About Tom Kertes

Pages

Who I Am

Wedding photo

I am a son, husband, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle, grandson, friend, and neighbour. I was born in Ellensburg, Washington (the territory of the Yakama). I live in Prince Rupert, BC (the territory of the Ts’msyan). I am a dual citizen of Canada and the United States. I moved to Canada in 2007 and became a Canadian citizen in 2014. My husband Ron and I were married in 2009 – on our tenth anniversary.

I am a teacher for the Prince Rupert School District at Prince Rupert Middle School. I teach Grade 7 and Drama. I am a member of the British Columbia Teachers’ Association and the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union. I was a teacher for the Haida Gwaii School District and I taught English and Drama at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary in Queen Charlotte.

I am a Catholic and a member of the Anglican Church. I have been a faith-based community organizer and I currently serve as the People’s Warden of the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew. I believe in social justice for all. I do my best to stand up for all others and to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

My Favourite Things

I enjoy hiking and camping, playing board games with friends, cooking, reading, and writing. I also love travelling – both near home and to far off places. I like camping for the weekend, going to small towns all around the world, visiting ancient sites, travelling on ferries and trains, taking part in traditional music and theatre festivals, and seeing rivers.

Oscar Wilde is my favourite playwright. Mary Oliver and W.H. Auden are among my favourite poets. (I’m also partial to e.e. cummings, Lee Maracle, Langston Hughes, and many more.) Literary romance, historical fiction, and serious science fiction are my favourite genres and I’m a fan of Ursula Le Guin, Ken Follett, Zora Neale Hurston, Eden Robinson, Tim Federle, Gore Vidal, Nella Larsen, etc.

I also love non-fiction writing, such as the writing of Hannah Arendt, MLK, David Harvey, Joan Didion, Thomas King, and John Ralston Saul. Science and philosophy are my favourite non-fiction subjects. I read about teaching, learning, thinking, writing, and schooling – drawing a lot from Paulo Freire and Lev Vygotsky. I used to own a children’s book store. I still love children’s books and I wish I had the time (and money) to open another small shop someday.

Things I Have Done

I was a community organizer with the poor people’s movement to end poverty, a network of community organizations committed to securing everyone’s economic human rights and advancing the values of respect, dignity, and the sanctity of human life. I helped organize a living wages campaign at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. This three-year campaign, led by homeless day labour workers, successfully achieved living wages – after announcing that workers would start a hunger strike on Labour Day in 2007. On the eve of a worker-imposed deadline, Maryland’s governor announced that worker demands would be met and the hunger strike was called off.

I was also a community organizer with the Liberation Learning Project in Vancouver, BC. The project helped organize the Child Care Equity Campaign at UBC, calling for gender equitable wages and a 20% “wage correction” for early childhood educators at UBC. Working with unionized child care professionals at UBC, who were members of the BCGEU, the campaign brought together educators, families, organized labour, and early childhood educators to achieve gender equitable wages, with an increase in fees or a reduction in spaces for children and families.

I used to work in public relations and media production. I worked with Save-a-Pet, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, IWT/Real News Network, Biz Kids Productions, and help produce viral videos viewed by tens of millions. I wrote op-eds published in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail and organized media events covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, CNN, ABC News, and CBC News. I was Policy and Communications Advisor for Ontario’s self-regulatory College of Early Childhood Educators. I was an AIDS activist in my early twenties and fought for LGBTQ+ rights as a member of ACT UP and Queer Nation.

My Family History

I was born in Ellensburg, Washington, within the traditional territory of the Kittitas. In 1855 this land was reluctantly ceded by treaty to the United States – at the conclusion of the Yakima War between the United States and several First Nations. Prior to this, the land had been claimed by the Spanish Empire, Great Britain (as part of British North America), and the United States. Just fifty years earlier, Lewis and Clark first made overland contact with the Sahaptian-speaking people of this region.

I am descendant to several waves of European immigrants to the United States, including great grandparents from Hungary and Ireland. My last name was originally Kertész – a Hungarian surname meaning gardener. I am also related to immigrants who originally lived in Germany, England, and other parts of Europe. This part of my family settled first in the Midwest and moved West by way of Kansas – finally settling in Wenatchee, Washington. My other family surnames are English and German in origin.

I am told that I am descendant to several lines of rustlers, gamblers, and bootleggers. The Second World War helped put an end to all this. My grandmothers were both nurses. My grandfathers were a government accountant and a radar operator (in the war) and factory foreman (after). I am the first generation, of three, to not serve in the United States military during a war.

My step-father Dean Smith died in 2012 from exposure to Agent Orange herbicide when he was a helicopter pilot for the United States during the Vietnam War. He suffered for many years from complications due to this exposure. Many Vietnamese suffered from the war as well, including from Agent Orange exposure and from the United States policy of forced urbanization (by destroying forest and farm lands to move people into the cities). My uncle John Wyatt also died from injuries sustained during the Vietnam War, suffering for many years from exposure to Agent Orange and other combat injuries.

I still practice much of the Irish Catholicism passed down from my paternal grandmother Mary, although I now attend the Anglican Church. My faith is grounded in the Gospel, Catholic social teaching, and liberation theology.