‘Mama Ching,’ still a Fil-Canadian community dynamo at 91
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — The first time one meets Consolacion Quejas, or Mama Ching to the Filipino Canadian community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), one is struck by how tiny and fragile she looks. After she holds out her hand and shakes yours, her strong grip will disabuse you of that notion–she is definitely not fragile. And her longevity and drive– physically, emotionally and organizationally–are the stuff of legend.
A strong grip is not the only indication that the lady has nerves of steel; at 91 years young, Mama Ching has a long list of accomplishments that others half her age could only aspire to emulate.
Mama Ching has been a pillar of the Filipino Canadian community for at least 30 years. She is an innovator, a crack at fundraising, smart as a whip, and she is famous for never taking no for an answer when she wants a yes from you. Nobody can resist the persuasive charm of Mama Ching–a long line of eager supporters can attest to that.
Many leaders in the Filipino Canadian community look up to Mama Ching. She is very inspirational, having moved mountains to espouse the cause of seniors and the marginalized. She is a founding member of the Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre (KCCC), a recognized venue of very important Filipino events in the community.
Kalayaan’s story is also the story of Mama Ching’s refusal to let the naysayers pull down her goal of getting a building that would house the Filipino Canadians’ dream of having “a place of their own, where they will be welcome and enjoy that feeling of belonging, even in the middle of a cold Canadian winter.”
Consolacion Quianzon was born in the small coastal town of Currimao, Ilocos Norte on May 2, 1924, to Carlos Quianzon and Alejandra Libed. She is the eldest, and only survivor, among five siblings.
She grew up in Currimao, finished her elementary education there, graduated from Ilocos Sur High School in Vigan, her teaching course in Centro Escolar University (CEU) and law at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1963.
She was a teacher until 1957, and started practising as a lawyer in 1958. She was a fiscal examiner with the Land Tenure Authority and a legal assistant at the Land Reform Authority before her appointment as a commissioner of the Court of Industrial Relations.
After that, she practiced law, specializing in civil and administrative law, at the same time that she served as a consultant to the National Labor Relations Commission.
She came to Canada with her husband, Hospicio Quejas, in 1985. Although her intense work schedule affected her health, it has not dampened her passion as a volunteer community worker in Mississauga, where she has resided for the past 30 years.
“I had a triple bypass in 1980. I had a second open heart surgery in 1991 for quintuple bypass at Toronto General Hospital (TGH), 11 years after the triple bypass,” said Mama Ching.
“In 2003, I was going to have another operation because of regurgitation in my mitral valve and aortic valve but I was found to have very high creatinine count–high potassium–so they did not proceed. (Now) I just stop doing anything when I feel tired. And I go for dialysis three times a week,” she added.
“I was going to be a sponsor at a wedding and I was waiting for Jojo, my assistant. When she arrived, I couldn’t stand. I asked her to take me to the hospital. That was July 7, 2012. The last thing I remember was being wheeled into emergency. When I woke up it was the end of August at Credit Valley Hospital,” mused Mama Ching.
She had pneumonia and a viral infection. “All the priests, and even the archbishop, were convincing my daughter to pull the plug, but every time she held my hand she felt a strong sensation, and she said let us just leave her to God,” shared the nonagenarian.
She was in a two-month coma. When she came out of it, doctors were amazed that she did not lose her faculties–her memory was as sharp as it was, and she could still talk extemporaneously.
“God has more tasks for me to do. Before I got sick, the board of directors (of KCCC) said I will be president until we finish off the mortgage, and I said I will be 100 then!”
Mama Ching is still very much in the thick of things at Kalayaan. “I take care of the fundraising projects,” she states.
“I asked for funding to equip the Filipino indigenous bands and they play for others from ages 7 to 80. We have a rondalla–important to keep heritage groups going. We hold zarzuelas in different venues, showcase talents, hold painting exhibitions, sometimes concerts of budding and seasoned artists, playlets are often held in Kalayaan’s state of the art stage. We teach heritage classes here too,” she added.
Kalayaan also places newcomers for employment, in addition to holding leadership training for kids, regardless of color or ethnic origin.
Mama Ching, shared her dream, “I wanted to get a bigger area, so we can have a playground and our own picnic ground. We can even put up a senior daycare, to start.”
“If you want to make a difference, you need a hands-on policy of leading, and then people follow,” Mama Ching advised community leaders.
When asked if Kalayaan has a fundraising activity she wants global Filipinos to support, Mama Ching invited all those who can to attend Kalayaan’s golf classic. This will be held August 15 at the Royal Ontario Golf and Country Club in Hornby, Ontario.
The cost is $140 per player including buffet dinner, 100 without dinner. A foursome gets two golf carts free. Call 905-602-0923 and ask for details. Tax receipts will be sent to participants and donors.
Readers who wish to can send support to Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre, 5225 Orbitor Drive, Suite #3, Mississauga, ON L4W 4Y8.
Kalayaan’s registered charity number: RR888226925RR0001 (tax registration for donations). Anybody who wants to book Kalayaan’s hall for events can email [email protected].
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