Sister Jeannine Nguyen is a member of the GSU Equity Committee. She volunteered to provide information on Asian Heritage Month for the GSU website. When I invited her to share a personal quote to include with the information article Sister Nguyen was gracious enough to share with all of us her family’s story.
As your locals or workplace’s recognize Asian Heritage Month in May, please take the time to not only learn about the celebrations and traditions of another culture, but to learn of the rich history.
Thank you Sister for allowing us to share your story.
Lori Walton, Chair GSU Equity Committee
My dad was one of the 60, 000 refugees who came to Canada by boat. My parents made the heart wrenching decision to split our family of 5 into two. My parents made the decision that my dad and older sister would accompany my dad on this risky endeavour in hopes of a better life for the family. My dad chose my older sister because my little sister was too young, and I had my grandmother who could help take care of me. My dad and older sister boarded the boat on the 5th of July 1979 at 2 am but due to the rainstorm that early morning, the boat had to make a stop near the Island to Thanh Ang. The boat was approximately 12 meters in length and 2 meters wide and had 105 people on board. My mom, little sister and I were left in Vietnam. I can’t begin to imagine what my parents went through, the thought of my dad and sister perishing in the the Pacific ocean crossed my mom’s mind many times.
There was an incident on the boat where the maintenance people mistakenly put water in the oil containers at night. When they went to refuel, they realized it was water and not gasoline and luckily did not refuel with it. They emptied the water into the ocean and used the containers to hold gasoline, which meant they had no water to drink for 3 days. They would catch rain water and used it for drinking. Food was scarce and they had to use salt water from the ocean to cook rice, which they did not eat much of. Only on the 3rd day out at sea did they see the peak of a mountain. This signalled an island is close by. After another day at sea, they made their way to one of the Indonesian Islands. When they landed, they were greeted by locals who provided them with water and some food. The police were notified and later moved the refugees to different towns and then to an isolated Island to keep the refugees for 3 months. Passing by the area was the French ship The Luminaire that was patrolling the area for refugees. They notified the UN and were brought onto a ship that transferred all the Vietnamese refugees to the Galang Refugee Camp on the Island of Galang.
Several months later, my dad and sister were interviewed by Canada and were later provided the Visas to enter Canada. They arrived in Canada on January 17th, 1980 in CFB Edmonton. After that they were moved to a CFB in Montreal. From Montreal they migrated to Val d’Or. My dad and sister were the first refugees hosted by that city. Only when my dad arrived in Val d’Or did he send the first telegram to my mom informing of their safe arrival to Canada and they’re alive. They stayed there for a few months, learned some French and then moved to Calgary in June 1980. My dad sponsored us and we arrived in October 1982.
My dad had the opportunity to go to California through sponsorship from family but did not choose the US. It would have taken longer to sponsor the rest of the family over in the US. My dad chose Canada because it’s a peaceful country. Although cold in the winter, the weather did not play any part in his decision to choose Canada. He wanted to secure his children’s future and give them the best opportunities in life, and Canada would allow that.
This story means more to me as I get older and as I recognize the many contributions and sacrifices my dad and many other refugees made in hopes of a better life. For Canada to recognize this and designate May as Asian Heritage Month, it reaffirms my dad made the right choice to choose Canada. We all contribute to Canada not matter where we are from.
President GSU Local 30401
GSU Equity Committee Member