SAWA (Philippine Students, Activists, Workers, Artists) is a community organization based in Toronto, Canada.
SAWA was founded in 1998 as a not-for-profit organization guided by anti-racism and anti-oppression principles. We operate
as a volunteer-run collective.
Our primary goals are:
- To organize events that bring together different sectors of the Filipino-Canadian communities with a focus on artistic
expression and cultural pride;
- To promote a better understanding of social and political issues affecting our communities.
SAWA's first major activity was organizing a Filipino Arts Festival in June 1999. In preparation, we held five monthly workshops
from February-to-June at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and the 519 Church Street Community Centre.
Workshop topics were Ancestral History, Colonization, Youth Issues, Migrant Workers, and Globalization. We used storytelling,
music, dance, popular theatre, video and visual art to engage participants in the learning process.
We launched the Filipino Arts Festival with an art exhibition at OCAD, in collaboration with the Philippine Interdisciplinary
Students Organization. We built a life-sized nipa hut to display the participant's artwork and reflections from the workshop
We continued with a film and video exhibition sponsored by V tape and Pride Week featuring work by lesbian artists of
On June 12th, Philippine Independence Day, SAWA organized art activities and outdoor games for children at Seaton Park
In 2000, we organized a ground-breaking Queer Pinay Gathering. Our goal was to connect people of different sexual / gender
identities in the Filipino community. 150 participants, including 22 out-of-town delegates from Chicago, New York, San Francisco,
Vancouver, and Washington joined us in Toronto from July 7-9.
In 2001, SAWA created a theatre performance about migrant domestic workers and family reunification. The presentation
was co-sponsored by Intercede and the Mayworks Festival.
In 2002, SAWA organized a reading by Filipina-Australian author, Merlinda Bobis and launched a collection of her short
stories entitled, THE KISSING. The event was co-sponsored and held at the Toronto Women's Bookstore.
In 2003, SAWA made history by organizing the first-ever Pilipino Pride Stage at Pride Toronto.
Pride Toronto organizes Pride Week, an annual event that celebrates diverse sexual and gender identities, cultures, families,
friends and lives. In 2003, the Toronto Star newspaper estimated that more than one million people attended the annual Pride
Parade, making Pride Week in Toronto one of the largest events of its kind in the world.
SAWA called our Pilipino Pride Stage: Halo-Halo! (Mix-Mix!). The event featured Arnis martial arts demonstrations by
Combat Science, performers from Pardz Nite, DJs Jola and Sanfrandisco, and regional songs and dances from the Philippines
by the Glamourous Galaxy Girls.
The successful event had a strong presence in the Queer community and brought together different sectors of the Filipino-Canadian
In 2004, SAWA organized our 2nd Pilipino Pride Stage: Halo-Halo! PALARO! (Mix-Mix! PLAY!) with support from Pride Toronto
and the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal.
This time our theme was crowd participation! The glamourous Galaxy Girls lead the audience in Palaro (traditional Pilipino
games), Combat Science taught self-defence moves, and fitness instructor Rich got us activated with a "Pump It Up"
Queer Salsa group, MA-L, gave a stunning performance and acclaimed vocalist, Lilac Cana graced the stage with her powerful
voice and presence. Visual artist Jo SiMalaya exhibited a photography project that explored different gender/sexual identities
in the Filipino community.
In 2005, SAWA began a community arts initiative called THE JEEPNEY PROJECT. The goal is to organize a series of events
that raise awareness of social, political issues and bring together different communities.
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