My Tiny White Boots
Ivy Evelyn Taneo Alenton (+Video)
My name is Ivy Evelyn Taneo Alenton. I was born on an island called Cebu City, located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines. When I was four years old, my parents gave me a pair of tiny white boots. Around the top edge, they were red and blue, the colours of our country’s flag. When I tried them on for the first time, I was so excited. They were comfortable and smelled like new leather. I felt special because they were different from my other shoes. Our tropical country is hot and humid, so we would usually wear slippers called tsinelas.
I wore my white boots for family gatherings and the fiesta celebration when relatives enjoy meals together. It was our annual tradition to visit our grandparents’ house to celebrate the Santo Niño-Sinulog Festival. In my white boots, surrounded by my extended family, I felt a strong sense of belonging.
My father helped me a lot when I was growing up. I went to him often for advice. When I was 22 years old, my parents supported me in my training to become a caregiver so I could come to Canada where there were more opportunities, better health care, and cultural diversity.
But once I got here, it wasn’t easy. I was on my own facing challenges and starting all over again. Growing up, I spoke Cebuano at home, but my schooling was in English. However, when I arrived in Calgary, I still found it hard to communicate clearly. I was afraid of being misunderstood because of my accent. I worried about getting lost in the city, especially in the winter. I had to learn how to embrace the different climate. In Calgary, I didn’t have that sense of warmth and belonging that my white boots had given me as a child. I feared judgement and rejection. Wanting to fit in and be accepted, I wasn’t always true to myself.
In December 2018, I went back to the Philippines for the first time. I was with my husband and daughter. She had never been there before, and we made sure she had a wonderful time. My father took us to Happy Beach Cebu, a waterpark resort with giant, colourful inflatables and floating playgrounds where we sailed on pink and yellow boats.
When my father dropped us off at the airport for our flight back to Calgary, I had the thought that it might be the last time that I would see him, so I did not even want to say goodbye. Hugging him tightly, I just said, “See you next time, Papa Rudy.”
Two years later, my father passed away due to cardiac arrest. My only brother passed away a few weeks after that. It was so hard to lose two loved ones in just one month, especially during the Christmas season and COVID when travel restrictions were strict. I was not able to go home to the Philippines to pay my last respects to my father and brother. This made me feel isolated, but as an immigrant, I could deal with it. I already had the experience of feeling alone. My daughter was also feeling lonely because she could not see her friends during the pandemic. I was able to use my experience with feeling isolated to help her too.
It took 21 years to build confidence and authenticity, but now, in Canada, I have a loving and supportive family who gives me comfort, security and strength. I finally have the feeling of belonging back that I had when my parents gave me that pair of tiny white boots, as if they knew that one day, I would be looking for warmth in a colder country so far from our family home.