With that said, my experiences here have been interesting. Those who know me as coming from America identify me as a "farang," a foreigner. There are certain implications with this knowledge--they treat me as an outsider, but not necessarily in a negative way. I am treated very hospitably as a visitor, and there are definitely special treatments involved. However, as a farang, I remain outside, divorced from their native culture and community, although I try to participate in it every day. I think I will have a better impact in my students' education if I am better integrated, but I know this effort will need to come from all parties involved.
With those that are not familiar with me, I am commonly mistaken as Thai. It's unsurprising. If you have some sort of Asian heritage, they will think you are Thai. It's not inherently bad, but this goes back again to a primitive way of viewing what nationality and ethnicity entail. It becomes frustrating at times when my interactions become rife with tension because I am expected to know the language or the culture, when I clearly don't. Or when people tell me I can't possibly be American because I look Thai. I think I've confused so many people when I tell them my family is Filipino but we live in the United States. What? People of all colors and shades live in America? Individuals live in America?
When do the lines between heritage and affiliation become blurry, broken, subverted? When does heritage become oppressive, to the point where personal affiliation is appropriated and denied?
Inevitably, these questions of identity politics always occur when one travels. They follow me around like a trail of perpetual question marks. The answers are never easy, so most of the time, people that I've talked to here just laugh try to laugh it off, and dismiss it as cultural differences. But cultures should clash--it's how dialogue, I think, comes into fruition. It's one of the more difficult things I have to deal with sometimes, but it's worth it when there are people that are willing to listen.