The years that followed the Fall of Saigon in 1975 saw over 1,000,000 Vietnamese flee the city. Many left with minimal means, swarming boats and rafts the size of a nutshell, compared to the waves of the ocean they confronted. This ordeal gave the term "boat people" the meaning it still bears today.
Among these boat people, were 10 year-old Kim Thúy and her family. Sustenance on the boat was limited to fish. Confronted with food allergies, young Kim was forced to choose between hunger and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. The family landed in a Malaysian refugee camp where children would play next to open sky septic tanks. The situation genuinely touched the Western world.
Member of the first Parti Québécois government elected in 1976, Jacques Couture [Google translation] was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities. On the heels of the Charter of the French language's coming into force, he implemented Frenchifying measures to support recent immigrants with their integration into their new society.
Upon his return from South-East Asia in 1980, Mr. Couture is profoundly shaken by the tragedy. In reaction, he pushes for family reunification and raises the population's awareness in favor of these ill-fated individuals.
The State is responsible for welcoming refugees. However, hospitality is also the responsibility of citizens through sponsoring programs. Under these programs, sponsors must provide for essential needs during a whole year. They also have the "duty to greet with warmth and dignity people who've experienced subhuman conditions." 518 groups in 215 municipalities scattered through the province sponsor 7,847 refugees until March 1981.
Kim Thúy and her family end up in Granby where they are greeted with such warmth and generosity that the young girl is marked forever. In her own words... "I often felt that there wasn't enough room within us to receive everything that was being offered." She would later mention that having the opportunity to experience small town Québec was the best integration policy the province could think of. She goes on... "I'm a child of Bill 101, a Francophile and a Francophone in my soul. I speak Vietnamese, of course, but it is the Vietnamese of childhood or cooking. The language in which I think and feel most is French."
Kim Thúy recently published a novel about her own experiences. The book is called Ru. Publishing rights have already been sold to France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Spain. It's a touching tale about the strength of human empathy.