After the Vietnam War, my parents risked their lives to leave a country that had been devastated by a 20-year long conflict. 2 million civilians perished in the country during the war with over 1 million military deaths on both the south and north Vietnamese sides. And then, almost immediately after the Vietnam War, their country was at war with Cambodia until the mid 80s. When my father and mother were in their early 20s, they left Vietnam with a group of people on a small man-made wooden boat that held no more than 15 people.
It was cramped and incredibly dangerous as they crossed the South China Sea. Many of the people in the boat prayed through each day and night that they would survive and reach safety. After several days at sea they finally reached the shores of Indonesia. Somehow in their confusion and exhaustion, they found their way through jungle to the nearest UNHCR refugee camp.
I was born in the refugee camp.
After a long wait of living there for more than 2 years, my parents and I were accepted into Canada with refugee status.
After we arrived in Canada, my parents worked minimum wage jobs as cleaners and labourers. They worked thankless jobs so that they could provide for their children. What money they could save, they sent to Vietnam every few months to support their extended families back home.
They struggled to learn a new language and raise their children, while also dealing with the traumas of their recent past. My parents’ struggles silently affected our family dynamics, but like most refugees they dealt with it as best as they could and avoided talking about the past.
As I’ve grown older, and learned how much my parents risked in order to find a better life for their children and themselves, I’ve realized that what immigrants have to do in order to survive and create new lives is something that should be honoured, not disparaged.
Whenever I see or hear people expressing fear and distrust against immigrants or refugees, I just think to myself, “Just because you were born here, and by birthright were given Canadian citizenship, that does not automatically make you a more patriotic or more valuable and respectable Canadian.”
When you voice distrust or fear against immigrants and refugees, I feel that as an attack on my parents and myself. When people cry out about “illegal aliens” from Mexico, I deeply feel solidarity with the migrants they disparage. I am no different from them. I see them in my parents and myself.
When people verbally and physically assault Asian people, accusing them of bringing the Coronavirus, they fail to see them as individuals, as people who are 1st or 2nd generation immigrants and refugees like my parents who deserve to be here as much as anyone lucky enough to be born here.
Whenever society is experiencing instability of any kind, we seem to always seek out visible scapegoats. We are invisible, but somehow are also only visible when you need an easy target. It frustrates me and pains me to see the hate, fear, and distrust against people who are just like my parents.
Please stop and interrogate and unlearn your own biases. Call out mistreatment and racism when you see it.