bridging cultures – a true celebration

Hieu Nguyen, photographed on the Alexandra Bridge.

We met Hieu Nguyen a few months ago at a small gathering with a client after a long photo shoot day. We had photographed dozens of people for a LinkedIn session and our heads were spinning, the adrenaline still high, when Dwayne came over to me and exclaimed “I just met the most amazing woman!” We often say that our studio work gifts us with the opportunity of meeting the most wonderful people and this was no exception.

Hieu is petite in stature, grandiose in personality and has the most beautiful of smiles! It’s easy to fall in love with her positive personality. She spoke of her love of running and exploring Ottawa as a “social runner”, discovering new routes with friends and seeing the city from a unique perspective.  She also pointed out how Ottawa has given her a sense of belonging, just like her hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia also welcomed her parents when they arrived from Vietnam as refugees. Since her arrival here ten years ago, she’s truly become a proud Ottawan!

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th, Hieu is a great example of who we are as a country and city: kind, trusting and generous. At this very fragile time of history, where we are constantly bombarded with messages of fear about other cultures and religions, where judging races and creeds often leads to misunderstanding and rejection, we celebrate our diversity and stand proud.

© dwayne brown studio – the loveOttawa project

© dwayne brown studio – the loveOttawa project

You refer to yourself as a “celebration baby”. Your story fits in so nicely with what Canada is all about: acceptance, kindness and inclusiveness. Can you please tell us a little bit about your family’s experience in our country?

“My family were Vietnamese boat people and arrived to Sydney, NS in 1980. They were living at a refugee camp in Thailand for several months and before that survived a perilous journey in a homemade raft when they escaped Vietnam by sea. They were graciously sponsored by three churches in Cape Breton and I was the first Canadian born and why I dub myself the “celebration baby” as my age reflects how long my family has been in Canada.

People often ask how my family ended up in Sydney or why they chose to settle there and I guess the wonder is because it doesn’t have a large Vietnamese community, especially back then. I don’t have to reflect too long as I know it is because of the generosity of the people and the congregations. My family felt that they were very lucky to have been selected and sponsored by those who just wanted to help them, strangers really, where all they knew was the group size, their gender and age of the individuals they were sponsoring. This group included my parents, my sister (three at the time), aunt, four uncles, and several cousins (ranging from kids to young teenagers). The sponsors never asked for anything in return, they just wanted to help their new friends rebuild their lives after enduring warfare, political instability, and leaving a home they never thought they would have to leave.

Although I don’t have a strong Maritime accent, I do think what has stuck with me and what I have learned is the spirit of kindness and openness from the sponsors who helped my family settle in Canada. I remember going to church when I was younger and it was never because of being asked to go, but it was a way for my family to see their sponsors on a weekly basis to talk and catch up with them. Many of my relatives have since moved from Sydney, but still keep in touch with those they can. It was the sponsors’ support and compassion that nurtured my family’s humble beginnings to where they are today – safe, happy, and thriving.”

When asked about where you’d like to be photographed, one of your choices was the Alexandra Bridge.  As a runner, you’ve crossed it many times, year round. What other parts of the city do you love to run in?

“The shoot was very informative as I had learned that the bridge was named after Queen Alexandra (of Denmark), wife of King Edward the VII in 1901! I have run across this bridge many times in both direction (affectionately known as the bridge loop) and the views of the river, locks, and Parliament just never get tiring.

I never really ran that much until I moved to Ottawa. I think I naturally became one as it’s fairly easy to connect to a path or hop onto the Canal where you can make it a short run or a long one. Writing this, I have come to realize how much I like crossing bridges, including the Corktown Bridge and the new Adàwe Crossing, which connects nicely to the Rideau River. My default local routes are along Byron Park, the O-train Pathway, cruising along Wellington St. West, and recently discovered Hampton Park.

It’s nice to go running in the city but still feel like you can tuck yourself away into a natural oasis. You are able to mix a little urban and nature all in one run. I would describe myself as a social runner and enjoy running with friends and groups where I have been able to discover even more routes. There are more areas of the city for me to explore, and I would say, to be best seen by foot!”

What do you love the most about Ottawa? Is there a special spot that you frequent and that you’d like to share with us?

Tough to narrow it down but I what I do love about Ottawa, is its diversity, range, and random things that you can do on any given day. I have gone to concerts in churches, tested my painting abilities with friends, learned how to lawn bowl, and gone on many urban planning walking tours across the city. I do love food and enjoy the countless options of local eateries to try foods from all around the world and also, frequenting old favourites for a tasty brunch to catch-up with friends.

Ottawans have a lot of interests, which is great as we can go out and be engaged in so many areas whether it be a few neighbours joining together to get a community rink built to volunteering on a global cause and raising awareness. Any interest you may have, you can likely find a talk to learn more it or a group with like-minded folks. When I first moved to Ottawa, it was for work and thought I’d be here for a couple of years, but it has now been over ten and I feel like I still haven’t seen it all!

Thank you, Hieu, for sharing your beautiful story!