Sharing Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar

Episode 3: Michael Serapio, CBC journalist and anchor

December 15, 2021 Dr. Roberta Bondar Season 1 Episode 3
Sharing Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar
Episode 3: Michael Serapio, CBC journalist and anchor
Show Notes Transcript

CBC journalist and anchor Michael Serapio talks to Dr. Bondar about strong women in his life, finding your passion, racism and homophobia in journalism, and curiosity through the eyes of a child.

Follow Michael Serapio


Follow Dr. Roberta Bondar


Follow The Roberta Bondar Foundation

Support the show (https://www.therobertabondarfoundation.org/donate-2/)
Roberta Bondar:

The celebration of the 30th anniversary of my historic spaceflight continues back here on Earth with this podcast series Sharing Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar. Now this is an opportunity for you to join me while I explore life, creativity, flexibility, and change with my guests, some of the most famous and globally well respected Canadians. In each of these podcasts, we will hear a special guest express personal views about the present and the future. And if you have a deep passion for exploration and inquiry, whether it's through the arts, sciences, or athletics for example, the storytelling in this series is for those who wander, and those who wonder. Join me now to explore how some of the most notable Canadians exercise their creativity and curiosity in a wide array of fields. Unlike those of the night sky, these stars are within reach. So let's tap into their energy as they enlighten us. Michael Serapio is the understated elegance of voice and considered interpretation of the complex and often contorted and mixed up world in which we live. He has overcome pressures and obstacles born in another land surrounded by language not recognized as an official North American one, and aspiring to a non traditional professional goal. He has set and has met many challenges, refocusing from being a successful high level producer to return to his love of being immersed in the news. Now he enriches our lives as a highly prized anchor on CBC News World. What we actually hear though, is Michael's clear vision through his story thread, unbiased research, insight, and in depth understanding of how we will hear and assimilate the difficult and the sublime of the world inside and outside of our heads. And those ties. How about his name? What's in a name, you might ask? Well, it's one story thread that closes the space between a star like Michael, and a Star Voyager like me, he is a comfort for all of us. Let's begin. Hi, Michael, welcome to the podcast.

Michael Serapio:

Thanks, Roberta.

Roberta Bondar:

One of the ideas that we've been exploring with this series is the idea of curiosity. And that might be a good way to begin our own conversation today. When did you start getting curious about the news?

Michael Serapio:

Well, that one goes a long way back. I was not born in Canada, my family immigrated here and I was three years old, English was not my first language. And one way in which I did learn about English and learn how to speak English was watch, watching the news. And that was just something my dad did naturally. And so I would join him. And I was just fascinated by the storytelling, and again, learning a new language. And as I got older, it was a really good entree for my dad and I to talk about political issues and social issues and, and challenges and what was happening around the world. And that was, you know, I think it was a little bit of learning English, it was certainly about spending time with my father. And that just was this little seed that grew into this huge interest and be, becoming part of the news.

Roberta Bondar:

Do you know, I can relate to learning another language by watching the news or something. I remember when I was in France, and I was learning French, I would sit and watch the old black and white Flash Gordon's, which were all done for the French kids. And then that's how I spruced up my space language in French so, but...

Michael Serapio:

[Laughter] That's wonderful.

Roberta Bondar:

Did you think or know that you'd always want to be doing this, like, I always knew that I want to be a spaceman like nothing had flown off the planet in those days. So that's a spaceman thing. But what about a journalist? That's kind of a, that's a big word to spell for a little kid?

Michael Serapio:

Yeah, absolutely. And, and no, I actually, even though I enjoyed watching the news with my father it, it didn't actually occur to me till much later in high school. And a lot of that had to the fact that my parents, both of whom have scientific backgrounds. My dad was an engineer, before retiring, my mother was pre-med in university, went on to become a med tech because my grandfather unfortunately passed away, so they didn't have the funds to go to med school. But they both have science backgrounds, and they really wanted me to be a doctor, which I understand, you know, it's, of course, the Asian parents dream, "Oh, my child's going to be a doctor." [Laughter] So they planted that seed into your head. And so for a very long time in my life, for much of my younger years, I thought it was, that was my path. But you know, I didn't really have much of a passion for it. And it wasn't until later that I was able to put a finger on what was my passion. You know, I did try to do my parents path right through to high school. But you know, I'll be honest, I was maybe at best a B plus student in math and science. And that was with a lot of effort. And I think a lot of that just, I think about that now. And I think, why, sure, I could have applied myself more. But again, it just wasn't my passion.

Roberta Bondar:

So what happened?

