Vietnamese Canadians

Located in mainland Southeast Asia, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is bordered by China, Lao PDR and Cambodia, and has an extensive coastline along the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin.

After nearly a century of French colonial influence and seven years of war, Vietnam gained independence in 1954. The conflict left the country politically divided between the Communist north and the Western-oriented south. In 1965, the United States began to send troops to assist the South Vietnamese, marking the beginning of the second Vietnam War. In 1975 the North Vietnamese, supported by China and the Soviet Union, successfully forced out the Americans and reunited the north and south under Communist rule. Today, although Vietnam remains a single-party state, it is considered a post-socialist nation and has liberalized its economy to promote growth and development. It is still primarily an agricultural nation with a population that is largely Buddhist and approximately 87% ethnic Vietnamese.

Migration to Canada

Migration from Vietnam to Canada has occurred in two waves. The first wave began in 1975, after it became clear that South Vietnam would be taken by the Communists. Fearing reprisal for their support of the United States or South Vietnam, many sought an escape from the country. Canada admitted 5608 Vietnamese between 1975 and 1976. These immigrants consisted primarily of middle-class people who were accepted into Canada due to their professional skills or because they had family members in Canada to act as sponsors. Many spoke French, or sometimes English, as a second language.

The second wave occurred in two stages. The first took place between 1979 and 1981 and consisted of South Vietnamese refugees who suffered under the harsh conditions of the new Communist regime. This group was much more diverse than the first wave, consisting of immigrants of a wide variety of socio-economic standings and ethnicities, from both urban and rural areas. These refugees were often referred to as "boat people" because many made the dangerous journey from Vietnam on over-crowded boats to refugee camps in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia. An estimated one-third of the refugees who escaped by boat did not survive the journey. Canada was one of the main resettlement countries and accepted more than 50 000 Vietnamese refugees during this first stage.

The second stage, which began in 1981, can be said to still continue today, although the quantity of migrants has decreased since 1991. This stage is referred to as "continuous flow" immigration, consisting of migrants from overseas refugee camps and those immigrating through Vietnam's Orderly Departure Program.

In 2006 there were more than 180 125 people of Vietnamese origin in Canada.

Economic Life

By 2001, Vietnamese Canadians comprised the fifth-largest non-European ethnic group in Canada. They primarily live in urban centres in Ontario, Québec, British Columbia and Alberta, particularly in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Calgary. Because the Vietnamese are fairly recent migrants to Canada, the majority are first-generation Canadians who were born in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Canadians work in many different sectors of Canada's economy, notably manufacturing and scientific and technical occupations. Many Vietnamese Canadians are also entrepreneurs, owning and operating businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores. They tend to have the same employment rate as the Canadian average, but their incomes are notably lower. In 2000, the average annual income for Vietnamese Canadian adults was $23 000, compared to the Canadian average of $30 000. Those who migrated to Canada during the first wave of immigration tend to have higher incomes than those who arrived during the second phase, largely because second-wave migrants are less likely to have work experience that is transferable to the Canadian job market. Vietnamese Canadian seniors tend to have particularly low incomes, although it is very common for them to live with or be supported by their extended families.

In 2008, Canada and Vietnam celebrated 35 years of bilateral relations. Economic reforms in Vietnam (referred to as "Doi Moi" or renewal) have led to economic and social changes, and as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), Canada and Vietnam have strengthened their economic partnerships. In 2007, Canada-Vietnam shared more than $1 billion in bilateral trade. As part of the Group of Four (G-4), representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland have also increased diplomatic pressure to improve education, human rights, and religious and political freedom in Vietnam.

Social and Cultural Life

There is concern among the Vietnamese Canadian community that Vietnamese cultural values and practices such as religion and language be maintained. To prevent cultural erosion, formal networks such as the Vietnamese Canadian Federation, as well as informal social networks, assist the community in maintaining their cultural identity. Approximately half of all Vietnamese Canadians identify as Buddhist, while more than a quarter identify as Christian, and there are both Vietnamese Buddhist temples and Christian churches in cities across Canada. Both temples and churches play an important role in not only religious practices, but also in celebrating Vietnamese holidays, performing weddings and funerals, and organizing other social gatherings.

Notable Canadians of Vietnamese origin include concert pianist Dang Thai Son, who won first prize at the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in 1980; Eve-Mary Thai Thi Lac, federal Member of Parliament for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, Qué; and Carol Huynh, who won the gold medal for women's freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Olympics.