You can’t help but reciprocate because her smile is so infectious. Even from behind the COVID-19 mask the smile is evident in Mikayla Magbojos’ eyes.
At 21-year-old the Prince Rupert woman has a lot to smile about, and behind the smiling eyes are the experiences she has overcome to be stronger and more confident.
Mikayla may be a familiar face around the city as the young woman spends most of her time working in the dollar store her mother manages and also at a local hotel as a front desk agent. She has dreams of becoming a baker.
The value of hard work to get ahead has been a moral thread stitched through her life prior to coming to Canada from the Philippines when she was almost 13. She saw that value in her father as he worked hard in Canada to bring his family to a better life, she said. He is now a powerline technician for BC Hydro.
Her life in the Philippines was vastly different from life in Canada, she said. Born in Bocaue Bulacan, she doesn’t remember much about her very young years but remembers she was happy playing tag outside with her cousins when she could travel to visit them and when it wasn’t raining
“It rained a lot – more than in Prince Rupert, and we would get floods,” she said.
Before moving closer to her grandfather, aunt and cousins, they would travel by jeepney a long 12 seat, open-aired vehicle to get to a destination. She said there were no taxis where she lived, and they would often use a large tricycle for transportation.
Life in Canada was different and mostly what she dreamed it would be. The homes in the Philippines are not constructed the same, she said. She and her three siblings lived in a house with no hot water. There was just a cold tap, where they would bathe using water from a bucket with a cup. Many homes did not have bathtubs or showers, she said.
When she finally moved to Prince Rupert, she found, life easier in many aspects but more difficult in others. While she had taken English in school in the Philippines classes were much larger with 40 students in a uniformed learning environment. It didn’t prepare her for the immersion experience that she encountered when she was enrolled in elementary school.
“I was sad. I didn’t want to leave the Philippines, but at the same time, I was excited to come to Canada. It had been my dream to have my whole family together, so I was pretty happy about that.”
“I didn’t know how to speak English … So, it was really hard for me to write and communicate once I got here,” she said. “It was really hard for me to talk to people because at the time I didn’t know English. I could only yes or no.”
Due to the language barrier and time in the school year she arrived in the country, Mikayla, (called Kayla by her family but pronounced Kyla) had to repeat grade six.
Kayla said it was hard for her to make friends as she was not very social and she retreated inside herself. While she doesn’t think it was so much of a cultural barrier more than her own insecurities.
“I didn’t want them to judge me and say ‘Oh, she can’t really speak English,’. It was a fear,” she said.
Some kids were nice and patient with her, but others would use her mainly for food, she said as she always brought lots of goodies and candies to school with her.
“I would spoil them with that. They would only talk to me when I had candies.”
Mikayla said things started to change for her when she met Louie, a Filipino boy in her school who had arrived a year earlier. The two newcomers became friends. They were able to converse in Tagalog which provided her some comfort and relief from the struggle with English. He was able to provide advice, answer her questions, and offer a little bit of first-hand support during the transition to a new country and a new life.
Attending Charles Hays Secondary school she took mainly food and nutrition classes she said and her interest in baking started. While she wanted to participate in more activities and different classes like drama, she was still lacking confidence.
“I wanted to. I wanted to participate, but I was so scared,” she said. “I wasn’t confident enough, but I wanted to participate. I regret not doing it.”
Currently living at home with her two parents and one of her older sisters, she said during challenges her three dogs have given her comfort. One dog was left behind with the family when her eldest sister moved out of home.
The second dog arrived without her mom’s knowledge. Her mom had gone back to the Philippines because Mikayla’s grandfather had passed away when they brought the dog home.
“My dad and I adopted one female dog. She’s a terrier,” Mikayla said. “When my mom came back, oh, she was really mad.”
The terrier wasn’t fixed, Mikaya said while laughing, so a litter of puppies was the result. The family kept one of the puppies and found homes for the rest.
And Mikayla said the terrier did get spayed soon after.
Her family is important to Mikayla. They spend a lot of time together watching movies and singing karaoke is their guilty pleasure, sometimes eating the treats like donuts, cupcakes, and cheesecake that she bakes.
While Mikayla has had a few jobs around town at a bank, grocery store, the dollar store, and the hotel, her passion is baking.
Her love of baking started when she 14. She said she watched her older sister in the kitchen baking and would bug her to be able to help.
“That’s what drew me into it. My sister was the one who inspired me to bake,” she said. “I love it. It’s fun.”
She’s not a fan of television but she does watch Youtube videos for new techniques and ‘how-to’s’. After graduating high school she moved down to Vancouver to start college for baking. And then COVID-19 hit. She didn’t like being by herself, and the daily trek to the school meant two hours of travel on public transportation. She came back to Prince Rupert.
While being back in Prince Rupert she said she has learned to drive and got her driver’s licence after a couple of attempts, which she admittedly said was on her.
The first time ‘wasn’t good,” she said.
“I didn’t kill anyone. But you know… the second time, it was just like a ‘little’ mistake I made. The third time I passed.”
She is excited by the freedom driving has given her. Driving has increased her confidence and independence, she said. It allows her to get to work more easily where she can interact with many different people which helps her communication and English skills.
Coming to Canada as a young girl unable to communicate and scared of judgment to being a confident young woman able to study, work hard and get ahead while overcoming language barriers has been an evolution for her, she said.
“You know, knowing the language and being able to speak it a little better has made me more confident,” she said. “I talk to people far more often now.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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