I want to be proud to be a Vietnamese Canadian

DSCF1456 (605x341)

DSCF1456 (605×341)

by Việt Anh

When living and working in Canada, as well as all other ethnic groups, Vietnamese settlers – in some cases – inevitably suffer discrimination and racism from the white residents who are the majority.

Racism can take many forms, such as jokes or comments that cause offence or hurt, sometimes unintentionally; name-calling or verbal abuse; harassment or intimidation, or commentary in the media or online that inflames hostility towards certain groups (Szoke 2012). Listen to the testimonies of a victim:

“It was drizzling. We saw a Western woman, an elderly, crossing the road pushing a trolley. My friend got out of the car and offered to help her. But she scolded my friend. ‘Black-haired people this and that’. She did not let my friend push the trolley. She said she did not need any help. And she kept repeating ‘us black-haired people’ ” (Mellor 2004).

Behavioral racism can involve ignoring, avoidance, looking, mockery, unfriendliness, patronization, and harassment. At its most serious, racism can result in acts of physical abuse and violence (Szoke 2012). Such behavior occurs anywhere, including work place, as A.T. has experienced:

“They (white people) just sit at a table and eat lunch together. They never join with us. At first I just thought it was because we did not speak English fluently, so do not talk to them comfortably. But through their looking, I could just tell that they are just racism to looking to me. They didn’t like to say “Hello” to me, and they just walked past. “

Racism can directly or indirectly exclude people from accessing services or participating in employment, education, sport and social activities.

On a structural level, racism serves to perpetuate inequalities in access to power, resources and opportunities across racial and ethnic groups.

The belief that a particular race or ethnicity is inferior or superior to others is sometimes used to justify such inequalities (Szoke 2012).

The sad thing is not only suffering discrimination from native whites or from other races, Vietnamese immigrants sometimes suffer discrimination from their fellow as well! This can happen to anyone, but it will most likely happen to new comer immigrants.

Listen to H.V.’s story:

“I came to Canada when I was attending ninth grade. Arriving to a new and modern country from Tay Ninh, a small province back home, I did not have friends and did not know anything outside his family. My family encouraged me to learn English to make it easier to adapt to life. I was enrolled in a school not far from home. First day of school, I felt very restless and nervous. I thought my English was not as good as other students, so I was afraid the teachers might soon be disappointed by my learning ability. My family told me to ask help from other Vietnamese classmate. But then, I realized that teachers here were much different from what I thought. They were very patient and nice to students. Contrary to my expectations, I got the discrimination from my Canadian born Vietnamese classmate. When I started speaking in class, they giggled and sometimes laughing out loud as my entire face reddened. Sometimes they imitated my accented English. They called me FOB (Fresh off the boat). Of course not everyone did so. But many of them refused to help me. They did not want people to see them talking to me because by doing that they might be mocked at. So in my first years, I felt really lonely. “

K. V. who came to Canada at the age of 6, and had different experiences:

“When one hears about interracial relationships, one would think of the most varied combinations – a Caucasian and an African American or an Indian and a Chinese. Growing up in Toronto, a multicultural environment, has taught me that different ethnic backgrounds should not define a person. However, it seems that I also have to fight this battle, even when my girlfriend is Vietnamese.
I met my girlfriend in high school. What made it even better was the fact that she was also Vietnamese so we had a lot in common. I was proud to be Vietnamese and I really thought she was the one. I could not wait to take her home to meet my parents for the first time. My parents are very traditional and they typically want their three sons to date Vietnamese girls and carry on the culture. I brought my girlfriend home to have dinner with my parents. Far from what I had expected, my mother was cold and reluctant to engage in any conversation with my girlfriend. After she had left, my mother sat me down with a serious expression on her face “You can’t date her.” Even more shocking than those words, was the reason being my girlfriend came from the northern part of Vietnam, Hai Phong. “We cannot have you date that kind of people. They are a bad influence on you. They give Vietnamese people a bad name” She gave me other ridiculous reasons such as my girlfriend dying her hair blonde and that her accent was “annoying”. She kept telling me that if I continued this relationship, I would never be happy in future. This tore me apart. As much as I love my mother, my girlfriend had done nothing wrong and there was no reason why we should not be together. I could not grasp the fact that Vietnamese people can be discriminating against each other due to certain stereotypes. She could not look past the assumptions and judge my girlfriend as an individual and not based on where her parents come from. After that day, my mother always gives me a hard time when I spend time with my girlfriend. It not only drives us apart, it also gives my girlfriend an uneasy feeling to be with me.”

In the case of D.D.T. who was born and raised in South Vietnam before 1975 and came to Canada in 2002 with his family as a skilled worker immigrant, he had different and sad experiences that were caused by the 30-year war legacy in his home country.

“I came to Canada as a skilled worker in 2002. I was among the very first skilled workers from Vietnam. At that time most of people in Vietnam had little knowledge of this program. Although many Vietnamese in Canada knew this economic immigration since there are many skilled worker immigrants from all over the world such as India, China, Eastern Europe and South America coming to Canada every year, they do not think this program is for Vietnam. The simple reason is that they think the Vietnam government never accepted skilled people leaving the country as many years earlier.

