As told to TD Stories.
To help mark Lunar New Year, TD Stories connected with Kim Le Chau Lieu, Associate Vice President, Governance & Control Change Oversight and Risk Marketplace, for Wealth Management, TD Bank Group, to share her story of coming to Canada. In this post, Lieu – who also serves as Executive Sponsor of the Vietnamese Employee Network at TD – tells TD Stories about what Lunar New Year means to her.
All these years later, I still get nightmares about the Skyluck.
I was just five years old when my mother made the impossible decision to flee Vietnam with myself and my three brothers. My father did not come with us. Worried for our lives, we were smuggled out of the country on an old freighter ship called the Skyluck with thousands of others hoping to find a better life someplace else.
I don't remember much about the journey. Only flashbacks and fragments remain – I remember feeling scared, and human beings packed onto the boat like sardines. Although the boat was originally destined for Australia, after several months at sea, we found ourselves moored in a Hong Kong harbour, unable to leave the ship.
That is, until the Skyluck sank. It was then that we were taken to a refugee camp, what I now know was a former women's penitentiary, where we lived for months locked behind chain link fences topped with barbed wire. We slept on wooden beds without mattresses, in cells with no doors.
It took just over a year, but eventually my family was sponsored and we were allowed to immigrate to Canada, landing in Edmonton when I was six years old.
My story is not unlike those of millions of other immigrants who have been displaced from their homelands and forced to seek out a new life in a new country.
At this time of year, with Lunar New Year on the horizon, I often find myself reflecting on the journey that brought me to Canada, and how fortunate I am to now be able to share my story with my colleagues and help others who are walking a similar path.
On February 10, millions of people from Eastern Asia and throughout the world will pause to gather with family and friends to mark the beginning of Lunar New Year.
While different communities across Asia have different traditions that relate to Lunar New Year, and choose to celebrate in their own ways, in my home, I have always chosen to look back, be grateful, and cast my gaze forward to the year ahead.
Keeping our culture alive in Canada
When servicing TD customer inquiries where the customers are new to Canada, I often see elements of similarities between my own personal journey, and the roads they had to travel to find their new home in Canada.
After landing in Edmonton, my family moved to Winnipeg before eventually settling in Mississauga when I was 11. Like so many immigrant families, we maintained many of the traditions of our cultures as a way of remembering where we came from. My mother is Vietnamese, and my father Chinese, and so my homelife – and holidays like Lunar New Year – have always been a mixing and amalgamation of culture and tradition with our past, and our new adopted home.
One of the ways we maintained this link to our shared cultures was through food. My mother was an awesome cook, and it wasn't long before she and my aunt opened a restaurant in Toronto.
Like many kids who grew up with parents who owned restaurants, I went to school during the day, and I spent most of the rest of my time helping out at that restaurant. Every night, I would roll seemingly thousands of spring rolls, while trying to squeeze in my homework at one of the tables in the back. Because the restaurant closed at 2 a.m., most nights I would fall asleep on chairs in the restaurant, then wake up and go home. The next day, I’d do it all again.
When I look back on those times or think about how I never pursued university but instead, as a dutiful daughter, worked in bars and restaurants to help pay for family expenses – I know I was grateful for the opportunities I was afforded, but I also dreamt about the life I wanted in Canada and what I wanted it to look like.
After asking friends for advice on how I could potentially transition into a new career, they showed me two course books: One on real estate, and the other was the Canadian Securities Course textbooks. I picked the Securities course.
I signed myself up to study financial planning in college, which included study towards the Canadian Securities Course examination. From there, in 1999, I landed a co-op placement as an account inquiry representative at TD. The rest is history.
Grateful for the chance to give back
Later this year I will celebrate 25 years with TD. In my current role within the Governance & Control Change Oversight and Risk Marketplace function of TD Wealth, my team helps focus on our mission to enable, run, and protect the business. Our focal point is on managing governance and risk within change initiatives and projects.
In my time at the Bank, I've worked within a variety of departments, but no matter where I've worked, I've seen the Bank's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion reflected in my work and the people around me. It is this commitment, as well as our approach to supporting people who are new to Canada, that has kept me here.
I feel I am a kindred spirit with our new to Canada customers and colleagues. Maybe it's because I was in their shoes once upon a time; I don’t have to imagine what it was like to be in their shoes.
When I wear my TD pin or I'm speaking on stage on behalf of TD at events, I know representation matters. Last weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to represent TD as the Title Sponsor for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Tết Festival. The Tết Festival consistently draws in significant attendance with participation of representatives from all three levels of government and community leaders.
At TD, I use my experience to give back to colleagues as well. I have been afforded so many opportunities and leaders have shown so much faith in me, I want to pay it forward. I have been in the diversity and inclusion space for a long time at TD, deeply focusing on the pan-Asian space in the last few years. I am the executive sponsor for the Vietnamese Employee Network, where our goals are to create an inclusive and fun environment where we can showcase our culture to our colleagues, help amplify our voice, and also be allies to other community groups at TD.
What makes Lunar New Year special
Lunar New Year is a special time for me; both at home and at work. In the office, Lunar New Year offers me a chance to celebrate and share my culture with my colleagues, and to learn about how my colleagues experience the holiday in their own lives. For all of us, it offers a chance to celebrate how far we've come, and to revel in the possibility of what lies ahead.
At home, this time of year is doubly important to my family, as Lunar New Year often coincides with the early days of Black History Month, and my husband is Black. In our house, we celebrate both moments with our three children, who always look forward to this time of year as a chance to learn more about the cultures from which they come. My goodness, do they ever ask a lot of questions!
This week will be a busy one in our home as we clean our space and our minds to turn the page on the old and make space for the new.
As I said earlier, I still get nightmares about my experience leaving Vietnam. But I sometimes think my journey, and my relationship with the cultures from which I come is part of what drives me. I like to think I can use my experience to help engage with others, to facilitate understanding, and to help those around me create an even more inclusive space going forward.
When I see the way my kids experience the world – each one a product of the intermingling of cultures – it's really eye-opening. Each of my children have Chinese, Vietnamese and Guyanese heritage. They speak English and French. They are proud to be Canadian. And the beauty of their shared experiences makes me proud.