11.00  Heritages of Labour and Mobility in Rural Manitoba

30 minutes

In Asessippi-Parkland, in Manitoba’s central-west, as elsewhere on the Canadian prairies, local history is often relayed through the trials and tribulations of early European settlement. Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, marking the genesis of the Canadian colonial project in the west, this history is that of perseverance and determination in the face of considerable hardship, and of family and community solidarity tempered by a steadfast individualism. These histories, of course, do not reflect the totality of regional experience, nor do they capture the pervasive inequality upon which the establishment of Manitoba’s capitalist agrarian economy was predicated. Still, given their near-ubiquity, they reflect a foundational narrative shared by many in the region. Overlaid by a rural romanticism, this narrative serves to validate the claims of residents to the place of Asessippi-Parkland, while at the same time, establishing specific criteria for belonging and exclusion. In the region, this “heritage” has emerged as a vital component of the region’s tourism sector. Yet, the very economic and social transitions that have prompted tourism as a strategy have simultaneously led to the deterioration of infrastructure and to the diminishment of labour supplies that would otherwise support a vital industry.    

This paper will draw on ethnographic research conducted in Asessippi-Parkland with the region’s newest immigrants—those recruited to ensure the viability of the new, diversified rural regional economy, and more specifically, the tourism and hospitality sector, established (though tenuously) in the 1970s. In 2009, unable to meet its labour needs regionally, the local hotel and conference centre in the town of Russell (a hub within the region) began recruiting temporary foreign labour. These predominantly Filipino workers have brought with them protracted histories of labour migration. These histories are personal and familial, but they are the outcome of an enduring strategy of labour export embarked upon by the Philippine state since the 1960s. As such, they are systemic and pervasive, and even as they differ one to the next in detail, similar social and cultural scripts are drawn on to make sense of them. Obligation, reciprocity, a commitment to kin and to the Philippine nation, selflessness, and sacrifice—such are the ideological parametres of Philippine labour migration.    

For those in Russell, however, these parametres have expanded to include the foundational narrative so central to rural regional identity within Asessippi-Parkland. Filipino newcomers harness the rhetoric of that narrative, framing their own mobility according to a history well-known and well-rehearsed in the area. In so doing, they make audible their entitlement and attachment to the place of Asessippi-Parkland, while simultaneously reinvigorating local heritage and recasting their own. With an eye to the ways in which this multifaceted and now transnational heritage “embodies relationships of power and subjugation, inclusion and exclusion, remembering and forgetting,” this papers will seek to complicate and disentangle this appropriation and adaptation of “local heritage”, and to situate it within the persistent unevenness characteristic of globalized capitalism. In so doing, and following from the objectives of the panel, it will aim to consider mobility as a locus of heritage-making, even as that heritage continues to rely on and reinforces a particular conceptualization of place.

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