Older Thai woman's daughter moved to South Florida and became an American mother
Tuesday 20th July 2021 10:00pm
A 59 year old Thai grandmother who visits Miami regularly talks about her experience of her daughter's cross-cultural marriage and how it taught her more about her daughter and life.
Rungnapha is 59 years of age and just arrived back in South Florida in Thailand five weeks ago to visit her 38-year-old daughter Thanyapa who moved to the United States 11 years ago to live with her husband, Fred, who works for the City of Miami.
The 59-year-old left Bangkok just before the huge upsurge of the COVID-19 virus in the country starting in mid-June 2021 and currently is planning to stay for a long time perhaps even permanently.
But she is old enough and wise enough to know she has been here before.
Sixth visit to the United States after getting vaccinated
It is, in fact, her sixth visit to the Sunshine State from Thailand but each time the older Thai woman, despite the comfortable and relaxed lifestyle near South Beach in Orlando, finds herself pining for Thailand and her old friends in Bangkok.
Rungnapha still has her home in the Chatuchak area of Bangkok and even has a small apartment outside the city in Nonthaburi which she sometimes rents out or at other times uses to visit her Nonthaburi friends on an extended stay.
She is a prudent woman who has been married twice. Her second husband, an army officer, married again but still supports her.
Part-time fortune-teller who failed to predict her daughter's future
She also has her own business as a part-time fortune teller which she proclaims she is good at. In fact, she tells us this is why she retains so many good friends.
'I am careful who I choose as a client but I'd always tell them the truth but in so much a way as to help them as best I can,' she says. However, what Rungnapha did not predict right or at all was her daughter's marriage to an American man 13 years her senior and that the marriage would prove to be very successful.
Her daughter now has three sons and Rungnapha's return visits to see her US grandchildren is something that the older Thai woman looks forward to every time she prepares for her trip to the United States.
Before her last trip, Rungnapha was vaccinated in Bangkok and had to have a negative COVID-19 test before she travelled.
Refuses requests from friends to find American husbands
She tells us her friends often ask about her daughter's life in America and request her to help find an American man for their own daughters or even for themselves.
However, she refuses and tells them all the same thing.
'Go ahead and live your life, these days Thai men and women can travel everywhere in the world if they really want to and many are,' she explains. 'There are also many good men still in Thailand'
'My daughter found a good US man but she has also grown to love her life in America and has become a strong woman. America is a great country but you have to be strong and a good person.'
Growing Thai American community in South Florida and Miami
There are now reported to be up to fifty thousand Thais who have emigrated to America living in South Florida.
While many in the last twenty years are Thai women who have married Americans there are also elements of the Thai community from New York who began moving to the warmer southern state in the late eighties as more Americans retired to Florida.
Many helped establish Thai restaurants and smaller businesses in the area building on a tradition established in the 1970s. Before this, many residents in the areas came from previous waves of Thai emigrants including former GI brides from states all over the United States who later migrated to Florida.
Thai entrepreneurial spirit fits in well in the Sunshine State
The self-reliance and entrepreneurial spirit of many Thais fits well in Florida among other immigrants from Cuba and South America. These are people who are used to fending for themselves and building a life.
Over the last thirty years, they have been joined by many Thai students. Young men and women who wanted to go to university in South Florida and came back to live there.
The warm climate of the area reminded them of home while the affluence and ability to earn better money than back home in the kingdom is a big attraction.
Learning English is the big thing, language is the biggest barrier
Like many Thai emigrants who are now fanning out all over the world in ever-increasing numbers, the main problem they face is language as well as a slight cultural barrier.
Many Thais struggle to learn English which government reports from countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia have identified as the limiting factor that allows many Thais in particular women to be exploited working for lower levels of wages or salaries or even worse.
The Thais who came as students have a key advantage as many already have a command of the language or pick it up at after-hours jobs to pay for tuition fees.
Thai woman with a masters degree, American family and her own business
Weenarat is 45 years of age and now runs her own furniture store in South Florida.
She came first to study business in Palm Beach and later progressed her education to the University of Michigan where she earned a master's degree. Having worked for an American multinational for eight years she set up her own business and is now settled with a family in Miami where her American dream is a reality.
'I've learned that you can make it in the United States if you work hard, focus on your dream and go from there,' she said.
Buddhist temple in Miami Dade County with 5-ton gold Buddha
The growing Thai community in South Florida like other Thai communities around the world has also seen Thais come together and fund Buddhist temples which help to establish their communities.
One of these is the Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist Temple in Homestead in rural South Florida in Miami Dade county which was closed this year for a long time due to the COVID-19 virus emergency as were many of the scores of Thai restaurants which also form part of the Thai communities around the world wherever Thai men and women go.
The temple features a 23-foot gold-leafed 5-ton image of Buddha and wood carvings outside signifying Garuda, a Thai mythical figure and indeed government symbol meant to ward off evil.
Visitors to the temple are told to dress conservatively and show respect to the monks who represent Thailand's traditional culture and teachings which are key to the inner lives of nearly all Thais despite the pressures of the modern world, especially so far from home in the kingdom.
Thai grandmother tells women at home to take control of their own destiny
Back in South Beach, Rungnapha tells her friends in Thailand not to be afraid to take their life into their own hands. 'You are responsible for your destiny,' she tells many young women in Thailand seeking a better life outside the kingdom.
Like many older Thais, she is not sure that leaving Thailand is the best approach for most people. Her own daughter had been working in hotel management when she met her US husband in 2008 through online dating and she was, at first, wary of the relationship.
'I was sad at first that my daughter chose to leave her home country but today I see she knew better than me what she wanted and needed,' she admits. 'That for me is very reassuring today, maybe not so much for my clients!' she laughs
Today her daughter works for a hotel group in Miami but her focus in life is primarily her family, her husband and her sons. Thanyapa is already an American citizen and does the family's annual tax returns.
Thai daughter found a very good husband and has also learned the value of American culture and principles
Her mother hopes that like many other Thai women who leave the kingdom she will return someday but her daughter does not seem inclined to that.
'What she likes about living in the USA is the security she has found with her husband and his family also. He is a very good husband,' Rungnapha says. 'Many Thai American relationships are about the American man learning Thai culture but there is also the reverse of this that must be respected. Today my daughter likes being an American woman but I am still Thai, a Thai grandmother.'
38-year-old Thai woman met her American husband through online dating in 2008 and moved to Miami in the United States in 2010. Her mother, a 59-year-old woman from Bangkok visits regularly and says a relationship has taught her more about her daughter and