In November, Renison Professor Vinh Nguyen was awarded the prestigious Polanyi Prize for Literature for his work surrounding the issues that face refugees in Canada. Established by Ontario, the prize includes an award of $20,000.
Originally published by the Council of Ontario Universities
Refugees make up a rich part of the fabric of Canada’s history, and Dr. Nguyen’s research project explores the shared historical and political connections between three separate refugee waves in the post-War era.
Dr. Nguyen is interviewing recent refuges from Syria, Vietnamese who fled here after 1975, and survivors of the third major wave of Mennonite immigration to Canada during and after the Second World War. His aim in listening to their stories is to understand their shared experiences and to dispel myths that refugees tend to be apolitical and passive.
Himself a refugee from Vietnam via a Thai refugee camp, Dr. Vinh says he is looking to document affiliations between refugees groups that have traditionally gone unreported. For example, Vietnamese refugees in Toronto advocated on behalf of recent Syrian refuges and also sponsored them, while Mennonites stepped up to support Vietnamese during their wave of migration in the seventies and eighties. In looking at different refugee groups, he hopes to reveal the forces that underlie war, migration, and humanitarianism.
Refugees are rarely helpless and pitiable, says Dr. Nguyen; on the contrary, his project aims to show how their experiences drive them to become caring, compassionate and politically engaged Canadians.
Prof. Vin Nguyen is Assistant Professor of Diaspora Literatures and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo
Read more about Prof. Nguyen’s work in this feature article in the Waterloo Record.
About the Polanyi Prize
The John Charles Polanyi Prizes are awarded annually to five researchers who are in the early stages of their careers and pursuing post-doctoral research at an Ontario university. The prize was established in 1987 to honour the achievement of John Charles Polanyi, a 1986 Nobel Prize Laureate in chemistry. Over the past 30 years, 148 young researchers have received the honour, selected by a panel directed by the executive heads of the Council of Ontario Universities.