Michael Serapio:

Well, it was, you know, my amazing grandmother on my father's side. And my grandmother, you know, I have this recurring theme in my life of strong women, and my grandmother is certainly one of them. And she, just a bit of background on her, she, she, as a young teenager, fled the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. And so she, her father, my great grandfather, her mother and her sister, were fleeing. And in that flight, my great grandfather had a heart attack, and he passed away, her sister died of dysentery. And it was just her and her mother. And luckily, she met my grandfather, who was a doctor outside of Manila, and her mother had health issues. And at that point, all these women, young girls who are unmarried, were being taken to become, you know, the euphemism "comfort women" into these rape houses in the Philippines for Japanese soldiers. So my grandfather, married my grandmother. So she kind of always had this inner strength. And then she, later in life went to the United States where she became a practical nurse. So she never stopped pursuing her dreams. And, and, and aside, she was actually a movie star in the Philippines for a time as well. So she had this amazing life. And she came up from Texas, because that's where she ended up settling. And we were watching the news. And for her, it was ABC News. She loved ABC News. And we were watching it together. And I must have been about 15 at the time, maybe 16. And, and I said to her, isn't that amazing? What, what a great, what a great job that would be, what a great crew would that be? And my grandmother said, "Well, why don't you do it?" I said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, there's no Filipino men in front of the camera, there's no men of colour in front of the camera, they'd never let that happen." And she looked at me and said, "So be the first. If, if they can do it, you can do it, just do it." And it was this click in my head that all these things I was interested in, politics, geography, world issues, current events was something that I could put together in a career, if I found the inner strength to pursue it, and that came from my grandmother.

Roberta Bondar:

Boy, there's a lot there. [Laughter] A lot there. It's, I was born into a family that didn't see anything different one person to the next. Except, of course, back in the 40s, and 50s it was all gender issues. I think that the city that I was in was not very diverse, to have a lot of experience that way. But we, I don't know why people just can't see people as people. I never have understood it. But let's talk about racism. Did it ever get in the way? I mean, beyond the internal dialogue in your own head? How do you think that played out?

Michael Serapio:

Oh, huge, huge, and it breaks my heart a little bit, you know. I, I was going to school and starting my career in the 90s. And at the time, I think to myself, well, and we were you know, we're, we were at this great moment in history and you're part of that where barriers were falling down all around us. And I thought what a, what a great era to be pursuing what I'm pursuing. Because, again, boundaries are falling, but I encountered boundaries, mainly around racism. Also homophobia down the road, but mainly around racism. I had professors at university, who basically said, "Oh, you'll be great behind the scenes, great behind the scenes." And it was this idea that I could never be in front of the camera. One of the first news directors I spoke with said, "Well, if you want to be on camera, you should get eye surgery to make your eyes bigger." I had a boss, one of my first bosses, when she out of the blue found out I was Filipino, she proceeded to tell me why she did not hire a Filipina nanny, and instead hired a British au pair because she said she didn't want her children to have a horrible accent. And this was unsolicited. So those things certainly got in the way and and, you know, I pushed through the best way I could, but absolutely it got in the way.

Roberta Bondar:

I just find the idea that you have to change your appearance to meet somebody standards, or whatever the heck they are, they're not really standards, they're biases. Gosh, that must have been really discouraging for you.

Michael Serapio:

It was, but as I said, I pushed through you know, I knew I was going to be a journalist. And you know, I'm also an immigrant kid, I don't pay for an education [Laughter] without the intent of working in what I studied, you know, it wasn't a luxury thing that I could throw aside and start something again. And so I, so I pursued it. And I was a producer and I was a really good producer. I was the executive producer of Canada AM before I was 30, I was around 28 at the time. I was a senior specialist producer, I was a parliamentary hill producer, I did a lot of wonderful things. And in each one, I tried to get something and I actually had put to bed this idea that I could actually do what I want to do, be a reporter and anchor, because I, no one was supportive around it. And so I just accumulated the skills that I could and do what I could as a journalist, just at the very least, to prove myself as a journalist. And, and luckily along the way, I did get opportunities.

Roberta Bondar:

You mentioned women in the media at that time. What about men of colour? I understand from your earlier comments that there is a paucity of men, but were there any men of colour for role models for you? Or mentors or anything?

Michael Serapio:

Yeah, a few and far between. I, again, it was by the time the 90s came around, there were there were particularly African American men in American media. And you know, the joke was, if you wanted diversity, watch the weekend because all the people of colour, essentially had to work the weekends. And, and so there were, the Canadian examples were fewer and farther between. There were women of colour. Not, not certainly men of colour, who were anchoring. Citytv in Toronto was, was the exception. But yeah, there was no huge male example. There were certainly more Asian women, I think of Der Hoi-Yin was probably the first Chinese Canadian business reporter on CBC National, I think of Wei Chen, who helped launch what was at the time CBC News World as a, was a banker, and there was Terilyn Joe on CTV. Those were the the women of colour, the Asian woman of colour that I would see, but there wasn't a lot of men of colour, and certainly zero Asian men of colour that I could recall from the time.

