I don’t know what it is like to be a parent, what it is like to have lost a child, to make a choice about who to grab onto, to save because I am the child who was saved.
My parents were refugees from Laos. They built a raft made of bamboo to cross the Me Kong River, to get to Thailand. There was a refugee camp there, in Nong Khai. My parents didn’t know anyone who lived in another country, who they could reach out to—everyone they knew was with them in the refugee camp. It was strangers who reached out to us, from Canada. An elderly couple named Olga and Earnest Kuplais. They came to get us at the airport. We didn’t even know what snow was, or what the cold felt like. We arrived in Canada in the middle of February. I had bare feet. Earnest took off his Russian fur hat and put my feet in them. We didn’t know how to speak to each other then because we had no common language, but this very act said more to us than any language could.
I am lucky. I am the child Canada saved. I am the child of the parents Canada saved. Canada opened its doors to us.
I have no birth certificate because when you are born inside a refugee camp, you are considered stateless. You are not a citizen of any country. I have never been a citizen of any country except Canada. Inside my Canadian passport is a page. It reads:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada requests, in the name of her Majesty the Queen, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
All those to whom it may concern. Allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance. Afford the bearer assistance and protection as may be necessary. As may be necessary. This is a piece of paper. These words mean something. It’s law. Wherever I have gone I have passed freely without let or hindrance. It’s true. The Canadian government gave me and my family this almost 37 years ago. Canada has been generous and compassionate to refugees before, and it is my belief that Canada can be that again.