Public servant, business woman, student, awardee, mother, wife, Filipina.
Cora Dela Cruz is all that and so much more. As the Executive Director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, a mother of two kids and a widow of one, she continues to yield to her calling in the service to entrepreneurs in the Philippines and in Canada.
Moving to Canada
Born in Tarlac, Cora’s resettlement to Canada in 1971 was a fluke. At that time, immigration was open in the country. But unfortunately, her friends who applied at the Canadian Embassy for the office category of work failed the preliminary tests. With the quota still unmet, she was then encouraged by her friends to try and with a stroke of luck, she passed the screening.
“It wasn’t planned… I thought it’s very expensive to go abroad and I was very young. It was in US that I heard lot of people immigrating. I was just a fresh graduate and I really didn’t have any plans. There was no purpose for me but Canada became my home.”
“I went to Canada and then I was employed by the provincial government, Ontario government… I passed all the exams at the Civil Service Commission in Ontario and they assigned me to the Ministry of the Attorney General.”
After a year of experience in an entry level position, Cora was reassigned to the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations and her career progressed from there – having roughly 30 years of government service.
Opportunities along the way
Cora started a family in Toronto, Canada. She got married in 1971 and had her first child the next year. In a few years’ time after migrating to the country and working in the government, she was chosen as one of the few who were sponsored to further her studies.
“I went to school, back to the university in the evening for four years while working in the government… and I’m also having my new family. It was hard because it took a lot of discipline, commitment and time,” she said.
“If I look back I’ll say, ‘How did I do all that?’ But it’s all the motivation because my school fees were paid by the government… I also attended seminars and conferences for career growth.”
The promotions came one after another as she held a wide range of managerial positions and served on major interdepartmental review committees.
“I pushed myself and my adrenaline kept me going… There were moments when I recharged myself, had a break with the family. But I didn’t stop, I didn’t quit.”
In 2001, the Filipino community urged Cora to put up a travel tourism office in Canada. Hence, the Canadian Association of Philippine Travel Agents was founded.
“We didn’t have any travel tourism office in Canada at that time… But when immigration started to grow, there was a demand. We had a lot of travel agents but there was no tourism consul office. And so, we organized this association.”
“Since then, we had travel agents and operators who focused on travel to the Philippines… Unfortunately, they closed it for budget reasons but they started to rally again for one as they plan to reopen it.”
Embracing the country – its people, food, environment
Although missing the Philippines, Cora was later on able to live the life around her. She delightfully recalled the excitement she felt whenever she saw a kababayan (countrymen) aboard a transit bus and how the once foreign country slowly felt just like home.
“In the whole of the country of Canada, there were only 20 million Filipinos… And in Toronto where I settled, I didn’t see that many Filipino back at the time. There may be some. Not that many ‘cause if you were to compare that to this time, everywhere, there are groups of Filipinos.”
“In terms of the food, I used to have baon (packed lunch). I cooked rice and then I put some eggs and all these. I cannot just go there and have some chicken noodle soup and crackers and cheese for lunch… I was lost to and there but the people were so hospitable in a way.”
As time passed by, Cora was able to embrace Canada and excelled even more at work.
Always offering a helping hand and keeping an open mind, the Canadians saw her commitment, dedication and hard work and entrusted her with various positions she held for years.
“I’m thankful… I didn’t realize that because of helping, of opening up, I was learning. I was learning somebody else’s work. So when the supervisor’s or the manager’s position was opened, they put me there. I don’t apply. I’m lucky. But I also worked hard,” she beamed.
Words kept in her heart
Leaving the Philippines, Cora was guided by the words imparted to her by her father.
“My father said, ‘You don’t have to be shy because you have a color… In the eyes of God we’re all the same no matter what color you are. The only time there’s a difference is when you say, ‘I am brown and they’re white. I come from a different country and therefore I am second to them.’ And my father said, ‘You have to prepare yourself. You have to embrace all that.’ And I go by that quote.”
