I am Thai American. Born in Chicago, Illinois. I learned to speak thai, before I was able to speak English. It was the seventies, when there wasn’t much of a population of Thais around. Thai food wasn’t even a novelty, but so extremely exotic that there was maybe 1 or 2 restaurant that was only frequented by people missing their homeland’s cooking. There was no “Ethnic” section in grocery stores, definately not a jar of peanut sauce sitting next to the chili oil that we have now a days. This is “the when” I grew up in.
The majority of my family was/is in Thailand. I was surrounded by Americans with “Proud to be American” flags swaying butterfly collars, and “Liberty” bell bottoms. I was fully immersed in American Culture with my first bouts of school. Till then, I was in the loving arms of my small family and our greater “Thai family”, which were my parents friends. There is a social phenomenon when there are not many of a certain group in a foreign land. You can see it everywhere, “little Germany”, Chinatown…Khao San Road. This is what I knew.
Any way, when I was old enough I went to school. Not just any school, but the dreaded Catholic school. Duhn, da, duhn. Just kidding. Though this is where I learned where I was not like everyone else. I was taught that my years at temple and beliefs in Buddha were essentially the opposite of everything they were trying to instill. When everyone was seeing each other on Sunday school, I was in the temple learning…ghaw Gai, Kow Kai. These were not the only thing that added to a growing isolation…though thats not the right word. Let’s move on.
I grew up in Chicago. A place already known for its CHICK-Ka-go accent. Add that to learning how to speak English from people with a Thai accent. I had the ultimate accent. Where, when you move to the suburbs, they will fix it. I spent 7 years in speech therapy at my public school, where I would learned to speak with a “perfect” accent. One in which both CHICK-KA-go, a place I was born, and my Thai accent, a part of my history stemming past myself, was each year being changed.
After some time in Chicago, we went on a family trip to visit my Boo. Now I want to stop here. Boo is not that cute saying urban hip hop slang, people call their girlfriend, or boyfriend. Its my grand-dad. I got to see a family that is so huge, that it was like its own country all by itself. Thats how thai families are. There is no second, third cousin. There is no in laws. There is family. Plain, and not so simple. There was a wonderful connection that I never felt before going to Thailand.
However my demeanor was not thai. I have always been known by my bad temper, and for a thai that is not polite. For it is a sign of weakness, for one should be in control of their emotions. My fluency in thai was not as good as it used to be. I would always talk about America proudly, and my American friends, while they all stated the greatness of Meng Thai. It was not a competition. It wasn’t a debate. It was family members getting to know each other. We were of the same blood. We had the same ancestors that would protect us from evil. We had many of the same skeletons in the closet. Though we were different. We were from different cultures…kind of. We were from different upbringings…kind of.
My uncle called me “Farang Kee Nok” as a loving nick name with a little kick. 15 years later, when I had not seen him, he calls me this with a smile before I am able to wai. I know my uncle loves me. I know that he does not have any malice in his word or intentions. I have learned that thai family members have no problem stating things, that Americans would think insulting. We have different cultures. That is the way the world turns. My uncle’s nick name: Farang=American/Englishman Kee=poop Nok=bird. Translation American Bird Poop. I have spent a many nights in the heat of Thailand’s chirping cicadas and grasshoppers, Chicago’s lights, and above krung Tep’s exhaust fumes thinking about “Farang Kee Nok.” White all around is the poop. Brown is the very core. Then there is a sick mess in between that is the combination or the two. Is that what I am? Culturally speaking. Finally, is it such a bad thing?
This is my first blog. Thank you for reading it.