On her way to work at Fred’s Tailors at Sobeys on Mumford Road, Kim Dang often sees people of different cultures heading to ISANS office. Like them, Kim came to the organization – then the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association (MISA) – for assistance when she arrived in Canada.
Kim and her husband landed from Vietnam in 1988 after three years in a refugee camp. “We chose to come to Canada,” she says. “We were very young. We arrived here in March. It was beautiful and peaceful. On the airplane we saw white over everything; I wondered, what is that?!” Kim had learned some English from a Filipino teacher at the camp. “At graduation she chose me to speak in front of everyone; she taught me how to pronounce everything. We still have that picture.”
They took care of everything. I will never forget the help they gave me.
She and her husband studied in a government-sponsored ESL class at Bloomfield School for six months and both worked part time – her husband at the venerable Bluenose Restaurant and Kim at a Thai restaurant next door. “We took the bus downtown so we would have money to send back to my family.”
Kim and a classmate – still a good friend to this day – went to MISA for a year. MISA, in fact, was established in 1980 to respond to the needs of Vietnamese refugees who arrived here in 1979 and throughout the 1980s. Kim’s friend was learning to be a seamstress so Kim decided to do the same and found work at a company called Moores Clothing. “Together we learned how to sew. I learned how to hem pants.” A quick learner, after two weeks she was asked to stay on. But Kim went to DKM Sewing on Isleville Street, and worked there for 17 years. Six years ago she and her husband were about to buy a restaurant in downtown Halifax when they learned that Fred’s Tailors’ ailing owner was selling his business. They bought that instead. “When I came here I was very nervous,” Kim recalls. “I didn’t know everything about how to repair the clothes. The boss here was Vietnamese and he said he would teach me. I had to learn everything in one day.”
Kim felt uneasy for the first year but found that being honest with her customers was important. “I would say if I do something wrong, forgive me and I’ll fix it. Some people would get angry but some know how to sew and they would show me. I just kept building relationships.” Kim works six days a week while her husband drives taxi. “This is freedom. I’m here by myself.” Sundays she spends time with her children – 21-year-old Thien, a Saint Mary’s University student, and 19-year-old Thi who is taking a hair stylist course. She hopes one day to visit her sister in Vancouver – when she retires, she says with a chuckle.
Kim has fond memories of ISANS. “My time there was very enjoyable. There were people from every culture in my class. They taught us about Canadian culture. I’m very grateful for that program.” Despite the cold, and the lack of ingredients for her Vietnamese cooking, she liked it here right away. She even remembers the help from a support person who went shopping with her.
“They took care of everything. I will never forget the help they gave me.”