“And I remember when I had to speak. In my first job, one of my functions was to explain an act – act is a law. First, I’m not a speaker. Number two, I don’t know what it meant. But then my father said, ‘You go out there. You think of them as they’re all your equals. In the eyes of God, they’re all the same.’ And then so I went, prepared and since then, I loved speaking.”
But it was not easy as she faced challenges at work. Being branded as ‘colored,’ she was looked down and her promotions were questioned.
“They went to the labor union and asked, ‘Why was she promoted and not us? She’s colored.’ I said, ‘It’s not my fault. There must be a reason why they promoted me… I didn’t apply, they just put me here.’”
“‘It’s the way how they look at me at the time… It was difficult. They made it so difficult for me. But then, if you do your job very well, there’s always that recognition and acknowledgement. Do the best that you can, recognizing that there is a growth for you.”
Cora just kept soaring and saw challenges as means to become tougher.
She served as the President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce-Toronto (PCCT) from 2005 to 2006 and the President of the National Alliance of Philippine Business Trade and Tourism (Canada) from 2009 to 2012.
In 2009, the Canada Asian Network awarded her along with other outstanding Asians. These were individuals who have contributed to a series of categories: public service, business, sports, arts and sciences. She was nominated under public service and business – and was the only Filipino recipient of the recognition.
Always giving, always helping
Already working in the government, managing two travel agencies and nursing his ailing husband at that time, Cora was still able to set up a school in Toronto in 1999 – the Delamar Institute of Technology, Inc., a private school registered with the Ministry of Education.
“In the 1980’s and then early 90’s, the Canadian government gave caregivers the opportunity to go out, improve themselves and apply for residency… However, these caregivers had to show that they have made improvements for their careers if they want to move out from being a caregiver,” she explained.
“While I’m there in Canada, I sponsored cousins… as caregivers. They came to me and said, ‘The Immigration said we have to show something that we went to a school or we upgraded our skills.’ I said, ‘Okay, I will rent a couple of computers. Get all your caregiver friends. Come to the basement, Saturday and Sunday. I will teach you how to do the computer.’
After three months, her students increased in number. This prompted her to rent a space downtown, hire teachers and open the vocational school which taught computer usage and personality development.
Returning to the Philippines
Still having more to give, Cora, then 63, eventually came back home – not as a tourist or retiree but as the Executive Director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (CanCham).
“I still would like to do something. I still can contribute. I had so much in me that I wanted to share… I was given the offer and accepted it. There were things I still wanted to do. I had a lot to offer and I wanted to see the country. I haven’t seen it for so long. I was so young when I left.”
“Now I’m here. I enjoy my work. I get to meet with members and share the business experience that I have in Canada, the work ethic, the business ethic that I gained in Canada. In here, of course, you cannot just say, ‘This is the Canadian way of doing things.’ No. it’s applying it in their business.”
As the chief operating officer, Cora is responsible for the delivery of programs and smooth operation of the organization in relation to its members. She presents business opportunities both in Canada and in the Philippines through trade missions and events.
When asked about her plans for CanCham, Cora said that she would like the organization to have at least 500 members – it has 318 members to date.
“What I would like to do is to be able to expand the network of Philippine companies doing business in Canada and at the same time, expand the number of Canadian companies trading here and in the Philippines. Let them know that the Chamber can assist in finding networks, finding links and that they can use the Chamber to be the stepping stone and we will make the connections between the two countries.”
On Being an Inspiration
Cora believes that every moment should be seen as an opportunity.
“Keep on looking… There’s always opportunity around. It’s not something that has to be fed to you. Make an opportunity for yourself. And for every person you meet, there is an opportunity. If it’s not now, maybe later on. A lot can happen.”
More importantly, she believes that a positive outlook in life is a gift we can give to the world.
“Life is good… I always say that. Adversities, these are temporary. Life can still be good. Sickness, you look at things as life is still good because it’s teaching you a lesson to be tough; it’s teaching you a lesson to be strong because a person is drawing strength from you. So I say, well, life is good.”