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Asian Heritage Month – Alfredo C. Tan reminds us to never forget our roots

May 28, 2021

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To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, Alfredo C. Tan – Senior Vice-President, Strategy, Data & Products at Rogers Sports & Media and Executive Sponsor of the Rogers Pan Asian Network –  reflected on his experience immigrating to Canada from the Philippines, and how he overcame some of the hardships  faced along the way.

Here is some of what he shared:

What was it like coming to Canada?
I immigrated to Canada from the Philippines with my parents when I was four years old, settling in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood with my grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Parkdale during the 1980’s was a landing pad for new immigrants and there was quite a bit of poverty and marginalization. But for the most part, as a child, you are largely unaware of the hardships. My mom barely had any education, and like most educated immigrants, my dad’s credentials were not as accepted here – so finding a job was never easy. Networks are often the easiest way to find a job, but that is a significant challenge for immigrants. I know it was hard for them since they did not have any connections here. They really did have to start from scratch.

Growing up, we lived with my aunt, uncle and cousins. It is normal in Filipino culture to live in a multigenerational home, and while it was certainly full of love, it was crowded and we were always struggling to make ends meet. Still, I fondly remember sleeping on the floor of my grandma’s bedroom and thinking it was all I needed. My mom and dad worked so much that I lived with my aunt, uncle, cousins and grandmother (who raised12 of us at the same time) during the school week. I would come home to our little apartment on the weekends to spend with my mom and dad.

As I grew up and made friends from outside of the Filipino community, I went through a period where I was a little embarrassed about how different our life was. I would go to friend’s houses and would go to their beautiful single-family homes. Everyone had their own room, with sprawling living spaces. And I also noticed they didn’t have cockroaches living in their houses, they didn’t have to take public transit or walk everywhere. Everyone had a car maybe even two. I would sometimes hesitate to invite friends over to our apartment, but I knew my mom and dad were doing the best that they could. All they did was work. I didn’t want my friends to think less of me and my family. I am grateful I grew up with such wonderful friends who never judged or made fun of our living situation. I am forever grateful for the childhood I had in this great country.  

You have had a successful career, what has kept you motivated?
I was motivated to work hard both in school and my career. I am naturally a competitive person and that helped fuel my motivation to work hard, but one of the biggest drivers was that I just didn’t want to struggle anymore. Being poor is really exhausting, both mentally and physically. I came to realize what my parents went through as new immigrants and for several years following as they built a home here.  I never had it as hard as they did, and that motivated me immensely to always want to do more.

My grandma also taught me, “People can take a lot of things from you, but what they can’t take is what is in your heart and in your mind. Learn and study as much as you can.” I have spent my life in the pursuit of higher education and knowledge wherever I can find it. I have been lucky enough to have studied in Canada, the U.S, the U.K. and Europe. My family never put any pressure to live up to any standard or to pick any field of study. It was always just do your best. My mom once told me (in Tagalog), “I am sorry that your dad and I couldn’t do that much for you. We tried really hard, but it was never enough. But God blessed you with a mind that is your weapon and maybe that was enough”. 

Success doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a journey that has no destination. It involves taking risks, investment of time, grit, perseverance, and incredible focus. I graduated without a business network, no work experience, massive student debt and no idea where to even start my career. Along the way I was blessed with mentors and friends that helped me through my journey. 

What are you doing to drive representation at Rogers?
I am doing my best to help drive change, create mentorship opportunities, and help others on their journey. We can create our own opportunities as managers, leaders, executives. The only way that we can change this is by changing it ourselves and lifting each other up.

Asians are unrepresented at the Executive level and at the Board level, but we are making strides for change with our recruitment processes, succession planning, and through our mentorship programs. I am the Executive sponsor of our Rogers Pan Asian Network, a newly developed employee resource group which supports Asian representation at Rogers. It’s a great network for employees to develop mentor and mentee relationships and share stories about our own individual struggles and obstacles.  I’m proud to be leading this community and to empower each other to be authentic and our true selves.

What advice do you want to offer people that are going though similar hurdles that you faced?

I’ll sum it up in five points:

  1. There are great people that will help you. Find them. There are allies you will meet in your life who will not only mentor you but will genuinely care about you as a person. They will become lifelong friends and will allow you to overcome some of our systemic challenges.
  2. Be endlessly curious about as many things as possible. Be different, have your own unique point of view, and ask questions.
  3. It’s never good enough. There is always room to be better. This may be a tough way to live life, and some may argue that we should be happy with what we have. While I do think that we should be happy and thankful in the moment, we should not be afraid to push for more.
  4. Never forget or be ashamed of where you come from and don’t fall into this reinforcing belief that you are better than anyone else. Remember your success isn’t all because of your own efforts.  You were also blessed with the circumstances that allowed you great success.  
  5. Find ways to give back, every single day. No matter how small.