I came to Canada with my whole family, my wife and two children under 20 years of age, as they were my dependants.

Learning we have just landed Canada, my aunt in Mississauga called me to say hello. Her first question is “Tell me, what were you doing for VC in Vietnam, so they (VN government) allow your whole family to go abroad like that?” I explained I actually was an engineer working for a limited company. I was not a party member or a government officer. But she still seemed not to believe what I said. She said she has never seen any Vietnamese immigrants coming to Canada without a sponsor, and most of all coming with the whole family like me.

Another time, in a family doctor’s office, the same story repeated. An elderly patient asked me, “How long have you been here? “. “Half a year,” I replied. After talking for a while and knowing that I used to be an engineer and immigrated to Canada as a skilled worker, he did not believe me. He asked me what had done in order to get out of the Vietnam. I said I just downloaded applications from Canada CIC website and followed the instructions provided by website. After several months of processing, I was called by Canada for an interview and I was accepted to immigrate to Canada. He was not convinced and told me in an assertive manner: “Do not lie to me. I used to be an engineer, too. When I was about to leave Vietnam for my family reunion, they (VN government) did not let me go and built up so many difficulties to stop me from going abroad. If you had not lobbied, how you could immigrate to Canada with the whole family like that?!” I was very frustrated for having told the truth but no one believed me.

Once our family went to a Vietnamese temple to attend a ceremony. After the flag ceremony, my son asked, “Daddy, what’s that? Why did we salute this flag? And the national anthem we sang is not the Vietnamese national anthem? I did not understand anything.” I calmly explained to my son that it is the flag of the country in which I was born and grew up. It was the flag that I used to salute during the first 20 years of my life. I now have the opportunity to salute it again, just like I am coming back home. Later on when you read the Vietnam history, you will understand that.”

But gradually, there were too many things that happened and made me no more feel happy “back home” as I thought. Temporary working at a packing company to survive, I met some Viet fellows there. There is a middle-aged man who was so friendly to me at the first time we met. Through the conversation, I knew he used to be an officer in the Republic of Vietnam army before 1975. However, only a few days later, he suddenly changed his attitude. He did not say hello nor talk to me anymore. I was so surprised and wondered how there could be such a rude man in this world. Later on, by learning from other Vietnamese workers, I realized that he probably thought that I was sent to Canada by Vietnam government to work for them. In other words, I’m a “resident VC”! I felt so sad about it, but could not do anything to prove or to explain they were misunderstanding. I knew that this is a misperception. But I did not understand why in such a country of freedom and full of information people could so easily misunderstand and misjudge others like that. “

The story of  D. is among numerous other stories of discrimination in our Vietnamese community related to the legacy of the war. But discrimination is not just caused by geographical differences, old comers to new comers, boat people to “air people” etc. Feeling discriminated or isolated within Vietnamese community also occurs among the second generation Vietnamese children who were born in Canada.

“My fluency in Vietnamese being underestimated by Vietnamese peers,” “Discomfort from not understanding Vietnamese in-jokes and idioms,” “Feeling isolated in my Vietnamese community,” “Uncomfortable speaking with my parents in Vietnamese because I’m not entirely fluent in the language,” and “My ideals being rejected by my family members because they are seen as too Western” (Lay and Nguyen 1998).

In conclusion, racism and discrimination can occur in any situation, any circumstance between the members of a community, especially in communities of new immigrants from a country of war and poverty, the war to a rich and civilized country where the life and culture is completely different.

Discrimination brings disastrous consequences for the individual, and thus affects the whole community. Victims of discrimination suffer many mental effects that lead to long-term psychological syndrome. Adolescent and child victims tend to lose confidence and have difficultly developing their talents in a comprehensive way. Racism prevents the use of community services equitably and causes division and disunity within the community.

Racism and discrimination is unavoidable, but never can be a healthy sign and contributes to the advancement of a community and the social integration. We need to raise an awareness of the issues of discrimination and racism in order to help our community better settle in Toronto and we need to work together to create a safe and happy environment that provides prosperity to everyone.

VWAT Family Services would like to receive the opinions and comments of all our countrymen on these issues and discuss ways to reduce unnecessary misunderstandings. All of us take pride in being Vietnamese Canadians. Let us unite and support each other in life, join hands together to build a better life in this beautiful country. All comments to our Community Working Group sent to congdong@vwat.org are most appreciated.

Researched and Written by Viet Anh


Szoke, H.  (2012) National Anti-Racism Strategy. Australian Human Rights Commission, 4-5.

Mellor, D. (2004) The Experiences of Vietnamese in Australia: The Racist Tradition Continues. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies Vol 30, No.4, July 2004, pp. 631-658

Lay, C and Nguyen, T (1998) The Role of Acculturation-Related and Acculturation Non-Specific Daily Hassles: Vietnamese-Canadian Students and Psychological Distress. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 1998, 30:3, 172-181

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