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Strong Thai women and relationship bonds in Chicago, the windy city

Wednesday 6th October 2021 11:55pm

Like many of the Thai communities, 65% are made of Thai women who have come stateside to make a new life in the land of the free. In Chicago, the windy city the bonds between Thai women and their US partners and husbands are strong.

Among the large Irish, Polish, Italian and even Muslim communities in Illinois the Thai population is minuscule and it is also very much spread out across the state.

In all, just over 10,000 Thai people, mostly first and second-generation immigrants living in Chicago and Illinois.

Part of this community by marriage is Dave Harrington, a 42-year-old Irish man who arrived in Chicago on a green card twenty-two years ago and later set up his own business. He is married to Pim, who is 30 years of age.

They met online in 2015 and Pim has lived in the windy city with him since 2017.

Thai wife in Chicago is originally from Kalasin province in northeastern Thailand

She is originally from Kalasinprovince in northeastern Thailand.

Dave runs a small and currently troubled decorating business which at one time employed twelve people but business has dried up. He has taken up nighttime learning with a view to a change in careers while his wife takes care of the kids and holds a part-time job in a local Thai restaurant.

'I think the environment here has become more hostile for us since the COVID-19 crisis. I speak to family and friends at home in Ireland whc has also had a bad outbreak but there is more support back home, ' he explains. 'It's put me thinking of what's best for my wife and kids, we're still young and can make a better life. This suddenly doesn't feel like home.'

The couple have two sons and are struggling to survive the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic whc has left them considering their future in the United States states. They are considering moving their family to Ireland but there is also thought of moving to Thailand although the former looks more plausible right now.

'I want a more stable life for my two sons,' says Dave, who dreams of a future as a tech executive.

Bangkok born Tammy Duckworth is the junior US Senator

Significantly the junior US senator of the state of Illinois is Senator Tammy Duckworth who was born in Bangkok in 1968 to a US armed forces officer and a Thai woman from Chiang Mai.

But it is active not least in the business community with over 300 Thai restaurants in the Chicago Metropolitan area.

The city is also home to a busy Royal Thai Consular office and several community organisations that help to foster stronger US Thai relationships.

Thai market in Bridgeview, 15 miles from Chicago each week.

One of them is the Thai Illinois Chamber of Commerce which helps organise a farmer's market each week of the summer in Bridgeview, a small town about 15 miles southwest of Chicago every Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm.

Homemade Thai food, farm produce, household goods and crafts are brought by vendors. The visitors to the market are mostly Thai people and their spouses who relish the opportunity to share some time with other Thai nationals and to speak the Thai language at least once a week.

Thai wife came to live in a Chicago initially on a K-1 visa in 2020

One of these is Patrick McIntyre who is married to Ratanawong who arrived in the United States in October 2020 on a K-1 visa. Ratanawong now works at one of the many popular Thai restaurants in Tinley Park, once a small village in Cork County but now a fast-growing suburb on the Southwest of Chicago.

In 2009, the area was voted as one of the best places in America to raise a family and by 2010 had a population of 56,703 people.

It's August and Patrick has just arrived at the market to pick up his wife after getting his second COVID-19 jab. He is proudly wearing his badge advertising the fact.

He waited until July to get the first vaccine shot and one of his primary motivations was to be in a position to be able to travel back to Thailand with his wife when the opportunity arises as Thailand was in the midst of a severe outbreak with severe entry criteria into the kingdom.

'I wanted to wait to see if some other people fall first,' he explains. 'But I really want to go back to Thailand. We've made a couple of friends around here. We come mainly for my wife to be able to have some people in contact with her.'

Thai woman missing her family at home during the COVID crisis

Ratanawong, like any Thai woman, negotiating the US immigration laws and visa options, found that the easier route by far was to apply for and obtain a K-1 Fiancée visa which meant that once she arrived stateside, it was time to get married.

'You land from Thailand here, then you've got 90 days to get married,' Patrick McIntyre explains. 'You either get married or you've got to pack your shit and go back to Thailand.'

For Ratanaowong whose family remain in Thailand including her daughters and mother the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that it has been practically impossible to travel back home and she misses her family.

Ratanawong is confident that the Thai government can handle the pandemic and that she will soon be able to be reunited with her family in the kingdom on a happy trip home.

Disruption to the business of thousands of Thai restaurants across the United States has hit the Thai community hard

For many Thai people working in Chicago and across America like Ratanawong, the pandemic has caused disruption not only putting them off from visiting home but also closing down many of the tens of thousands of Thai restaurants in America that they depend on for a living and social networking

One of the organisers of the market is 'Jek' Suthasinee Schembari who is also a co-director of the Thai Illinois Chamber of Commerce. She organises the market using the LINE chat application which is particularly popular among Thai people around the world.

'Slowly but firmly,' Ms Schembari explains how the market, now in its second year, is developing.

'We help each other, that's more important,' says Thai woman

'We don't charge them anything,' she says. 'They just come and make the product the best that they can do, and then we help along the way. I like to give people the space and opportunity to do that. Money is not that important when you get through hard times. We help each other, that's more important.'

The Thai woman runs a farm in the area where she cultivates organic crops.

Memories of a grandfather in Thailand

She explains that her inspiration for this was her grandfather back in Thailand who grew everything the family needed in his plot at the back of the house at home in a small Thai suburb, even though at the time, she admits she wasn't as impressed as she should have been.

'He just went to the garden every day and grew everything. When I grew up, I realised I didn't have to go to the market. I have everything in the backyard of my home,' Ms Schembari remembers. 'Everything that he grew when I was young: mangoes, bananas, coconuts.'

US husband not keen on moving to Thailand - 'He's a Westerner, he was born here.'

The American Thai couple has now bought a bigger property outside Chicago to allow Ms Schembari's horticultural pursuits to flourish.

However, she says that they will not be going back to Thailand where land is cheaper and the cost of living is lower. This has been quite a common occurrence particularly with European Thai couples over the last few decades

'He doesn't really want to move to Thailand,' she reveals. 'He's a Westerner, he was born here.'

For now, the Thai woman is happy to plough her furrow with her business while rekindling memories of her childhood back in Thailand.

Strong relationship bonds and character

These are just some of the voices and characters that make up the life of the Thai American community in Illinois and Chicago.

Like Thai relationships with foreigners across the world, the bond between those men and women involved is strong and is also full of enterprise and initiative.

Ms Shembari finished her story by telling how her grandfather in Thailand passed away five years after she made her new life in the United States.

However, the garden and the soil brings her closer to him especially when she digs her fingers into the earth. 'I feel it,' she says. 'I feel like he's right here. From that moment, I just grew. Keep growing. And I was happy.'

Thai women in Chicago
A portrait of Thai women living in Chicago with US relationship partners shows strong and enterprising relationships that are facing challenges.

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