpful to have social skills. Newcomers should get involved and be active in their new environment. People will not just come around; you have to prove them your worth. Sadly, after a few years, immigrants have a tendency to fall back on their own countrymen or people they have known. This is limiting because they don’t expand in the community. There is a tremendous reluctance to go outside their realm of familiarity.”

Julia added, “ Find out what is important to you and there should be interest outside work or the office. Join whatever group or society you find interesting to learn more of the outside world. Don’t be afraid or be insecure. Keep joining until you find the right group. You should know and learn about your new country, Canada.”

This interview was made possible through Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society’s (VAHMS) explorASIAN 2014. Portions of the interview, along with the interviews of other Filipino First Families couples, will be shown in a short video of the “Filipino First Families, First Stories Project” during the Recognition Gala on June 1, 2014 at 5:30pm at the Pink Pearl Restaurant, Vancouver. Tickets through Esmie 604-437-6353.

Personal thanks to Anna Pansacola for her assistance in the preparation of this tribute.