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Born in Hanoi, Vietnam |

Helen arrived in Canada as a refugee at the age of two along with her pregnant mom, dad and paternal grandparents. Leaving a few years after the end of the ‘War with the Americans‘, they sought refuge from the persecution of Hoa people (ethnic Chinese) that was occurring after a brief border war between China and Vietnam. Helen is part Chinese, and from what she has been told, things got worse after the war and the government turned a blind eye to the exodus of the Hoa people. Unlike many other “boat people” of the 1970s who were leaving en masse to flee communism and the ravages of war, her family was from the North and supported Ho Chi Minh. They came to Toronto via Beihei China, Hong Kong and London, Ontario.  Helen was in grade one at the time. Now, even after travelling to parts of Asia where people physically resemble her, Helen always feels most comfortable returning home to Toronto where “everyone can fit in.” Currently she works with immigrants and refugees at a community health centre located in the city’s east end.

Toronto as Home

Helen is standing amongst the produce at a grocery store in East Chinatown which is where her family initially lived after arriving in Toronto. The streets were once Helen’s playground: from the grocery store on the corner where her mom would send her to buy fish sauce, to the long-gone variety store where she would buy candy. In this area was the Chinese restaurant where she would spend time hanging out with the waiters and the owner’s daughters (her grandmother was their nanny) and the townhouse unit her grandfather would visit to play mahjong. The streets of this neighbourhood are full of memories for Helen.

Connection with the Past

Helen holds an old photograph of herself as a youngster along with maternal family members. The photo was taken in Hanoi just before they left. Since it was uncommon for people to own cameras, the photo was taken by a photographer. Her grandfather was missing because he was upset that his daughter (Helen’s mom) was leaving and he therefore refused to attend the photo shoot. It was almost ten years before Helen’s mom was able to return to Vietnam to see her family, and subsequently the rest of the family came to Canada. Twenty two years passed before Helen returned to Vietnam.

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