Altered States: The Thai Diaspora

The Thai diaspora is estimated to account for around 1.1 million people across the world.

Altered States: The Thai Diaspora

The Thai diaspora is estimated to account for around 1.1 million people across the world. The most significant Thai populations around the world are based in the United States (247,000), South Korea (101,000), Australia (72,000), Taiwan (64,000), Germany (58,000) and the United Kingdom (48,000). The total diaspora encompasses around 2% of the total population of Thailand. This indicates that while immigration isn’t as widespread as other nearby countries, a number of significant Thai communities exist throughout the world.

The most significant Thai diaspora exists in the United States. The Californian city of Los Angeles is home to more Thai people than anywhere else outside of Thailand, with a population of over 80,000. Aside from Los Angeles, major population hubs exist New York City and in Texas. Thai immigration to the United States, virtually non-existent in the first half of the 20th Century, increased significantly during the Vietnam War. The US established a number of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War and many American soldiers married Thai women, who migrated to the United States with their husbands. More importantly, the US military presence exposed the two countries’ cultures to one-another for the first time on a significant level and encouraged many Thai people to migrate to Los Angeles. The first generation of Thai immigrants generally consisted of skilled workers such as doctors and businessmen. However, this changed as immigration became more common and Thai communities popped up around the country.

The Thai diaspora has assimilated into American and western culture very easily. The transition has been relatively low on cultural friction. This is best epitomised by the popularity of Thai cuisine throughout the West, which has been readily embraced and appropriated by Western chefs.

Thai immigration into Europe and Oceania is also prevalent, albeit to a much lesser extent. Similar to Thai immigration to the United States, there is a strong sense of assimilation into the community. In Australia, the country’s largest city has its own ‘Thai Town’ neighbourhood, which celebrates a number of Thai cultural and religious events. In European countries such as the United Kingdom, the Thai population is relatively substantial but not concentrated around particular areas.

main image: The Amaravati Thai Buddhist Monastery in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. Photo by Jake Barnes – Mo Stupa Magic.

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