Monday, August 18, 2008
Calgary- As we set foot on the Canadian soil in the airport, a band of people in red vests and white Stetson hats held a sign with our names waiting. They poured over along with the Vietnamese Canadian organizers of the screening event to greet us. Surrounded by the volunteer greeters, we were given white Stetson and participated in a White Hat ceremony, which we sworn to extend Calgary's "Western hospitality to all folks and critters."
On this occasion, Bolinao 52 was double-billed with Marion Dewar, Ottawa's former mayor from 1978 to 1985, and a member of the Parliament of Canada from 1986 to 1988, who was instrumental in opening the floodgate for Southeast Asian resettlement in Canada. Marion is the subject of the book, "Gift of Freedom," written by Brian Buckley about her effort in resettling up to 4000 refugees to Ottawa in 1979. The endeavor, named "Project 4000," was a groundbreaking grassroots movement that helped increase the quota in refugee acceptance in Canada. Practically, within days Project 4000 went from a vision to reality with support from the public and community leaders. Buckley wrote in his book: "In less than three weeks, Project 400 had grown from an offhand comment at a private meeting to a full-blown social movement."
Marion Dewar's keynote speech
As significant as her legacy accomplished, Marion is as down-to-earth as she could be. For the few days we spent with her, this woman is full of spirit, easy going. And more significantly, she loves life. Well into her golden years, Marion's eyes lit up when we talked about progressive social ideas. She tried all Vietnamese dishes we introduced. Kept up the pace when we marched our foot expedition in downtown Calgary. Listened to our conversations in Vietnamese even though she didn't understand much of it. Marion is a model for leadership. She took risk not for self aggrandizing purpose or political gain but as an agent for change. In fact, by taking on visionary ideas such as Project 4000, Marion faced great political risk. In our first meeting, she told us that during the implementation of Project 4000, she received an anonymous phone call which the caller threatened to kidnap, tie her up and fed her with Chinese food until she exploded.
During this trip, we met many wonderful people who are dedicated to community empowerment. Tuyet Lam, a tireless organizer who anchored the Bolinao 52 screening event in Calgary. The Son (Antoine) Nguyen and Phuong Anh (Anne Marie) Pham, founders of Calgary Vietnamese Youth Group, provide the leadership for younger Vietnamese Canadians. We came away this event with a sense of accomplishment. Not because we have another screening of Bolinao 52, but this sense of accomplishment comes from witnessing the intergral part of community building in these Calgarians. As we sat down for a celebration meal after the event, there were three parts of the whole presented- past, present and future. In one table there were the pioneers that provided the wisdom. In another tables were the organizing leaders giving guidance and the others belong to the young volunteers who are holding the torch. All that spelled UNITY for the Vietnamese community in Calgary.