In Canada, it’s a given that we accept people of all shapes, sizes, colours, beliefs, and all that jazz. That’s why being half Thai and half Canadian wasn’t a big deal growing up, nor was it a big deal to either side of my family.
The paradox lies in that my identity doesn’t really fit with either side of my two worlds: both sides of my family see me as the other culture.
My mother’s side of the family is a standard white-Canadian family with white-Canadian values and problems. My great aunt was even a mountie. Can it get any more Canadian than that?
My dad’s side, on the other hand, is a another immigrant story: my grandparents immigrated to Canada from Southeast Asia to escape the dangers of the Vietnam War.
The two contrasting families actually blend well. Grandmothers from both sides loved to see each other and could share the fact they had a new grandson. The only difference between the two families is their language. My Thai family spoke Thai, and the Canadian side spoke English. Naturally.
I struggled with the Thai language growing up, and I still struggle with it to this day.
My nickname in the family is falang, which essentially means “white person” in Thai.
Some might think that the word is insensitive, but my family called me falang all my life, and they still do to this day.
I quickly came to terms with the word despite the alienating nature of it because my Asian family adores me. They love that I eat all the spicy Thai food, bow to my elders and hang out with my full-Asian cousins. Why? Because to them, I’m the white Asian, and that means I have a place with them.
On the flip side, the other half of my family, as well as my non-Asian friends, see me as strictly Asian.
I’ve been teased my whole life about using chopsticks, enjoying Asian culture and, in general, just being Asian. It definitely doesn’t help that my name is Thai, I’m half Thai and sometimes I tie ties. Whenever there is anything remotely Asian-inspired around me and my friends, I usually wait for a joke to come my way.
That stuff isn’t offensive to me, though; being reminded that I’m Asian, whether by insult or not, is the biggest compliment I can receive. It is an immense source of pride for me. It reminds me of my heritage and how much I love being part of that culture.
It also makes me happy that my Thai family welcomes a Canadian like me with such pride.
I can’t say too many people in my life understand the unique social and cultural upbringing I had. Not that misunderstanding is a bad thing, but the story of someone who has been split between vastly different cultures their whole life is one that might be ignored more often than not.
The ignorance is understandable because the story is usually one of someone caught between worlds in a wholly grey way; it’s a difficult story to tell.
Being half is nowhere near the best of both worlds, but it sure as hell isn’t a bummer.
Cover photo by Thai Sirikoone.