Curated by Shannon Murphy Berrios, 131 TESS
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
– Pablo Picasso
Wise words from Pablo Picasso and some that I believe every Peace Corps volunteer can take to heart. When we look back at our time in Thailand everyone can think of the day they arrived and all the things they believed they could not do. Through hard work and often looking like a fool, we have set out and done all the things we thought we couldn’t and more. This Hispanic Heritage month, we take a moment and review our bicultural, bilingual, binational experiences in the Land of Smiles.
Emmanuel Vega Arreola, 131 YinD
I’m still very close with my PST (pre-service training) host family even after arriving at site. I even went to visit them during reconnect. In our Latino culture, family is very important, and I carry that value with me even on the other side of the world. The second pic is me during a small camp. I try to be as engaging as I can. Some of the students asked about where me and another POC (person of color) volunteer came from. We both said we are American, but it took time to explain our background like we often do here.
Moises Puentes, 131 TESS
My community has been incredibly accepting, and they take the time to understand the duality within my cultures. I enjoy hiking and exercising with them and have started a hiking club to encourage them to enjoy nature and health.
Estefania Ortega, 131 TESS
Everyday surprises me. Stateside, I lived on the border between Texas and Mexico. Here I live on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. The border allows us to blend cultures and find a way to connect and appreciate them.
Alejandro Grimaldi, 131 YinD
Thai culture is very welcoming and family-oriented. During my first week at site, my host mother told me we were family. Since then, I have not felt otherwise. Colombians and Thais share many positive cultural traits like this one and that makes me feel at home.
Shannon Murphy Berrios, 131 TESS
My time in Thailand has helped me connect more with my Boricua heritage. I see a lot of familiarities between Thai and Puerto Rican cultures and when I take the time to recognize that I find more peace in my service. I have also been able to appreciate the little things back home, like arroz con habichuelas and Abuela’s café.
Leslie Santos, 131 YinD
“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”
Psian Avilés-Quiñones, 130 YinD
Having the opportunity to work with both Thai and indigenous youth while serving in PC Thailand has allowed my students and I to use education, art and music as tools of healing and a bridge between our cultures. We mix Bomba and Lahu drum rhythms and create this flavorful space where being your authentic self is most important. We are proud of our roots and embrace our spiciness!
Natalie Garro, 129 TCCS
As a transracial adoptee, I’ve never had direct access to information about my Puerto Rican ancestry or culture. As a person of mixed ancestry growing up in America, I’ve spent my entire life answering every racially ambiguous person’s favorite question: “What are you?” Back in the States, I was constantly searching for the place I fit without question or comment. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, sometimes I feel like all those years of unsuccessful searching granted me a sort of unique preparation for being a foreigner among such a homogenous population. As someone who’s never really fit in anywhere, I’m no stranger to feeling like an outsider, so that was an adjustment I never had to make here. But as the months collapsed into years, my foreignness gave way to familiarity. I never expected Thailand to be one of the first places I ever felt I truly belonged. I am the only Puerto Rican in my cohort, and I am one of three Puerto Ricans across three generations of volunteers currently serving in Thailand. I know very little about what that means, but I’m blessed to have found sisterhood with one of these amazing women. I’ve had the time and space in Thailand to begin learning about my own history and culture. Here, I’ve also received love without expectation from the people in my school and community – the kind of love that has created space for me to love myself. This love has taught me that I don’t need to be of a place to belong, and for that, I will always be grateful.
Yaneth “Janet” Peña, 130 YinD
My experience being Latina in Thailand can be summed up in four pictures:
1. Blending in
Since arriving to Thailand, I have blended in. I am “Asian-looking” enough and an ambiguous shade of brown. Add in the fact that I have a weird, but strong, resemblance to my host family, and it all l equals out to 90% of the time being confused for being Thai.
2. Mis raices (My roots)
I owe a large part of my success as a volunteer to my friends. I’ve been fortunate enough that I have befriended people who share my culture and common tongue. They remind me of home, family, and the strength of our Cultura Latina.
This isn’t a job that can be done alone. As Americans, we’re lucky enough to live in what we often refer to as a “melting pot” back home. Here, that’s not so much the case. It can, therefore, present challenges that can often affect things like identity, self-esteem, and even mental health. Still, having peers and friends that go above and beyond to be allies makes the weight less burdensome to carry. This is my shout out and thank you to them. ❤
4. Finding joy in the little things
After almost two years of living in Thailand, it’s hard not to miss all the little things that make up my life and culture back home. The food, music, dancing… did I mention the food? Yet, despite all the differences I’ve often found more similarities. The love for family, endless eating, the bad karaoke. Whether it’s my culture or Thai culture, both feel like home now and that’s more special than anything.
Maria Flores, 131 YinD
Una Mexicana en Tailandia, as a Mexican-American from Georgia, one of my favorite things about service so far has been being able to comfortably express, teach, and share my Mexican heritage with both fellow volunteers and my community. My heart gets filled with joy whenever I get the chance to dance some Salsa, sing a Spanish song with other volunteers, and or teach my students silly “Sapito” dances. I’m incredibly lucky and thankful for my community’s acceptance, and constant desire to learn about my background.
Larissa Lima Delgado
Queens, New York
It’s hard to perfectly sum up being Brazilian in Thailand, so here are a few categories where it manifests itself:
- It’s realizing how attached I am to Brazilian dishes when I don’t have easy access to the ingredients. Like pão de quejo, tapioca, pastel, picanha (brazilian steak,) feijoada, and the list goes on and on. So I stick to some basics like rice, beans, yuca, and chicken. Consequently, I’m the yuca vendor’s favorite customer at our daily market.
- It’s Thai friends explaining to others that I can eat spicy because I’m Brazilian.
- It’s my Thai friend giving me a confused look when I say I make my rice with garlic and salt.
- It’s chewing sugarcane at my host mom’s in Suphan and flashing back to chewing sugarcane in my grandma’s backyard on my dad’s side during one of my childhood yearly visits to Brazil.
- It’s stocking up on Brazilian coffee when I visit the states.
- It’s making dark humor out of a colonialist past: Thank you Portugal for bringing bakery bread and cheese to Brazil.
2. Identity/Family and cultural norms
- It’s missing a part of myself because I don’t have anyone to speak to in Portuguese here apart from Facetimes with family and friends.
- It’s realizing for the first time the habits/norms that aren’t even American or from New York, but straight up from being raised by Brazilian parents and surrounded by our Brazilian friends.
- It’s being bi-cultural and having the opportunity to share the diversity of Americans to my students.
- It’s my nickname Lalá being pronounced the same way by Thais as by my family in Brazil.
- It’s the cultural pride when someone says Brazilians are good at soccer or when a student asks “Do you know Neymar?”
- And then, it’s going to sleep in my jersey in an Airbnb in Hua Hin when Brazil loses the world cup.
- It’s the confusing script introduction: I was born in Brazil, moved to America as a kid with my parents, visit family in Brazil every year, and I have both citizenships. Parents and sisters are in America. Everyone else is still in Brazil!
- It’s drawing a Brazilian flag above a crib as the very first thing in my “Life Map” activity with my students.
- It’s explaining when Thai friends ask that Brazilian culture is more strict than American and less strict than Thai.
- It’s being confused for Thai not only because of how I look, but because when I speak Thai I draw from the same sounds I use when I speak Portuguese.
- It’s the norm of family, food, and hospitality being familiar, but indirectness and lack of physical touch not being familiar.
- It’s hanging out in a family commune setting in PST, and it being reminiscent of the family commune setting at my grandma’s on my mom’s side of the family.
- It’s challenging Thai cultural norms:
“Well actually Brazilians think thick legs on a woman is beautiful because it means they’re strong.”
“The stereotype for tanner skin in Brazil is that you have enough free time to vacation on the beach.”
3. My parents upbringing
- It’s for the first time relating a little more to my parents upbringing:
Me: I don’t have hot water.
Mom: When I was a kid your grandma used to boil the water so that each of the 7 of us could have warm baths.
Dad: I have to manually flush my toilet. Welcome to my childhood.
Me: They eat some bug dishes here.
Mom: Your father used to eat fried ants.
- It’s looking at this small village culture similar to my parents small villages and seeing how big of a deal it was for them to get out.
- It’s my host mom from Suphan opening up about being a farmer and never being able to go to school, and me just learning a year ago that because my grandparents were farmers, they never even went to elementary school.
- It’s meeting and conversing with manual laborers that work for a friend of mine and tearing up because my family isn’t that many generations far from when we were in that cycle.
- It’s showing my dad fresh-bought mangoes over a Facetime and seeing his eyes light up with nostalgia.
It’s appreciating my parents upbringing more, and it’s feeling inspired to live in a Rio for a year to get more connected to my roots after getting so immersed in Thai culture here. It’s gratitude, perspective, and love.