The following article is part of a series dedicated towards celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).
Sachi Taniguchi, 131 YinD
I think I feel most at home in Thailand when I’m at a funeral.
I was sitting in language class as our Thai language staff explained the cultural norms in regards to funerals in Thailand. At every funeral, there is a box in which the guests offer envelopes filled with a specific amount of money to the family mourning, everyone wears nothing but black clothing, it is typically held at a temple, everyone eats until they can’t eat any more after the service, and there is usually a 10-, 20-, and/or 50-day service afterwards to continue mourning.
I was just sitting there, taking everything in, when a fuzzy memory of eight-year-old Sachi wearing her black “funeral skirt,” a black shirt, and of course, some all-black converse popped into my mind. Aside from being an absolute fashionista when I was eight, this was the drill growing up when I attended funerals on my father’s side. I remembered driving in the car with my parents as they argued about who left the envelope at home, only to eventually remember we always stashed a few extra in the glove box of our car for situations like this. I remembered the incense-filled temple as we bowed our heads and listened to the chanting in Japanese. I remembered being absolutely stuffed after eating all the amazing food afterwards and being sent home with leftovers that would last us weeks.
There was an after-discussion that day in language class amongst our cohort and the staff about the normal religious behaviors in regard to funerals in the United States. I remember hearing countless variations of the same recollection from other volunteers:
“This is definitely not normal in America.”
Wait, hold on. For me, this was my normal:
My parents’ car glove box filled with white empty envelopes, every box awaiting money from loved ones, every incense-filled temple, every attendee in nothing but black, every buffet-filled table, and every 50-day service.
Did I not grow up in America?
I had to battle those genuine looks of confusion as I explained to Thai staff that despite what my peers said, this was exactly my experience in America, down to every detail. I had to battle the presumptive thoughts my peers had of what was “normal” in America. I even had to convince myself that for the majority of Buddhists in America, this was normal, and I shouldn’t have felt alone all those years.
Growing up as hapa (a person who is partially of Asian or Pacific Islander descent) in a primarily non-Asian part of California without a doubt had its difficulties. Yet, as I spend more time in Thailand, I am both reminded of those difficulties and also comforted with the feeling of cultural familiarity – a very nice change that I never knew I needed.
Read previous articles and contributions dedicated towards celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).