Memories of another refugee crisis

The news photos and television footage of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada brought back personal memories of another influx of people from a different war torn region of the world.

Back in 1980 my parents were part of a community effort in Brantford, Ont. to bring in families of Vietnamese boat people. They found homes, clothes and the other amenities of life for the newcomers who arrived with very little. In time, the newcomers became active members of the community. The son of one couple took engineering with my son at Western University. Others have done well in businesses they started in the city.

When the Brantford delegation picked up their families at Pearson Airport and drove them to Brantford, there weren’t any politicians present making it into a photo op. What they undertook was practically unheard of back then although I remember Hungarians coming to Canada and Brantford in the aftermath of the failed Hungarian revolution in the 1950s.

What my parents and thousands of Canadians across the country did enabled 100,000 Vietnamese to come to Canada. We’re a better country for it.

Years earlier, Mum and Dad brought a young man from Antigua and put him through two years of high school, university and teacher’s college. In the process Vernon became a member of the family and went on to become a school principal in Brantford.

When Dad was in his final years became at times despondent about the ravages of old age, my siblings and I looked for ways to cheer him up. One that worked was asking him how many people in the world had white, black and Asian kids who called them Grandpa. Dad thought about it briefly and with a big smile, decided he might be unique.

One of the Vietnamese who arrived later was a small man named Sun. The Vietnamese called my Dad Father. Pop would always greet Sun by saying his name in a loud voice to which Sun would reply Father. Dad loved to imagine people nearby trying to figure out how there could be a connection between the two.

I’m sure that Mum and Dad and other now mostly departed folks who worked to bring the Vietnamese to Brantford would have felt especially gratified when groups representing Vietnamese Canadians raised funds to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.

My parents and their friends did what they did because it was the right thing to do. Just as bringing the Syrians to Canada and the other groups in the years since the arrival of Vietnamese was.

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