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Meet Jolie Phuong

"I felt the compassion and support when we arrived."
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We don't know the future.

We leave it to fate.

All I saw is just the ocean.

And at the horizon, it's just the ocean meets the sky.

And that's all I saw.

Is there land, somewhere there? I'm not sure.

However, we escaped Vietnam

with a deep wish that

we will be free.

I could never imagine how that freedom

would be.

You face danger, you don't know what's waiting for you.

But you just believe that somewhere within the horizon

there will be freedom waiting for you.

My name is Jolie Phuong Hoang

I am currently a math professor at Niagara College.

I am also an author, I published two books.

The first book is an award winning Anchorless, 

and the second book is coming out soon in,

actually in a couple of days.

And I have been teaching at Niagara College

for 25 years already.

In fact my Father planned three escapes.

The first one was a failure.

The second one, I escaped Vietnam with my siblings,

five of us all together, and my


So, actually seven of us all together.

Five siblings, myself, my sister-in-law, seven of us

on the second trip to escape Vietnam.

On the boat that my father actually built,

and he planned that trip for three years.

We survived nine days at sea, and we landed in Indonesia.

In Indonesia we were put in a refugee camp

named Galang, and we stayed there for 14 months.

We were sponsored by the Hamilton Mountain Fund

to help the boat people.

Founded by Judy and John Smith.

That's how we got to Canada.

We were rejected by Canadian, the American

the Australian delegation.

Because there was seven of us all together

we didn't fit into the category of being accepted to

to go to the third country.

Not until John Smith sent us a postcard saying that

the Hamilton Mountain Fund would sponsor seven of us

over to Canada, to Hamilton.

So that 's how I landed in Hamilton.

A year after I stay in Hamilton, in 1985

my father, my mother, and my three younger siblings

arranged another escape from Vietnam.

So that's the third escape trip.

So, during that trip my father passed away,

my younger sister passed away.

The book that I wrote has the title called,

Three Funerals for my Father.

Imagine one person dies and has three funerals.

So that is quite a history of what he had to go through.

In order to put all of his children on to the boat

and landed in the refugee camp.

And from the refugee camp came to Hamilton

to establish a new life.

I was sponsored by the Hamilton Mountain Fund

to help the boat people.

It's a charity that consists of a lot of church members.

I felt home because the people, the member of the charity

were very kind to us.

I felt a compassion, I felt the support that they gave us,

the genuine.

They helped us in every little way.

Provide us with food, give us guidance how to set out.

For learning, for paperwork, like what school to go to.

Apply for OHIP at that time, and finding a job.

I remember Mr. John Smith came to our house and 

talk about it and then took my oldest brother,

my older brother, my sister, and my sister-in-law

and looked for jobs for them.

He looked at me, my older brother, and my younger brother

and told us that these three can go to High School. 

So the four older children can go to work and

the three younger children can go to school.

And I got registered into Hill Park secondary school,

a twenty minute walk from my home.

After I look back back at the journey that I escaped from

Vietnam and how I was able to,

to be here in Canada.

I look back and I appreciate it.

It was quite emotional for me to talk about this.

Also I it's part of history, and my children,

the next generation, will learn about the history and

to appreciate their roots.

My name is Jolie Phuong Hoang

and to me Hamilton is the land of freedom.

Jolie Phuong is an award-winning author and a math professor at Niagara College. Hamilton is the city that marked a new beginning for her family–a land of breathing free and of endless opportunities to create a brighter future.  

Sheltered by her parents, she grew up with ten siblings in the town of Quang Duc during the Vietnam War. She fled the country with five siblings in May 1983. After surviving nine days at sea, they arrived in Indonesia and lived in the Galang Refugee Camp. Assisted by the Mountain Fund to Save the Boat People, in July 1984, they resettled in Hamilton. Her father and youngest sister perished at sea in their attempt to escape Vietnam a year later.

Mathematics helps her mind stay focus but writing has healed her soul. Words have disentangled thoughts mixed with endless unanswered questions about fate. Jolie Phuong’s latest book, Three Funerals for My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam (2021), is a poignant story of love, grief and resilience based on her immigration story.


Migration Context: 

The Vietnamese Boat People 

Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976 contained a unique provision that allowed for the private sponsorship of refugees, a practice that would grow in subsequent decades. Private sponsorship allows organizations and even informal groups to bring refugee families and individuals to Canada. 

Canadians soon used the private sponsorship provision to help address an unfolding humanitarian crisis. Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, thousands of refugees fled that country by boat and ship, a group that became known as “boat people.” Close to 800,000 persons made the journey from Vietnam to another country by boat between 1975 and 1995. Another 200,000 to 400,000 boat people died at sea, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. More than 60,000 were destined for Canada. 

In response to the Vietnamese boat people crisis, in 1979 City of Hamilton alderman John Smith established “The Mountain Fund to Save the Boat People.” Along with a few friends, Smith set out to resettle as many Vietnamese refugees from camps in Southeast Asia in Hamilton. The Mountain Fund exceeded everyone’s expectations. By the time it closed down fifteen years later, it had assisted more than three thousand refugees. Many of these refugees initially settled in the Queen Street North area, and continue to live in the area today, with many. Vietnamese grocery stores and restaurants located in that area of the city.  

The private sponsorship model has become entrenched in Canada and has even been imitated in other countries. Since its creation in the Immigration Act of 1976, more than 350,000 sponsorships have been facilitated. Private sponsorships account for about half of resettled refugee arrivals in Canada since the late 1970s (the other half being government-assisted refugees).


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