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Immigration History of the Thai to the United States

17 November 2010 2,338 views 6 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Before 1960, there was not much to see
of the Thai in those States they call free.

But in that year, there was a war,
that brought American soldiers ashore
on the “republic” of Thailand, for this Vietnam war.

Along with soldiers, tourists this brought,
and soon trade was less negotiated in Baht.
For the US tourists all thought in dollars,
and so profitable became Thai bars and massage parlours.

This western influence was not without effect,
new music, foods and business, it did effect.
And perhaps it was this, which gave the idea,
to a few Thai, to go past Korea
on a trip that would take them from their native Thailand,
and on past the islands that compose Japan.
Into America, “Land of the Free”,
where they’d only have to pay, a “tiny, small fee”.
Where their dreams would come true, their families be broken,
where some would embrace them, while others’ hate went unspoken.

You see,

the place was large, and the pace fast,
so those large Thai families were destined to pass
into obscurity, some detail in history
of the way things and people had once used to be.

And now some say the affect has traveled:
that family tie unraveled.
That is, this tie holds not, as it once did–
their parents will leave, and so will their kids.

Thai immigration to the United States was nearly nonexistent until the US stationed troops in Thailand during the Vietnam war due to the country’s proximity to Vietnam. In 1962, the US moved 10,000 troops to Thailand. By 1969, the number of US troops had reached 45,000. There was an interstitial in which the troops were removed, but all were back in place by 1964.

With the troops came funding from the US military. Beginning with US$30 million in 1962 and increasing over the next ten years, until reaching US$123 million by 1972. In addition to this, the US also funded Thai police and military programs, with amounts approximately equal to the military aid previously mentioned. All this money being poured into the economy did much for increasing the standard of living, though perhaps indirectly. For it was the military tourism (Bangkok was now a location for GIs’ rest and recreation tours) that actually put money into the local economies: New Phetchaburi Road was an “‘American strip’ lined with bars, nightclubs, brothels, and massage parlours”. Other Thai-owned establishments began popping up around US air bases, and by 1970, there were enough attractions to bring in over six-hundred thousand tourists, with the majority of these being American. (Wyatt, 147-149).

And so, likely because of this western influence of the soldiers and tourists on the natives, thus began the immigration of a significant population of Thai to the US.

By the early ’70s, approximately five-thousand Thai had immigrated to the US, with women outnumbering men three-to-one. Though perhaps skewed toward legal immigrants, census data indicates that this population comprised mainly doctors, business men, and wives of US Air Force personal (this last likely being the reason for the unexpected ratio of women to men). (Schlight).

Immigration of Thai into the US has remained at roughly constant levels since. (Office of Immigration Statistics).

According to the 2000 US Census, there were 79,211 people who identified themselves as at least partly Thai living in the US. 36,525, or 46% of these lived in California.

As of 2008, there were approximately 130,000 Thai born immigrants in the US.

As somewhat of an aside, and while hard to objectively measure or say for certain that it is in fact westernization that is the cause, the degree to which a Thai is tied to his family has been reduced. More common is it now for children to leave their parents and move farther away and to choose their own spouse than it had been in the past.


Works Cited

  1. Schlight, John. A War Too Long: the USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975. Office Of Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1996. Electronic-Resource.
  2. Wyatt, David K.Thailand: a Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2003. Text.
  3. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
    <http://www.dhs.gov/ximgtn/statistics/publications/yearbook.shtm>.

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