By Garrett Simmons
Lethbridge School Division
Canada took in a large number of Vietnamese boat people when no one else would.
On Friday, guest speaker Judy Trinh highlighted the fourth annual Canada 150 ICE Awards Scholarship breakfast, as she spoke about her early experiences in Lethbridge as a refugee from Vietnam. Her family’s journey to Canada was highlighted in a Canada Heritage Minute: Boat People Refugees.
The Trinh family arrived in Canada in 1979 with absolutely nothing, but soon realized they had landed in a welcoming, supportive city.
“It is wonderful to be back,” said Trinh, who now works in Ottawa as a journalist for CBC. “Lethbridge is such a big part of who I am. This is a city that fostered my imagination, that encouraged me to grow.”
Trinh was four years old when she arrived in Canada, as the family’s first house was located a few blocks away from Fleetwood-Bawden Elementary School. She eventually went on to graduate from Winston Churchill High School, where she was inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame.
But it all started with a perilous trip from Vietnam to Malaysia, on a boat packed with well over 300 people.
“We are boat people, one of nearly one million refugees who fled Vietnam after the war,” said Trinh. “Now Canada, over the course of a decade, took in about 100,000, so one out of every 10 refugees that fled Vietnam.”
Canada’s efforts, and the policy decisions that enabled it all to happen, is only part of the story, however.
“It was the people that enabled our success,” said Trinh, who added many members of the Lethbridge community stepped up to help her family over the years.
Today, the Trinh family in Canada has grown exponentially. As the years went by, Trinh’s family sponsored relatives who made their way to Canada and made the most of their opportunity.
Trinh displayed a photo of her extended family, a family which has given back to the country that gave them so much.
“In this photo you will see a doctor, two urban planners, you’ll see a couple of engineers, you’ll see a dentist, you will see a pharmacist, four teachers,” she said. “So, we have been given this amazing opportunity, this gift to succeed, and all of us started in Lethbridge.”
She added the success of her family was fostered by Lethbridge, a trend she would like to see continue with refugee families that now call the city home.
“I think this is my hope for Lethbridge and my belief in Lethbridge, that this is a community that will continue to do this. That will be able to see beyond the desperation of a family in need, will be able to rally behind newcomers and not just help settle them but be an integral part of their success.”
Trinh also spoke later in the morning at Winston Churchill High School, where she retold her story to students currently in the Limited Formal Schooling program.
Her morning concluded at Chinook High School, where Trinh hosted a question-and-answer event. At Chinook, Trinh urged students to do their part to make their community welcoming to newcomers.
“I’m hoping that when you guys go about your days, when you interact with people, you know the impact that you can make, the power that you have in welcoming someone and in generating their success, as well as your own.”
Friday morning’s breakfast event at the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge also included high school displays of innovation, along with displays from 2019 scholarship winners Kanyon Jarvie and Amy Quan, Linda He, Maiya Clapton and Dewuni De Silva and Michelle Wu.