Thailand Protests Spark Local Debate

by Joseph Mayton on January 24, 2014

A number of street debates became heated on Wednesday late afternoon in Chinatown between young and old Thai immigrants after they began to discuss the political machinations that have taken hold of Bangkok’s streets. Some argued the protest movement that has brought the Thai capital to a standstill is a “people’s revolution,” while others Beyond Chron spoke with saw the movement as attempting to usurp the power of the government and its poor and downtrodden allies. It is a debate that has gripped much of the Thai population living in San Francisco for the past few weeks as demonstrations continue in their former homeland.

“I think what is happening right now is no different than what happened in Egypt and Tunisia,” said 22-year-old San Francisco State Political Science major Adam Song, who told Beyond Chron outside a restaurant family and friends were eating at on Wednesday. For him, the protests are about a better future for all.

“As an American I know what it is like to live an almost free life and be able to achieve what we put our minds too, but in Thailand this is still not the case and many young people believe it is the government’s fault for the failures,” he added.

But his father, 56-year-old Vanat, believes otherwise. He argued that “the movement is about the elite trying to get their power back that was lost when we saw change about a decade ago. The poor and disenfranchised, where I came from, are in support of the government’s efforts to make a better life for Thai people and the young elite are not helping.”

It is a battle of words over the future of a country that plays as important role for the thousands of Thai immigrants who have made the Bay Area home. They follow the daily events in the Southeast Asian country with keen interest, debating, as seen on the streets of San Francisco, what is happening and throwing their support behind either the government or the protesters.

With Bangkok in a state of emergency, and a leading pro-government activist shot dead in the country on Wednesday night, the tense political uncertainty in the country has boiled over into the Diaspora here in the Bay Area, with local Thai-Americans seemingly forced to pick a side in the battle for public opinion.

“It is strange to watch how our family and friends deal with what is happening in Thailand,” said mother of 3 and web designer Pripa, who told Beyond Chron that since she came to the United States 18 years ago when she was only 12, Thailand has always played an important role in daily life here.

“It is our original home and we care deeply about our friends and family still there, so it doesn’t surprise me that we are caught up in what is happening, but I didn’t expect to see such a split among family and friends here,” she said from her Daly City home as she prepared snacks for the kids and a day at a local architecture firm to help revamp their website.
“I find this important. It is a revolution of a sorts, no matter what side you are on, it just matters who wins I guess to really make that kind of argument as to whether it is like Egypt and Tunisia. I don’t know yet, but I am watching,” she added.

While the situation in Thailand appears to have no immediate end in sight, for Thai-Americans living in the Bay Area, it has become a talking point as vital as local news. For Song, it is a matter of justice and social progress. While he may be at odds with his parents, who came to the US to seek a better life for their children, he believes that right will prevail.

“I know I am American, but I feel a sense of community with the Thai protesters. I don’t believe this is an elite movement. If that is the case and we condemn the protests then we should also condemn the American Revolution, because that was started by the elite,” he said.

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