Newcomers Bao and Binh Lai dreamed of setting up their own business, being their own boss, and taking care of their mother and father in old age. Bao had been a skilled carpenter in Vietnam and soon realized that the job was similar in Canada. About ten years after arriving, Bao and Binh Lai started a their own business, City Cabinets, building kitchen cabinets. Two decades after leaving their native Vietnam, the Lai family has become a part of a thriving South Asian community and of the bustling economy of Edmonton, Alberta.
What has sustained the Lais, and many Indochinese immigrants to Canada, is a strong dependence on family support systems. For Indochinese, the family has traditionally been the central social institution. The Vietnamese family is held together by the idea of filial piety; not to take good care of one's own parents is considered a social disgrace. The central importance of the family has been maintained in Canada, at least for those who came with family or who have been able to reconstitute or reunite their family life here.(9 )
Part of Bao and Binh Lai's dream of building a successful business was to be able support their parents. As soon as they could, the Lai boys retired their dad and built a comfortable family home where all their extended family could live together, old generations and new. In Canada, the nuclear family is the tradition, with kids moving out when they become older and self-sufficient. But the Lais have stuck together, never living separately. Grandparents, their children and grandchildren all live under a single roof. For the Vietnamese, children are accustomed to living with parents, even after marriage. Three or four generations living together is considered a blessing. (10)
In addition to family supports, informal community networks have also been important, providing psychological support and interaction with others who have common roots.(11)
Indochinese immigrants to Canada have much in common, culturally and linguistically, with other Chinese immigrants who have come mostly from Canton. The Vietnamese Chinese have thus been able to make use of existent Chinese Canadian community institutions. At the same time, however, the Vietnamese Chinese strongly identify with their unique heritage and have formed cultural associations in several cities.(12)
The more formal community organizations the Vietnamese have developed across Canada have become important centres of cultural celebrations, recreational activities and socio-cultural maintenance. Most Vietnamese practise Mahayana Buddhism and associations have been founded across Canada to perform Buddhist religious rites at birth, marriage and death. Most of the religious observances of Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists and ancestor worshippers are nevertheless done at home. Vietnamese Catholics usually affiliate with existent Canadian Catholic congregations, but sometimes have their own religious organizations and congregations, as do those of other Christian denominations. Nationally, the Canadian Federation of Vietnamese Associations has many local member associations and is dedicated to maintaining Vietnamese culture and facilitating social integration into Canadian life.(13)