On Sept. 1, Hung and Loi Le returned to Yarmouth after two decades away to reunite with those friends.
The family was Yarmouth’s first Vietnamese immigrants, arriving in 1979 after a tumultuous escape.
Hung, Loi, and Phong, their three-year-old daughter, escaped from Vietnam that April via the South China Sea. They encountered Thailand pirates who took nearly all of their belongings.
In a moment of compassion, the pirates told the family a big thunderstorm was on the way and that they should take refuge in their boat.
“They did not want to see us die in that ocean,” said Hung.
The next day the pirates helped them to the Malaysian coast, where the family resided for two months with minimal food and water until the Malaysian Red Cross transferred them to a refugee camp. From there, they immigrated to Canada.
Hung remembers them being the only family among the 340 immigrants aboard that flight, heading to Yarmouth.
“We were so excited but we were also worried,” said Hung.
He and Loi say they cried during the entire flight and that poor little Phong was wondering why her parents were so upset.
The DeGooyer family greeted the family when they landed in Halifax and took them to Anne and Tom Moses’ home to stay there until their apartment was ready.
The couple arrived with $20. Within 10 days, Hung secured a job at Bonda Textile at the minimum wage of $3.50/hr.
“I was working 14-16 hours a days, to support my family and to rebuild our lives in the beautiful new adopted homeland,” said Hung.
Six months later Loi found a job working part-time in the kitchen at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital.
“We asked our sponsors to stop helping us, instead to maybe help the other refugees,” said Hung.
One-and-a-half years later he quit his job, bought a small building in Yarmouth and opened a fabric shop and custom tailoring business with Loi, both working 14-16 hours a day.
Two-and-a-half years later they bought another small building next door and started a small factory. The products were shipped throughout Canada and the U.S. Over the years they created jobs for more than 20 people.
Their family continued to grow and Hung bought his dream home at 57 William St. in 1988 and moved the business from John to Main Street.
Loi and Hung had promised his mother and father they would reunite with his siblings in California. In October 1995 his father passed away from colon cancer. Hung and his family moved to San Jose, where his four brothers and two sisters live. Loi operates a clothes shop - Lori’s Design Boutique - and provides alterations.
Hung suffered a major hemorrhagic stroke in June 2013 and was hospitalized for six weeks.
“When I was in ICU I kept thinking, OK, I hope someday I get better so I can go to Yarmouth. That was my motivation to walk.”
On Sept. 2, a community reunion for Hung and Loi was held at the South Ohio Community Centre with over 100 in attendance.
“It was overwhelming,” said Hung, who says he and Loi could hardly sleep in the days prior to the event.
“We said, ‘finally, we are coming home.’”
Loi says she will never forget their arrival in Yarmouth.
“It was in October 1979, at 2:30 in the afternoon,” said Loi. “Anne and Tom were nothing but the best. They took care of everything. I never forget the people in Yarmouth. They kept us warm, welcome and loved.
“We will appreciate and be forever grateful to them and the people of Yarmouth for their kindness in helping and accepting us to rebuild our lives.”
Gift to Yarmouth
Before leaving Yarmouth, the Les made a significant gift to the town of a four-part decorative panel depicting different parts of Vietnam. It is made of lacquered wood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The panel is now housed at the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives.