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).
So you’ve learned what the hosts and the guests do at the Thai funeral. Keep learning and enjoy your precious time in Thailand ja kha Beautiful Sashi Taniguchi.