Let’s Leave the Thai Out!

The following is a cross-post, originally written by CubicleJOT of the blog LiveLaod.

Let’s Leave the Thai Out!

by cubiclejot on December 2, 2010

Can we just call it Lao?  I’m talking about restaurants called Thai/Lao.  Cookbooks titled Thai/Lao, Thai/Lao music, Thai/Lao sticky rice, Thai/Lao blah blah blah.   Folks, if it’s labeled Thai/Lao I guarantee you it is Lao.  Lets be real. The Thai have taken great lengths to eliminate Lao from their cultural equation through Thaification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaification).  For example a true “Thai” restaurant would list their Lao dishes, Thai Issan dishes.  (Thai Issan the term used to identify the people of northeastern Thailand. This area consists primarily of ethnic Lao but through thaification Thailand adopted the name Issan to encourage Thai Nationalism while discouraging other loyalties, such as Lao.)

Disclaimer:  Before I continue on I want to make sure folks don’t take this as a bashing on the Thai because that is not where I am going.  This is not to hate on those owners of Thai/Lao restaurants or Thai/Lao cookbooks etc. I know you all are trying to make a living so kudos to being entrepreneurs.  This is not an attempt to bring up old Thai/Lao relations and its’ rocky history. If you are mixed Thai & Lao you know this is not directed at you so no need to be PC.  So what is this about?  Honestly this is about me, and how much I hate that I can’t just say, “It’s Lao!!!”  Also on a less selfish note this is about the potential negative impact categorizing Lao with Thai.

The topics I bring up on this site are topics that impact me both in a positive and negative way.  With this Thai/Lao issue I really hate not being able to say “It’s Lao!!”  Having grown up in a smaller town in Eastern Washington and having gone to a high school with only a handful of Asian kids in my graduating class it was hard to fully embrace my ethnic identity.  Now as an adult and having shed away insecurities I want to fully and completely embrace my culture.  I don’t want to be identified as Chinese, Korean or Thai.  I have grown up with all the good and bad of being Lao and embrace all of it.  I have much pride and it upsets me when I see the Thai & Lao culture being blended together.  I want to be able to claim what is ethnically and cultural Lao.  Not Thai/Lao!!!!

The second issue with categorizing ethnically/culturally Lao “Anything” with Thai is the negative impacts it can have.  To me the Thai/Lao association conveys two things:

  1. Thai & Lao are one and the same.
  2. Lao can’t stand on it’s own.

As we can see happening already, Lao food and music are being confused for Thai.  How will we differentiate from things that are culturally Lao and those that are culturally Thai when we continue to group them Thai/Lao.  Also when I say “we” I’m talking about us Lao folks.  Lao folks make the argument that Lao is too unknown so putting the popular Thai branding will help business.  Very valid point, but what I am asking is how can we step out of the Thai shadow if we keep avoiding the spotlight?  Can we really not stand alone?  If Lao doesn’t embrace its own identity I’m sure Thailand will surely embrace it for us and claim it as their own.  Come on folks lets leave the Thai out!!!!

Live Lao’d,

CubicleJOT

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