In 1990, a few Thai nationals in America decided to set up an organization in order to encourage Thai youth born in America to love and understand their cultural heritage. It started with a few families joining together to bring their families to Thailand on a tour of the country. They visited historical landmarks, watched traditional dancing and visited orphanages. Soon, other families asked to join these trips and that is how the Thai American Youth Heritage Program was created. They now organize trips to Thailand every two years. They have many sponsors which help subsidies these trips. This morning they came to the Ancient City in Samut Prakan which is where I met up with some of them. My school was asked to provide a welcoming committee for the youth.
It was actually interesting for me to talk to some of the people on this trip. And also to compare my own Thai students and the Thai youth born in America. And there is a big difference. For a start, many of them don’t speak Thai. If they do, then they often cannot read or write. In our forums, we often have posts from half Thais or Thais born abroad who say that as a youngster they didn’t have much interest in Thai culture. Their parents also didn’t speak Thai to them. It was much the same for these youth. They said it was a bit of a culture shock to come to Thailand, but despite the heat they said that they were enjoying their trip so far.
Observing these Thai youth from America was so strange. They looked Thai on the surface but they weren’t. Everything about them said “Western”. Sometimes it was their haircut, or the way they wore their clothes. But, mostly it was about posture and how they interacted with their friends and the adults. To our Thai teachers, the way they acted might seem to be disrespectful, but to the youth, it is all about freedom of expression. Being an individual. As much as I like Thailand and how much respect they show for their seniors, you don’t often see individuals amongst the youth here. Everyone conforms to a strict formula and pattern. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it helps build strong families and communities. But I think it dampens any creativity or innovation amongst the Thai people.
It was a shame that our students didn’t have much time to talk to the Thai youth from America. I think they could have learned a lot from each other. Maybe next time the organizers could arrange a trip to our school.