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    Thai Community in Los Angeles 

    Dr. Somboon Suksamran Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

     
     
    The Thai population in California have been estimated about 120,000. Los Angeles is the biggest concentration of the Thai communities. In 1991, it was approximately 70,000 - 80,000 Thais lives in Los Angeles area. There are four (4) categories of Thais who live in Los Angeles and its vicinity. 
    1. THE STUDENTS. This group of Thais people includes the bona-fide students and part-time students. 
    2. THE GOOD OLD TIMERS. They are Thais who have spent their lives in Los Angeles over decades. The majority of them came to the U.S. for education and training and fell in love with the charm of American society, its liberal political culture and liberal social values. In addition, the employment opportunity prompted them to decide to resettle in Los Angeles. 
    3. THE REMAINS OF THE GOLD RUSH. There is a large number of Thais in the U.S. belong to this category. Those Thais have spent their lives in Los Angeles for over 3 decades. They were a group of Thais who originally not quite well educated, but very determined to seek opportunities to improve their fate which would never been realized in their mother land. They jumped into any kind of job which afforded them to physically survive. 
    4. THE BUSINESS. There are great varieties of business which are run by Thais. These businesses include legal consultants, jewelry, engineering and accounting consultant, grocery, publishing, finance and restaurant, etc. This category involves a good number of Thai employments.
    Social organization of the Thais has been maintained in many respects. The Thais have brought with them their culture and their "Thai-ness." Thai culture is expressed through seasoning festivals and ceremonies. Their Thai-ness could be observed from t heir social relationship among Thais themselves and foreigners. Thai food is another aspect of Thai-ness. Social activities of the Thais have been revolving around Thai Buddhist Temple (the "Wat"), located in North Hollywood. The notion that "the Thai can do without modernity, but hardly conceive of life without their Wat has clearly reflected here. It is the Wat that make the Thais realize of their Thai-ness and strengthen their culturally and socially with the Thai structure. 

    Patron-client relationship is the dominant pattern of Thai society. It has been brought along and practiced by the Thais in the U.S. Reciprocity and rivalry among groups could be normally found. However, the conflict would be subdued, though temporarily, when it comes to the Wat. It is interesting to note that some groups of Thai people have been supportive to certain political parties in Thailand. 

    The Thai people in Los Angeles have been engaged in various economic activities. Thai doctors have been doing well and gain high reputation and recognition for such expertise in open-heart and brain surgery. Thai business men have put their investment in such business as hotel, banking, textile and jewelry industries. The most common place is service business in restaurants. There are more than 350 Thai restaurants in Los Angeles and vicinity. Many engineers, computer scientists, finance analysts and accountants found their satisfactory employments in American companies. 

    However, the large number of Thais are working in factories which do not require sophisticated training. With the exception of doctors and big business groups, the majority of Thai employees hardly secure the positions above middle management level. Nevertheless, they could survive and enjoy welfare benefits, especially education for their children. 

    Ethnic solidarity of the Thais in comparison to that of the Korean, Japanese, and Filipinos is weak. Social hierarchy is still felt among the Thais, though less than when they were in Thailand. Sense of superior and inferior is still with them. However, solidarity could temporarily invoked and aroused by crisis at home. The Thais may join hand in hand at the protest against illegitimate government in Thailand expressing their common disagreement with the government at times. They may put their effort together to campaigning for or against certain causes in the name of the Thais in U.S. But they do not have that such strong feeling toward each other in this foreign land. The lack of national and ethnic solidarity, however, does not suggest that a majority of Thais feel wholeheartedly belong to American society. Although enjoying social benefits and open opportunity, some Thais still believe that they are somewhat "second-class citizen." Going home after retirement has been the destination of life of majority of the Thais in Los Angeles. Those who are over forty-five (45) years old often face dilemma in their decision of going back to the homeland. They have to think very thoroughly. 

    First, their children are still in schools and colleges and enjoying a high quality of life, good education and social benefits that they would never have in Thailand, unless they are wealthy. Secondly, under Thai employment standard, it may be "too old" to be employed by government of Thailand. Their friends have gone so far ahead in term of position and ranking. It is possible that they find work with private companies, but they might not enjoyed as much income as in the U.S. Thirdly, living in Thai land in the 90's has been very competitive and expensive. They will have to invest a lot of their savings for house and other necessities. Finally, Thailand is a society of "who you are." It will take a long time for the returnees to establish themselves to their expectation. These dilemmas are not applied to the business circle and the highly skilled professionals such as physicians and engineers. Thailand still needs a lot of expertise, but not for the others. 

    There is the latest Thai generation who were born in the U.S., so called, "Thai-American." Likewise, the Korean-American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American and any other Asian-American groups, they are educated in the U.S. and influenced by the American culture. Their ideas are different from their parents who immigrated from Thailand, and the objectives of life are also different from their parents. They would rather live, work and spend their life in the U.S. Their thought of going back and live in Thailand is hardly ever happened. Consequently, their parents are the one who have to concede and eventually staying in the U.S.