Roberta Bondar:

Well, it's, it's amazing that you, I mean, you're, you're now a role model for other people.

Michael Serapio:

I hope so.

Roberta Bondar:

So where did you find your inspiration, Michael?

Michael Serapio:

Um, well, you know, luckily, I had allies. You know, I think of Robert Hurst at CTV News who gave me a chance. I think of Sidney Cohen at Canada AM, who gave me a chance. Tom Haberstroh. These are names that mean nothing to anyone out there, but were real, the real life changers for me. Tina Cortese at CityNews, when I got there. But also beyond I found inspiration, you amongst them, you know, I talk about people pushing barriers and boundaries. And of course, you being the first Canadian woman in space was a part of that. And again, it's there wasn't a lot of men of colour. So I looked for ally ship, and examples of where barriers were falling. And you are a big part of that. The success of women oftentimes, at least gave me hope that other barriers would fall because you know, women like you, I think, Michelle Douglas in the Canadian Forces. Again, my life is defined by these examples of strong women, and I'm really glad that I'm speaking with you, because you are one of those strong women who, who gave me hope. Because if, if that barrier falls, perhaps the world opens up their mind to something else. You know, I had one journalism professor who worked at CBC News. And he talked about how Barbara Frum really changed the world because so many Canadians were trained to hearing only a male voice, a man's voice, giving, asking the questions, giving the news and Barbara Frum changed that and like Barbara Frum, you help push boundaries. And that's where I found inspiration, and then maybe, you know, with my own space link, that's, that's, that's part of the reason why I looked at something like you as being a great role model and a trailblazer for me.

Roberta Bondar:

So tell us, tell us about the space link.

Michael Serapio:

Well, I'm not an alien first and foremost. [Laughter] [Laughter] But I was born, I was born in July, and which the, you know, the, the the anniversary of, of the moon landing, which of course a huge accomplishment. For my parents, especially my dad, you know, they were living in the Philippines at the time. But having been, I guess, partly a, you know, an American colony for a time and of course, the great space race, they were very much invested in the story. And so my dad just had this huge fascination with space. And so when I was born in July, my parents, well, really my dad, he says to my mom, well let's name him after the astronauts. So I'm named for all the astronauts of Apollo, Apollo 11. So, so Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, I'm named after them. So my actual full name is Michael Edwin Neil, Nicholas, which is my mother's maiden name, Serapio. And because my parents are Catholic, we are Catholic, I was Michael because of course St. Michael had the the marquee in Catholicism in terms of saint names. So as opposed to Neil being the first man to walk the moon, I'm named after Michael Collins.

Roberta Bondar:

And you shared that story with your daughter?

Michael Serapio:

Not yet, although, you know, I'm dying to because she has, she is actually also born in July. So I don't know if this is the connection around and I don't know if you know anything about astrology, [Laughter] but people who are born in July sorry, forgive me. But, people who are born in July are, you know, every every sign has a planet well, cancerians don't have a planet they have the moon. And so I you know, I it's, it's great that the moon landing happened in July, and I was born in July, my daughter was born in July. But she naturally has this fascination with the moon. And so whenever, particularly in the daytime, because she goes to bed so early. She's only four. When we walk around, and she sees the moon in daytime, she'll always say, "Daddy, Daddy, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon." And so you know, she's too young to know the story. But I can't wait to share that story with her because she obviously has a natural fascination around celestial bodies. [Laughter] So it's something that I will definitely be sharing with her.

Roberta Bondar:

Well, I can recommend one of the first, actually the first book, that my parents bought, for me was A Golden Guide to the Stars, which I still have. So...

Michael Serapio:

How wonderful.

Roberta Bondar:

Yeah, I suspect there's a telescope in your daughter's future.

