Matthew Ngo, a physics teacher at Citadel High School, has good and bad memories of growing up in Spryfield with Vietnamese as his first language. “We had three Miss MacKenzies in elementary school, and they were each unique and great. I felt so safe and grateful,” says Matthew. “Even though I was different, I had a teacher to rely on.”
He was sometimes treated poorly by other kids, and one day he was stabbed with a pencil on his ear. “I remember my mom frantically crying in the principal’s office. I was bleeding profusely.” He points to where the marks remain. “Looking back, I feel like my treatment was either indirect or overt racism.” Because of an ethnic mix, high school was better, but he befriended other “social outcasts” as he was too poor to afford trendy clothes.
I’ve always been proud of my parents, proud in many ways.
Matthew’s parents met here after immigrating to Canada separately. His father fought in the South Vietnamese navy during the Vietnam War. After the fall of Saigon, he fled to Australia, the US, and finally Halifax. His mother arrived with the Vietnamese “boat people.” Matthew still lives in the Spryfield house where he and his younger sister, now an Ontario chiropractor, grew up. Matthew’s parents worked hard to build a life. His father was a chief engineer in the Navy, while his mother, who had studied accounting, worked in retail once the kids left school. “She put her entire life on hold for us. I’ve always been proud of my parents, proud in many ways.”
Matthew excelled in his studies; his parents registered him in computer classes during school years, but after one year in computer science at Dalhousie University, he realized he hated it. He wanted to study meteorology, but positive experiences volunteering as an adult literacy tutor led him to education. “If I can do something for others and make their lives better, I can go to bed each night and think I did something good.”
He received a teaching job after substituting for only two months. He now teaches grades 10 to 12 and mentors struggling students. “Teaching is not always rosy. If I make a difference in at least one student’s life every day, in a positive way, I know I made my mission successful.” He hopes to eventually earn his Ph.D.
A community-oriented citizen, he served as Vice-President Internal Affairs of the Vietnamese Association of Nova Scotia, a group that organizes festivities and does community work. His father was a former president. His parents have visited Vietnam, but Matthew hasn’t, although he communicates with family there.
He is committed to staying in Halifax and appreciates its changes. “You see different ethnicities, food from different areas of the world, different customs acknowledged.” Matthew feels his Vietnamese identity is stronger now than ever and he acknowledges that his parents’ struggles have made him succeed. “My parents instilled in me and in my sister that the only way we’re going to be successful is to put in a lot of effort and hard work, and always live with the mentality of constantly learning and trying to become better.”