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Sealed with a kiss: Filipino artist showcases respect for elders, culture

This story is part of a CBC Sask. series featuring artists’ work in celebration of Asian Heritage Month. For more on this project, visit the main page at cbc.ca/lovesk, where you can see more of the art we’ll be featuring.

Filipino-Canadian artist Pepito Escanlar may have spent more of his life in Canada than the country he was born in, but now he is using his childhood memories to bring the spirit of the Philippines to life in Regina.

The 73-year-old came to Canada in 1975 and spent decades working as an architect. It was only after retiring in 2016 that he began to devote more of his time to painting and found his true passion.

“I started thinking about my childhood days, the places where I grew up. And I thought I should paint my heritage and my culture,” he said.

The images — children playing or street vendors hawking their wares — started flowing from him.

One of his paintings posted online depicts a flower vendor, with Escanlar exaggerating the woman’s facial features to depict her years of hard work and struggle.

“Somebody wrote me an email agreeing that, you know, indeed this lady that I portrayed, this flower vendor, is really a hard-working person and worked hard to raise a family. She said, ‘I know that because I’m her daughter.'”

As it turned out, the vendor had worked hard to send her two daughters to school, with the two young women studying law and medicine respectively.

“Isn’t that amazing? You think that she’s just a flower vendor, but her children are so successful,” he said.

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WATCH: Filipino artist shows CBC Saskatchewan his process: 

Filipino-Canadian retiree shows respect for elders with sculpture

Pepito Escanlar, 73, who lives in Regina, created a sculpture for Asian Heritage Month that reflects a common Filipino gesture called mano po, in which younger people kiss the hands of the elderly.

The dignity and strength of the elderly is also reflected in a sculpture Escanlar created recently. It depicts a common gesture called mano po, in which younger people kiss the hands of the elderly. The sculpture’s base depicts small boxes of colour, representing the gifts older people give children.

“By gifts, it doesn’t necessarily mean physical things or monetary things, but it’s the wisdom, the knowledge and the experience that the older one shares to the child,” Escanlar said, noting these are the most precious gifts of all.

A hand points at a wire sculpture, surrounded by sheets of drawings showing the simple outline of one smaller person bending over the hand of a larger person.
Pepito Escanlar shows steps in his artistic process. Here he drew an outline of ‘mano po’ that translated into the finished sculpture. (Janani Whitfield/CBC)

Escanlar said he marvelled when young people first began kissing his hands to show their respect, but he’s embraced his status as an elder now.

He has faced his own hurdles — a recession in the 1980s, job loss and other life challenges — but like the flower vendor he once painted, he has come out on the other side.

Sharing his stories and culture with his own family, but also the rest of Canadian society, is something he holds dear.

“We are very grateful that Canada accepted us to be immigrants,” he said, reflecting on the importance of Asian Heritage Month for himself.

“We had our share of struggles, of course, as we adapt to the new country, but overall I think we did very well and we should be thankful for that and show our appreciation by being good citizens.”

Check out our other Asian Heritage Month content here:

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