“Sometimes I would go to school and my friends would be missing their limbs,” said my mother, recounting Vietnam before they left. 34 years ago, they got on a boat to leave the bomb-riddled fields of Vietnam and found themselves in a refuge camp in the Philippines. While there, my mother gave birth to my brother and lost almost all her teeth in the pregnancy from lack of nutrition. They raised him on rice milk boiled from their rations.
After roughly a year, some countries granted their group of refugees the option to immigrate to build lives elsewhere. Australia took the majority of my extended family but reached their quota before my parents arrived. My parents found a sponsorship through a priest, Father Day, in Canada so they immigrated here without their extended network.
Growing up was not emotionally painful, but it was different, I knew it was different. I wasn’t privileged like the other kids. We weren’t asking for much. What we needed was help to level the playing field so we could contribute back to our community when we were able.
The communities we belonged to responded; they gave us clothing, food, and toys; they helped my parents obtain their citizenships and sort through the legalities of being refugees; they helped them through learning English; they provided emotional support by connecting us with a peer network; they pointed them towards resources we didn’t know existed; they put me through camps and swimming classes because we couldn’t afford it; and they babysat me when my mom needed a break. They gave me insight into a world that wasn’t made for me.
I stand strong because of what others gave me. Even though the start of my life was built on charity, I worked hard to lessen the burden on my parents and to build a life for myself devoid of financial strain.
When we address the concept of privilege, like the privilege I have now, I am not offended. I know where I came from and what I did. Acknowledging that I am privileged now does not erase my past nor my accomplishments. It means I have a responsibility to level the playing field like others did for my parents.
As someone who has greatly benefitted from compassionate people, I don’t consider it only a responsibility to take care of others in this way. I consider it a privilege of the privileged to lift others up.