Ottawa

Refugees record their stories for future generations

In the 1970s and '80s, Ottawa took in about 4,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees escaping communist regimes after the fall of Saigon, and nationwide, Canada took in tens of thousands more. Now, some of their stories are being recorded on video for future generations.

Hearts of Freedom aims to collect stories of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees

Rivaux Lay is the Hearts of Freedom project's co-ordinator for the Cambodian community. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

In the 1970s and '80s, Ottawa took in about 4,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees escaping communist regimes after the fall of Saigon. Nationwide, Canada took in tens of thousands more.

Now, some of their stories are being recorded on video for future generations.

Hearts of Freedom is an oral history project that aims to collect the stories of 90 refugees, as well as private sponsors and settlement administrators.

The goal is to eventually put together a book and a documentary film.

The first interviews took place over the winter in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. Other interviews are scheduled to take place in Montreal and Toronto, and funding is being sought to conduct further interviews in Western Canada.

'So brave'

Ottawa's Rivaux Lay was the third interview subject, and is the project's co-ordinator for the Cambodian community. He was 19 years old when he, alongside his family and a large group of others, left their country after years of hardship.

"We escaped through the border, and a lot of robbery [was] happening, and also a lot of gunfire from both sides, Khmer Rouge and Thai soldiers," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday.

"I was thinking we could not live with the communists. The only way is to get out. And what we've been through in the past four years before we escaped — [it was] either that or die."

Hearts of Freedom is a new oral history project gathering personal stories from Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who came to Canada in the 1970s. 6:40

He hopes the collected stories will help younger people in the community better understand their parents.

"Sometimes the young generation doesn't understand what we went through, and sometimes we say something that they don't understand, or they never even believe what we went through," Lay said.

"I feel bad for everyone who went through [it], even though I passed through it myself. But the pain, they are so brave to come to tell their story... I'm happy that they got involved."

For some, it took persuading.

"I tried to convince them, it's time. It's a bit too late, but ... probably this is the last chance we [can] tell the world what happened," Lay said.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning