Thai people’s feelings toward the Thai diaspora

July 13th, 2009

“Diaspora”, that’s a big new word for me. I learned it after somehow stumbling upon a discussion on The Nation Webboard about how Thai people feel towards other Thais who were raised or lived a long time abroad (discussion here). The discussion is interesting to me because I never thought much about it but I do have some of those same feelings. Read on. There is a treat for you at the end of this post.

Diaspora means “the dispersion of a people from their original homeland”. So that would be Thai people living abroad. The thread starter “Steve” asked how Thai people feel about the Thai diaspora. The first commenter made a couple of points that got some other commenters upset but also some of them agreed, and I think I share some of his same feelings.

I guess first I should say I am definitely not one of the Thai diaspora. Although I lived in America for 10 years I grew up in Thailand and am definitely Thai in my thinking and behavior. My time in America educated me but did not really change much in the way I feel about things. And it didn’t change the way I speak Thai, which is one of the key points that came out in the discussion.

The first commenter said something like this: if a Thai person returns to Thailand and doesn’t speak Thai like a native they are often thought of as a traitor. I think that is a little bit strong, but I thought about how I feel when I see a Thai person who doesn’t speak Thai very well. It feels like they aren’t real Thai. I think the feeling is much stronger than the feeling about how they look.

There are many Thai people who are luuk khrueng (mixed) and have very different looks. But if they grew up in Thailand and speak Thai like a native the feeling it gives when you see and hear them is that they are real Thai even though they might look 100% farang. The opposite is true when I see someone who looks Thai but they don’t speak like a native – they just seem not so Thai.

There is some other discussion in that thread about being a traitor because you were in another country’s armed forces, or the case of those Thais who try to pretend they aren’t Thai and even pretend they don’t speak Thai very well. Those things are something else. That thing about pretending not to be Thai – I knew a few ladies like that in America. They tried to act like they were American women, ignoring their Thai culture and normal behavior, as if they didn’t know it was improper to wear a short skirt to a temple ceremony. Who were they trying to impress? Their new farang boyfriend I guess, or the other Thai people? The worst are the ones who try to speak broken Thai, like they are not native Thai speakers, copying, I guess, the way their farang husband speaks Thai. What is up with that? They pretend like they are now part of the Thai diaspora, like that makes them higher class or something?

Aside from those other issues about the “fake” Thai diaspora, it just seemed interesting to me that people’s appearance is less important than their accent when it comes to how I feel towards them. And as your reward for reading this long post about a subject you might find boring, I have included a photo of a Miss Dispora beauty pageant contestant. Yes, there is a beauty pageant for everything. I couldn’t really figure out much about her because the site was in Romanian language. I think her name is Mihaela Raluca.

Mihaela Raluca Miss Dispora


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21 Responses to “Thai people’s feelings toward the Thai diaspora”

  1. Al Says:

    I have COMPLETELY dispersed myself from my homeland.
    I despise my birth country.

  2. Julian Says:

    If you need help with translating that site, I might be able to help – I’m a Romanian/American living in Asia actually, so I relate to the contents of your post (diaspora? to which one do I belong, Romanian diaspora, or American diaspora? after a couple of moves around the world, these things become confusing), and, well, to the photo. BTW, Mihaela and Raluca are both first names, both very Romanian, Mihaela Raluca is very Romanian looking indeed.

  3. John Says:

    Interesting, although hard to relate to. Here in the USA, we get more the opposite situation – acceptance of immigrants – than renaturalization of expatriots. I know that first- and second-generation borne children of immigrants here sometimes feel less accepted by the elders in their families, while also feeling not entirely accepted by non-immigrant citizens, and both those feelings derive in part from language issues. But considering someone a traitor because of a language issue seems as stupid as saying, “If you live in America, you should speak American! [sic]” – an ignorant statement I’ve heard more than once.
    Seems that developing tolerance, if not understanding, between peoples is a pretty slow process.

  4. J Says:

    Maybe those Thais wearing short skirts in temples weren’t trying to impress anybody. Perhaps they were American-Thais raised in the U.S. and the thought about their dress didn’t even occur to them, or they’d been in the U.S. so long they didn’t think about it as well. Perhaps they were just more Americanized and didn’t think about it. Why didn’t you ask them instead of complaining about it years later to us here?

    But, you should know it’s not necessarily a Thai culture thing. Perhaps they were just clueless in general. I know many American Christians who would find a lady wearing a short skirt to church to be offensive yet occasionally you see it. Some people are clueless about that sort of thing or don’t think about it.

  5. AsianSweetheart Says:

    Thanks for the offer Julian. I didn’t bookmark the site where I found the photo so I don’t have the url. It’s ok. I just included the photo because it sort of fit the topic.

  6. AsianSweetheart Says:

    J, I knew that girl personally. She came to America after I did. She did know what is proper, but decided to flout it. That is what I am talking about, the ones who try to act like they are no longer Thai, even by doing very improper things.

  7. John C Says:

    Geez, AS, it was nice that you included that photo of the comely lady at the bottom of your post about the Thai diaspora… But, do you REALLY think all the guys here just subscribe to look at photos of scantily clad Asian women with (often-times) bountiful breasts, and not to appreciate the humor and thoughtfulness of your writing???? Tsk tsk… Shame on you… :-)

  8. Julian Says:

    @John – unfortunately it is a true issue – and it cuts both ways. I spent 14 years of my life in the US, carry a US passport, yet I am culturally not American (although fairly Americanized). At the same time I am very cut off from my native (Romanian) culture (although I carry a Romanian passport as well), in which I did not fit back when I was living there, and fit in even less now, as it has changed significantly while I was away. So for me living as a complete and obvious foreigner (in Asia – duh, everyone can see from a mile that I am NOT from here) is the only choice – I fail to see why I would put up with the first/second immigrant generation issue in the US just so that my grandkids might be American, when I have a whole world I can choose to live in.

  9. Al Says:

    John…. I come here for both the women and AS’s comedic thoughts.

  10. craig Says:

    Let me get this right. You came to America for 10 years but you were unchanged. You now have an English speaking blog about girls directed to sex Western mindset. This blog is so stuffed with sex for sale pop-ups that it distracting to the blog.
    When I was growing up in school one book I cherished was the geography book. They don’t teach geography anymore because there are no half naked girls in grass skirts any more. They have Starbucks and 7/11 on the corners.
    I know this is probably a great sadness for proud Thai people. It is a great sadness for me as an American.
    “Life is visceral, rather than intellectual. And the most visceral practitioners of life are those who characterize themselves as intellectuals” (Spiro Angew 1972)
    That is also the basis of a current Trance music anthem. ?
    Can ya dig it?

  11. AsianSweetheart Says:

    I said I was not one of the Thai diaspora they are talking about in that thread. That’s because I grew up in Thailand and went to America after I was already an adult. My 10 years in America really didn’t change my cultural values and behavior. It just educated me about America, like the fact that most American have no idea we have a big mainstream entertainment industry in Thailand with very beautiful stars and models. Hence my blog, to educate them about it.

    Sex for sale pop-ups? There are no pop-ups at all on this site. There are ads for dating that take you to other sites if you click on them – Chinalove, Amolatina, Singlesnet, Passion – a nice variety for most tastes. Some sexy ladies at those sites but no nudity. If any of those girls are selling sex I don’t know since I can’t screen them myself. So I don’t understand the complaint at all, except you don’t like ads on the blog, which isn’t going to change, ad supported free content is the internet model.

  12. fatboyinyourneighbourhood. Says:

    oh my god.
    my baby is definetely a diaspora.

    she is only 1 month old when i bring her here.
    all she had is her mother to speak to in thai.

    and yea, i definitely wont speak like a local thai (no disrespect) because i aint a thai.
    i seen people trying to mimic, to sound, to act like a thai which obviously. in my opinion.. freaks me out.

    and seriously i hate people (regardless of all races) that try to “be” something that they isnt. why not be proud of where your from ?

    so in my point of view, go ahead with the broken thai, and broken english and broken watever it is,
    because thats make you what you are.

  13. Al Says:

    I thought your reason you made this blog was cuz you appreciated thai beauty…. mostly beauty from women. Maybe you have more reasons than just one?

  14. Dane Says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but presses heavily on me nonetheless. I want to comment on and ask a question about the way you used the word “farang” in this post.

    I am an American living in working in Thailand. I just graduated college last year and moved here to teach. Now I work for a magazine in Bangkok. As a young American I feel some distance between most ‘farang’ I see in Thailand. That said, I know I still am one. For some reason, when I am called the word, I take offense. Not because I wish I were Thai or something, but because it minimizes my identity, maybe. Like anybody who looks white is one nationality, one culture, or just one homogeneous construct. It also makes me feel the person I am talking to, whether or not I am close with them, uses the word, consciously or not, to put distance between us, maybe to reaffirm his or her own Thainess and the pride that comes with that.

    I can’t quite place what disturbed me when I read the word farang in your post, but I think it had something to do with the work the word did to put distance between Thais and other peoples. Why not say American instead? If the word really means “foreigner” as most Thais reassure me, then how can you use the word in good faith when you’re in America, a place where almost everybody, at one point or another, was considered a foreigner? It is because the word has a much more complex, culturally embedded meaning, yes?

    Though there are different power dynamics at play, a similar feeling might occur to a Thai person if I refer to her as “Asian,” not Thai, when talking about her, in front of her, even if she is a good friend of mine.

    I write so that I might be able to encourage you to post your thoughts about what the word means to you. I tried explaining to a few of my close Thai friends why the word makes me feel uncomfortable, though I don’t think I understand enough about Thai nationalism and ethnic pride to fully grasp the power vectors when that word is used in a way to identify people who appear white. Currently, I believe that the word stymies the project of integration (which may be the point), in Thailand and elsewhere. Far from expecting to be Thai, I’d like to see Thais either acknowledge diversity more accurately, especially those living abroad, or open up to the idea that nationalism in and of itself is not harmful force in the world, though that is another story altogether.

  15. Dane Says:

    Correction: The end of the last sentence I wrote should read “nationalism in and of itself IS a harmful force int he world..”

  16. AsianSweetheart Says:

    That question about the word farang comes up a lot. It’s not intended as any kind of insult by Thai people. But part of what you said is true, that fair skinned foreigners are all farang for most Thais. It’s not that we intend to put them down or anything. It’s just that most Thai people know very little about the rest of the world so the west is all “farangland” as far as they are concerned. A lot of Thai people even refer to phasaa farang (farang language), having little idea that farang speak English, French, German, Italian…many different languages and one farang may not be able to communicate at all with another.

    When I use the word “farang” it’s because it is short and descriptive instead of saying “fair skinned westerners”. I suppose I could also say “westerners” or “caucasians” – would that be accurate?

    People often referred to me as “the Asian girl” when I was in America. I guess it was because they didn’t know what country I came from. It never bothered me. I guess if people insisted that all Asians are the same that would bother me because there are very big differences between cultures. Even in Thailand there are big differences in people from different backgrounds. Thai-Chinese people do stuff that I don’t even understand.

    I think Thailand is a long way from recognizing diversity like you hope. It won’t change any time soon.

  17. Dane Says:

    Thanks for your response. I think if people don’t know what country someone is from, the generalization is fine; many people confuse me for Italian, German, French, whatever.

    The people that worry me, however, are the people in the know, well-educated and already aware of my nationality, not Thais who neither know me personally nor know about countries other than their own. So when a Thai person knows the guy is American, what is really at play when the word used to describe him is “farang”? I mean, they certainly don’t want to seem uneducated in front of other Thais (or to her readers), who may also very well know the person she is talking about is American. So if it can’t be a case of ignorance in that situation, what is it?

    Your reason for using the word is that it is convenient, which, as I said at the beginning of this reply, I think is fine if you’re just judging from appearances. But when people know that somebody is of some nationality, how can usage of the word not be interpreted in a way that works to condescend the ‘farang’ or elevate the Thai?

    Just because being called “Asian” never bothered you does not mean certain usage of the word “farang” should not bother me. Also, you guess it was because people don’t know where you come from that they use the word. So what about when they already know you’re Thai? Don’t you think that person is just a little inconsiderate for using it?

    I guess I should write more directly to the point I am trying to make. When people who I consider friends to me use the word, I feel divided from them. That even though they know I’m from America, they choose to lump me with a group of people who are generalized in this country as, at least through my observations here, pretty shitty people. I know they don’t intend to insult (just as someone who calls you “Asian” probably doesn’t intend to insult), but I think they intend to divide.

    We all know that the word farang has sort of a white trash feel to it. The way you used the word in your article clearly packed some heat. You were talking about girls that annoy you and do stupid, inappropriate things, perhaps to impress their farang boyfriends. I don’t write this to attack you personally, so you shouldn’t feel a need to argue that the word hold’s a neutral connotation. Like the debate around the usage of the word “nigger,” it is not who uses but who decides whether it offends and why. I guess I want to read whether you feel there is any validity to my opinion that there is more at stake than either ignorance or convenience when the word is used by Thais to describe Westerners, once again, only in certain circumstances.

    I know Thailand won’t change in that way either for a long time; I simply want to explain my impetus for writing: it comes less from a desire to be included and more from a lofty hope that Thais be less concerned with using the language in a way that divides them from other communities and condescends, the same hope I have for Americans who generalize or condescend in similar ways.

  18. Al Says:

    Hey if your outside, YOUR from outside. You can’t change that. You know not every country can be like america. We see only americans. Then again…. I’ve been called asian before. And mexican. Mmmm.

  19. Dane Says:

    But I’m from America, and there, I definitely don’t feel like I belong. I think the whole idea of a nation state is bogus, outdated, an idea over some 400 years that followed a continental war, divided power among a handful of power lovers, created identities that the rest of the world would inherit by virtue of being born in a certain place, at a certain time. National identities still hold water for many people, but for those who live in and through the continually expanding pours of different cultures and places, they feel unrepresentative and ultimately thin.

    If I am outside a place, what does it take to be inside it? Being born there? A family? A job? An address? A skin color? A mastery of a language? Or can it just be a choice: this is where I live now. If and when I leave, it will also be where I am from.

  20. Sara Malakul Lane in Arena again | Asian Sweetheart 2.0 Says:

    […] I first noticed her in a sexy photo layout in Mars magazine. You can check out those photos in my Sara Malakul Lane gallery. I thought she was pure farang until I saw her on the Woody show. She speaks like real Thai, and thinking about it now it is the effect I discussed in my post about the Thai diaspora. […]

  21. PPunter Says:

    Just had to agree with Dane’s views on nationalism. I’m an American who’s done a bit of traveling and I’ve seen it from both sides.

    Many Americans that I’ve met aren’t very open to international ways of thinking and a lot seem very closed off to the world. At the same time many others seem to have the same view that all Americans come straight out of Fox News. Think how much damage nationalism has caused the world.

    Now, I think it’s great that there are many different nations with all their different languages, laws, and customs. It give people choices. You just have to realize that we’re not that much different and allow others to have those choices instead of jamming your own views down people’s throats.

    I don’t think somebody should be controlled by their nationality or cultural heritage. Ok, sure it’s nice to keep traditions and all, but why try to force them on people who don’t care about them…let them be.

    A bit off topic, but I came to this site from another that was discussing a post here about the “travesty of falangs taking away all Isaan women”…I belive the number was 16,000 in 2 years. Out of 20million? C’mon

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