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My Family Story

40 years ago, my family fled Vietnam after the war, with the very few belongings they had and could carry.

My father and grandmother had been separated, dad going by plane with insecure documents to Paris and my grandmother on a boat filled with a hundreds of other refugees, with no known destination…stopping at port after port to see which country might take them in.

My grandmother paid a lot of black money to go on a boat along with 3 kids she brought with her. There was no running water (which meant defecating onboard, or if you dare..by hanging off your bum off the edge), meagre rice gruel every few days to give a few negligible calories, and no place to lay down or stretch out your legs. Each day, they were subjected to the harsh sun or torrential rain. One month later, they were taken into a holding bay in Malaysia, and eventually found out that my father had made it to France. Documents were done to get my grandmother & the kids over to him.

There, my grandma and father were reunited, along with my three aunts. They all worked hard to make ends meet, while learning a new language and immersing in a new culture, facing severe judgement and racism. My dad told me of a story the other day, where he worked around the clock at 3 jobs, and would sleep in an empty restaurant booth at night.

A few years later, after my parents met in Paris and got married, they were sponsored to come to Canada, to make yet another new start. Very shortly after, I was born, and we lived in a 3 bedroom townhouse with 13 people.

Each of my family members has a story that movies are made of, yet a story not so unique to my family alone. Each of these paragraphs can be expanded into a tale of it’s own, of the resilience of the human heart. More on that another time…

Now, they/we live a life of great joy and freedom. This could not have been done without the support of the Canadian social system, which offered supportive services that gave immigrant families one hand up in order to create thriving lives and be contributing members of society on many levels, big and small.  I am so grateful to be first-generation Canadian, where I have more blessings than I can count.

My prayer is that Canada continues to be a country where we welcome people, human beings, of all religion and creed. To open our hearts and look for ways we can lift each other up and areas where we can be of service. To listen to understand. To listen to learn. It is through this kind of presence and generosity, that people like myself and my family have been gifted the opportunity to thrive and hopefully, each in our own humble way, contribute to the well being of this beautiful land.

May all beings, be happy and free.

Alice Hong

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