The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, located in mainland Southeast Asia, suffered much war and turmoil in the second half of the 20th century. During this time, many Vietnamese came to Canada, and a steady wave of immigrants from Vietnam continues to this day. There are more than 180,000 people of Vietnamese origin in Canada, living primarily in cities in Ontario, Québec, British Columbia and Alberta.
Vietnamese Immigrants to Canada
Vietnam gained independence from French colonial rule in 1954, but was politically divided between the communist north and the western-oriented south. Conflict began between the two sides shortly afterward, with the United States supporting the south, and China and the Soviet Union supporting the north. By 1975 it was clear that the communist north would prevail, prompting a wave of migration from South Vietnam. During this time Canada accepted nearly 6000 Vietnamese, many of whom had professional skills and spoke French or English.
Several years later, many more Vietnamese fled harsh conditions under the new communist regime. These migrants were diverse in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity and background (urban or rural). Many of them, who became known as “boat people,” escaped Vietnam by making a dangerous journey on overcrowded boats to refugee camps in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Canada became a major resettlement country for Vietnamese from this wave, welcoming more than 500,000.
Vietnamese Canadians Today
Vietnam is a largely Buddhist country, and many Vietnamese in Canada identify themselves as Buddhist, while others practice Christianity. Temples and churches in Canada are important for the celebration and maintenance of Vietnamese traditions and religious practices. Other social and cultural organizations also help the Vietnamese community in Canada stay connected and preserve their cultural identity.
Many immigrants who arrived as refugees after the Vietnam War, often without transferable job skills or English/French language proficiency, found themselves limited to lower-paying jobs. However, Vietnamese Canadians have found work in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, science and technology. Some are also entrepreneurs, owning and operating businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores.
Although Vietnam is still a single-party, socialist state, it began liberalizing its economy in the 1980s to promote growth and development. It participates in the political and economic Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Canada and Vietnam have enjoyed bilateral relations since the 1970s, sharing more than $1 billion annually in trade.
Canada, as a member of the Group of Four (G-4), also continues to encourage Vietnam to improve education, human rights, and religious and political freedom.