Michael Serapio:

I, you know what, I don't doubt it at all, she would absolutely love that. And you know, it's one of the things I do hope that I get to teach her, you know. It's, I said, it's funny, I don't know if I've shared this with you, but my husband, his family, they own a cottage on the American side, because he's, my husband is Canadian-American. And so his father and his brother, they live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and that's where their cottage is and so we crossed through the Sault to get to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to get to their cottage in the Upper Peninsula. And yeah, I don't know if I shared this with you, but we often go to Roberta Bondar Park in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and walk around. And so you know, beyond the moon, I just want her to really have this connection with the natural world. And I think a little bit about that is, you know, growing up in a city like Toronto, and being you know, immigrant kids in Toronto, it's very much an urban experience. And so we, I didn't really have a connection with, with the great Canadian outdoors until I was probably about my late teens, early 20s. And, and that's something that just really, really grew. And so we as a family, we go on hikes, we took at Elise canoeing for the first time, this summer, which she loved, I love portaging. And these are things I want her to have a connection with. So in the sky, on the Earth, I really just want her to have a connection, because are we not just so blessed to live in this beautiful, beautiful country where we can have all the modernity and, and the things that an urban existence offers you, but also, none of us are that far from this great land on which we live. And, you know, I I wish Canadians actually spent more resources and more, you know, time if they could to explore our own country because there's so many beautiful things to see and that's beyond the urban experience.

Roberta Bondar:

It's absolutely true, I mean the Space Station, and neither the Space Station nor the old Shuttle flies over the geographic center of our country, which is north of Baker Lake, inNunavut. People don't realize that they're used to seeing a map with the northern part of Canada looking like a conehead. [Laughter] There's this extraordinary place, I remember once it took me eight hours to fly from the Eastern Arctic to the Western Arctic, right across.

Michael Serapio:

Amazing.

Roberta Bondar:

It is an amazing country. And you're so right in what you're saying about your daughter because she, she looks at your enjoyment and your pleasure and what excites you and your own passions, and you're a very curious person. You have to be curious to be in something to do with the news, I mean, you have to have some kind of affinity for it.

Michael Serapio:

Absolutely.

Roberta Bondar:

And the curiosity towards the natural world. I, I really think that your curious nature just must ignite her some way, don't you think?

Michael Serapio:

Oh, absolutely. And I think she, but also, you know, me and my husband, you know my husband, he grew up mainly on a farm so he has this real tie with the natural world and, and I see it in my daughter Elise. You know, she, she likes toys, obviously she's a kid. But boy, she, she can spend a lot of time just looking at a leaf. Or this this, this summer, we planted pumpkin seeds in the back. And so it's growing and she just loves going every day and seeing the leaves grow. And now they're starting to change color. I don't think we're gonna get pumpkins this season, because she keeps asking for it. It's still too early yet. But she, she has this wonderful fascination she, she can look at a flower for such a long time pointing out different, differen colors, looking to the sky an asking about stars already a the age of four. You know, bein on the water, and asking, yo know, why can we see fish in some parts of the water and other parts we cannot? Like she just has these natural questions. And I will say, as difficult as the COVID year has been, it has really, for us as a family made us look about okay, where are the daytrips we can o? And where can we be further part from people just, just for safety sake. But that kind of isolation, or that that need for separation that's brought us to areas where even perhaps we wouldn't have thought of that are a little bit more remote, a little bit less traveled. And it's been this wonderful thing to watch her have this have these questions and curiosity. Because of course, you know, the older we get, the less, perhaps curious we get. And so it's nice to see the world with fresh eyes through

Roberta Bondar:

Well, I'm very curious about so much stuff [Laughter] we could, we could go on for a long period of time. But I think you've, you've taught me today that it's, curiosity is in many areas. One thinks of curiosity in science and, and arts as being a creative form. But to be able to be curious about how one can communicate and, and talk about very important issues, and certainly pass them on to people who are younger, to try to formulate them and in some ways so that they're more, that they reach more ears and understanding. That overlapping of ideas, certainly does start with curiosity. And I want to thank you, Michael, for joining, joining me today. As I said, maybe we'll do part deux sometime.

Michael Serapio:

[Laughter] I would love that.

Roberta Bondar:

Maybe at some point, you never know, Charlie Brown and a great pumpkin might arrive at your house [Laughter] And that's a whole new thing about art.

Michael Serapio:

I don't think you'd get my daughter back to bed for days after that [Laughter] if that actually happened. But you know what I would love to do a part deux and you're very welcome. And listen, I'm gonna thank you as well. Because I, I love what I get to do because I really think it's just Canadians speaking with Canadians, because I love the fact that we are a more intimate country and we are, at the end of the day, just people. But you as a person, as I said, you changed the trajectory of my life by going to space. So thank you.

Roberta Bondar:

That's, that's just lovely. Thank you. Michael, thank you. Big, big hugs to you and yours and stay safe...

Michael Serapio:

Thank you.

Roberta Bondar:

... and stay well and I will be watching you on TV. Bye bye. The privilege to engage with other minds and experiences continues. I would like to thank Michael Serapio for sharing his unique story with us today. Come back again in two weeks for the next Sharing Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar podcast when my guest will be hockey legend and physician Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser. Thanks for joining me.