TV drama focuses on Canada’s ‘most celebrated caregiver’
by Nicholas Keung
In life, Juana Tejada battled bureaucratic injustice to keep alive her dream of giving her family a better future in Canada.
In death, the diminutive Filipina left a giant legacy: Her battle brought about a change in federal law to better protect foreign workers who come to Canada as live-in caregivers.
The story, first brought to public attention in the Toronto Star , so moved her fellow Filipinos that she is now being immortalized in a 90-minute episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya (“Would You Remember”), one of the most popular TV dramas airing in the Philippines. The story is currently being shot in the GTA.
“We fell in love with Juana’s story when we first heard about it,” said director Dado Lumibao of the ABS-CBN production. “Hers is a very unique story. It’s very positive and inspiring. It depicts the strength of all the Filipinos working abroad.”
Tejada came to Toronto in 2003 through the live-in caregiver program, which then granted permanent resident status to foreign domestic workers after they completed three-year assignments and obtained medical and criminal clearances.
Having done the required service, Tejada applied for permanent residence in 2006, only to learn she had terminal colon cancer. She then faced deportation because she was deemed a health burden.
She became the face of a campaign for caregivers’ rights that, in 2009, successfully lobbied Ottawa to pass the “Juana Tejada law,” exempting caregivers from the obligation of taking a second medical exam to get permanent residence and reducing the live-in obligation to two years.
Tejada ultimately won permanent resident status, which made her eligible to bring her family here. The reforms came after her death.
The show’s 10-member cast and crew from the Philippines recently braved blustery winds at Toronto’s Earl Bales Park to re-enact the moment in which Tejada broke the news of her cancer to her best friend, Delia Saludares.
With teary eyes, assisted by bone-chilling winds, renowned actress Maricar Reyes, who plays Tejada, and Dimples Romana, as Saludares, embraced on a picnic bench.
With the scene finished, helpers immediately passed winter coats to the shivering actors.
“It’s a bit scary to play Juana,” said Reyes, whose heavy makeup and tall stature lent her little resemblance to Tejada, a tiny woman with a weathered face. “Juana did a lot for the Filipino community here. She is probably the most celebrated caregiver. I want to do justice to tell her story right.”
It was the first visit to Canada for Tom Rodriguez, who plays Tejada’s husband, Noli Azada. He said it was an adjustment working with a small crew abroad.
“It’s a small group of us. I was holding the reflector and carrying the jackets for my colleagues,” said the Philippines-born, Arizona-raised rising star. “It is not easy. But this is such a nice, but sad story. It is hard not to shed tears over her story.”
The weekly show is based on real-life stories of people in the Filipino diaspora. Tejada’s episode will be broadcast on The Filipino Channel worldwide, including in Canada, on Dec. 10, to mark the show’s 20th anniversary.