NOW Magazine - - FIRST PERSON - By PAUL NGUYEN news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

On April 28, hun­dreds of Viet­namese-Cana­di­ans from across the GTA showed up in the rain to wit­ness the rais­ing of the Free­dom Flag at city hall for the first time since 2005.

City coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove the mo­tion to al­low the rais­ing of the flag of for­mer South Viet­nam.

Peo­ple out­side of our com­mu­nity of­ten get con­fused see­ing two different flags rep­re­sent­ing Viet­nam. There’s the flag of the So­cial­ist Repub­lic of Viet­nam (red with yel­low star) that you see at the em­bassy and be­hind the prime min­is­ter at state vis­its. But in back­yards here and across Canada and vir­tu­ally all Viet­namese events and fes­ti­vals, you’ll see the Free­dom Flag (yel­low with three red stripes).

It was the orig­i­nal flag un­til April 30, 1975, also known as Black April, when the cap­i­tal city of Saigon, and a demo­cratic Viet­nam, fell to the com­mu­nist North. After the war, a mass ex­o­dus of nearly two mil­lion peo­ple fled Viet­nam, mostly by boat. They left ev­ery­thing be­hind and risked life and limb in search of a new home. An es­ti­mated quar­ter of a mil­lion lives were lost at sea.

In 1979, in a re­mark­able show of gen­eros­ity and com­pas­sion, Canada com­mit­ted to wel­com­ing 50,000 Viet­namese refugees. My par­ents were among those ac­cepted, step­ping off the plane in win­ter wear­ing only san­dals.

The Free­dom Flag was raised for the first time on Par­lia­ment Hill last year in hon­our of Jour­ney to Free­dom Day to com­mem­o­rate the boat peo­ple and hon­our Canada’s role in wel­com­ing them.

It’s im­por­tant for the av­er­age Cana­dian to un­der­stand and re­mem­ber this part of our his­tory. This in­cludes many sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Viet­namese-Cana­dian youth who of­ten wit­ness divi­sion in our com­mu­nity. Liv­ing in Canada has brought free­dom and a better future, but we can­not ig­nore the rea­sons why the boat peo­ple fled.

The Free­dom Flag is an im­por­tant sym­bol and re­minder of that his­tory. It may not have of­fi­cial sta­tus, but nei­ther did the boat peo­ple, un­til they be­came Cana­di­ans.

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