During the Communist takeover of Vietnam in 1975, Dr. Leba Tonnu was stripped of her status as a dentist and forced to work as a janitor. In 1977 Dr. Tonnu, her husband and two sons joined thousands of others in fleeing the repressive regime but were captured and imprisoned. Two years later, using false names and borrowed money, they begged passage on a 10-meter boat carrying almost 140 passengers. When the engine failed they drifted in storm-tossed seas for 13 days until they managed to make their way to the shores of Malaysia's Tioman Island where they were forced back out to sea. In desperation they destroyed the boat and walked to shore only to be sent to a refugee camp where they remained for four months.
In September 1979 they became the first Vietnamese refugees brought to Canada through private sponsorship by a Quebec family. Their joy at arriving in their new country and discovering Dr. Tonnu was pregnant, was tempered by the discovery her husband required open heart surgery. They remained in Quebec for two years during which time she worked as a dental assistant during the day and took her dental degree at night. Dr. Tonnu received her Dental Certificate degree in 1985 and established her practice in Toronto.
In 1991, using her own talents as a singer and her husband's talent on the flute and oboe, she formed the Hong Lac folklore ensemble to teach their culture to children and bring comfort to the displaced people of her country. With her sister and brother-in-law, they performed around the country; eventually developing a youth ensemble and adding dance to their repertoire. The Hong Lac Vietnamese Dance Ensemble has performed across the country and has represented Canada internationally, winning the praise of both the Vietnamese and the international arts communities.