By Paul Nguyen
If you are like me, then your parents were among the countless thousands who fled communism nearly 40 years ago. They left everything behind and risked their lives on overcrowded boats in search of freedom. Canada was one of the many countries that welcome over 50 thousand boat people in 1979.
A historic moment happened last year when the Freedom and Heritage Flag (the golden flag with the three red stripes) was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill (Ottawa, Ontario) in honour of Journey to Freedom Day. Almost a thousand Vietnamese-Canadians celebrated at the sight of the Freedom Flag raised high at our nation’s capital. Many had tears in their eyes.
For many of us second generation children, descendants of the boat people, the Freedom Flag is a familiar symbol but sometimes not held close enough to our hearts. Imagine, growing up in a democratic, rule of law Canada and then losing everything you know or familiar with. Imagine you no longer could fly the Maple Leaf (symbol of Canadian flag) and had to leave everything behind. Our parents risked everything for us to have a better life. We must honour and cherish their sacrifice by making it our duty to remember the past and protect our cultural heritage. In this respect, it is our duty to honour the Freedom Flag. If we forget our past, we will be in danger of losing our Vietnamese identity.
The elders in our community have worked hard to protect our Vietnamese identity. Now we have an opportunity to inspire new generations of Vietnamese to learn and be proud of our history. This April 28, the Freedom Flag will be raised again at ceremonies in Toronto and Mississauga. The Freedom Flag reminds us of our parents’ journey, the many lost at sea, the endless fight for democracy and freedom. The Freedom Flag will mean so much more when the new generation continues to write the Vietnamese story in Canada. The Freedom Flag is more than a symbol, it is our identity.
I encourage young Vietnamese everywhere to ask your parents and elders about their life story before living in Canada. We have a rich cultural history that goes beyond the refugee story. There is a wealth of history and art, of music and literature that is carried in the hearts and minds of our parents and elders. Let’s preserve this knowledge. Let’s preserve this heart. Preserve it for future generations to treasure. Be proud to be Vietnamese. Let the Freedom Flag fly forever!
By Paul Nguyen