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Paul received the award for his work with, a positive website that has given voice to an often marginalized community. Here are his thoughts on the evening:

“I was thankful my father attended the ceremony. It made me think about his journey as a boat person and the risks he faced, along with thousands of others, in search of freedom. It also made me realize how lucky I am to have a life in Canada – it has given me so many wonderful opportunities.

“Also on my mind was Uncle Bob, Robert Sargent. He was an elderly Canadian who helped welcome my parents to Toronto, introducing them to Canadian life and their first Christmas party. Sadly, he passed away one month before I received the medal.”

“When I look at the photo of me with the Governor General, I don’t see the medal, but I see my dad helping me iron my suit the night before, and the support my parents, friends, community and Uncle Bob gave me.  I see all the years of hard work by others that lead me there. I’m happy their efforts were recognized.

“I really hope this moment can inspire other young Vietnamese in Canada to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. I grew up in a stigmatized neighborhood where many obstacles can prevent youth from reaching their potential. It’s important that we never give up. The boat people are an excellent example.

“Someone told me I was the first Vietnamese person to receive this award. I told them I won’t be the last.”

Paul Nguyen’s Story

Family and Community

My parents were among the ‘boat people’ refugees. They arrived in Toronto in 1979. I was born in Toronto in 1980, the year of the monkey.

I have lived in the Jane-Finch community of Toronto all of my life. When I meet people across the city, I make sure they come to visit my neighborhood. It’s a great way to break down boundaries.

I started in 2004 to create a positive image of my community and its residents. The website has evolved from Hip Hop roots to become a social movement and local news source. People around the world check us out, from students, teachers to news reporters.

In recent years, I’ve focused on addressing mental health stigmas, particularly in ethnic communities where it is tremendously taboo. As for, I hope the next generation will lead it and make it bigger than ever. It’s important to give others a chance to become leaders.

Advice for Other Young People

I am lucky to have found my voice through the Internet. I would encourage young people, especially Vietnamese youth, to focus their energy on learning and getting outside their comfort zone. Being involved in the community is a great way to learn about other cultures, which will come in handy in school, work and business.

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Maureen LittleJohn
Maureen Littlejohn is Culture Magazin's executive editor. She is a Canadian award-winning journalist who has practiced her craft around the world including in the United States, Africa and Vietnam. Currently based in Toronto, she has a keen eye for detail and has a deep appreciation for the “East Meets West” approach of Culture Magazin. Travel is her passion and she is happy to be able to share her adventures on a regular basis with the magazine's readers.