Meeting the organizer of TaiwanFest represents something deeper to Thai-Hoa Le than simply making a new acquaintance.
For the Vancouver-based actor, getting to know Charlie Wu was like finding kin worthy of admiration.
“I’m meeting an older brother who I can look up to,” Le told the Georgia Straight by phone from a location near North Bay, Ontario, where he is shooting the TV series Rising Suns.
As president of the Southeast Asian Cultural Heritage Society (SEACHS), Le considers himself “philosophically aligned” with Wu.
Being the managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association (ACSEA), the group behind TaiwanFest, Wu fosters intercultural dialogue, a pursuit that Le has committed himself to.
This year’s celebration of TaiwanFest has an added significance to Le because of his Vietnamese heritage.
The festival features the theme Riding the Waves With Vietnam, the fourth installment of its Dialogue With Asia series, which has previously engaged communities from Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines.
SEACHS, which has deep roots within the local Vietnamese community, is also a partner in the festival, which will feature performances, food, exhibits, and activities. TaiwanFest happens in downtown Vancouver this Labour Day weekend.
“Vietnamese culture is being acknowledged,” Le said. “It is being acknowledged because there are commonalities. There is a dialogue that can be established. And one can be better at that dialogue when one really knows where one comes from.”
Culture and dialogue are important concepts for Le because of the lingering animosities in his community, which can be traced back to the Vietnam War. “It is our karma to surmount,” Le said.
Most of the first big wave of Vietnamese settlers in Canada arrived as refugees. They fled after U.S.–backed South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam in 1975. By the Canadian government’s account, more than 60,000 refugees had arrived in the country by the end of 1980.
Vietnamese immigration continued in the following decades, and many newcomers are sympathetic to the communist government that rules a united Vietnam.
In the 2016 census, Statistics Canada counted over 240,000 people of Vietnamese ancestry.
While the Vietnamese community is “not entirely united”, Le sees its shared culture as an avenue for dialogue.
“While there is an acceptance that needs to be done, people still want to congregate in a place where they can focus on the culture, and where they can agree on the culture, where they feel at home,” he said. “And so, as a member of the board, I believe that at SEACHS, we can create that space.”
As a figure in the community, Le is in an ideal position to encourage dialogue, because he is an “outside party” to the past conflict.
Le was born and raised in Montreal; his Vietnamese parents met as students in Canada during the Vietnam War, and aligned themselves with the peace movement at the time.
“It allowed me to grow up as a North American kid, free of a certain level of trauma related to the war,” Le said of his upbringing.
According to him, this created a “space” in his psyche that enabled him to critically study the history of Vietnam.
“Because they were part of a movement that basically just wanted Vietnam to be one people—but back then it was an endeavour that existed in times of a military conflict—I think I have inherited as a Canadian Vietnamese that desire to create a ground where all Vietnamese can come together,” Le said about his parents.
When ACSEA and Wu sought SEACHS as a community partner for the Riding the Waves With Vietnam edition of TaiwanFest, Le’s organization considered it a duty.
“Not often do we get a festival of a particular culture reaching out to another one, and because we do have a strong network within the Vietnamese community and we do want to pave a path that is nontraditional within our community, it was a matter of obligation for us to accept the task of reaching out the best we could, and engaging the Vietnamese community,” Le said.
In a separate interview, Wu said that this year’s TaiwanFest is a celebration of the similarities and connections between the people of the two countries.
According to Wu, Taiwanese and Vietnamese peoples have prevailed over historical ordeals like conflicts, and are making progress wherever they are.
“We tend to see enough waves in our lifetimes, so we thought that we’d ride the waves together for the better future,” Wu told the Straight by phone.
For Le, his and SEACHS’s goals in TaiwanFest are “modest”. Just making the Vietnamese community aware of the festival is “already a success”.
“Everybody has their own way to reconnect to the culture of their ancestry, and I entirely agree with that,” Le said. “And I entirely agree with the practice of noncoerciveness, that everybody has their own pace, their own ways, and their own path. But then again, if there’s already something out there, and we have the means to encourage it, then I think from the perspective of a nonprofit like SEACHS, we have an obligation to support.”
TaiwanFest runs from Saturday to Monday (August 31 to September 2) in downtown Vancouver on Granville Street and at various venues. Info is at the TaiwanFest website.