Peerawat (29) is born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Thailand-born mother of Teochew-Chinese ancestry and a Southern-Thai father. He came to The Netherlands in 2017 to pursue a Master’s on how to not screw up the Earth any further. Only then he became confronted with the complex reality and historical baggage of his intersecting identities and since then preferred to passionately discuss said issues only with those who are willing to sit down and talk for a couple of hours. Currently in pursuit of a PhD in somewhat the same field as the Master’s but not exactly, he is also determined to engage in focalizing the underheard voices and creating a more equitable world more generally.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
Despite being born to a relatively relaxed pair of parents, I grew up becoming my own Tiger parent. I ended up internalizing the pressure to become the best and feeling the need to prove my own worth at all times. This pressure manifested in my persuasion of engineering and natural-science degrees and my perpetual struggle of trying to be “in line”. These acts of being harsh on myself might have to do with the fact that I am the eldest son of the household, and I have seen quite a bit of failures from those who came before me. Although I am fortunate enough to be able to have open talks with my family members from time to time, the inclination towards pressuring myself seems to never really go away.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
To this day, I am still held back by the idea of discussing with my parents, or any (extended) family members for that matter, about my romantic and sexual relationships and thus prefer to keep it as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of thing. As dramatic as I am, I have always had the tendency to expect the worst outcome from revealing inconvenient truth and be prepared for a “How fast can you get the hell out of my house?”from my parents. (My tendency to over-dramatize things might be associated with my exposure to too many “Lakorns”, which are pretty much our version of telenovelas.) With the recent loss in my family, the circumstance is enough for me to dissociate quite a sizable chunk of my personal life from them, for I rather keep a potentially burdensome discussion to myself. Naturally, I have developed the longing for authenticity and self-expression. For a while, I tried to cope with this longing by forcing myself into Western-centric party scenes and using online dating/hookup Apps, which turned out to not necessarily be the healthy platforms for my romantic and sexual endeavors, to say the least..
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
I grew up closer to my maternal side of the Asian roots but less so the paternal one, which tended to be more intimidating (to me as a kid, at least)and was seemingly less welcoming of my true, authentic self. Only when I got to spend a significant part of my young adult life far from home that I became more deeply in touch with both of my Asian roots. Back home, my (grand)parents and older relatives would convince me to do certain things for the sake of eating more healthily, saving resources, etc., but I never really bothered to follow. Through living abroad, I found myself doing more and more of such things with (greater) appreciation of my roots.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
There are a few moments when I feel ashamed of being Asian when in the West. These moments usually revolve around my low tolerance for alcohols, the culture of indirectness and not being outspoken, the reputation of my part of the world being mis-governed and undemocratic, my weak passport power (i.e., I need to apply for visa to visit most parts of the world, while most of my colleagues can just hop on the next flight to pretty much wherever they please.), receiving racial remarks/slurs from (drunk) strangers, not being taken seriously in the academic world (e.g., Asians are perceived as being good at memorizing details but not necessarily critical thinking, cooperation, and serious discussions), and the limited, inhumanistic perceptions of Asians in the dating circle (i.e., either “Ooh, I’m into Asians.” or “Sorry, I don’t date Asians.”).
Did you ever had a role model when you grew up?
The more I think about role models, the more frustrated I become because many of them seem to have already been in one of the most fortunate circumstances that are hardly attainable by ordinary people like you and me. I find their frequently imposed “They told me I could be anything.” mentality overrated because it undermines the structure and systems of oppression that do not grant everyone equal access to opportunities for self-development and attainment of one’s persuasions in life. Yes, there are some of these role models who “started from the bottom, now we’re here”, but such a mentality of theirs seems to over-celebrate individuals’ self-made efforts that take them out of the mud whilst directing the focus away from fixing the unfortunate circumstances that forced them out in the first place.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
I ran into quite a bit of Asians and mixed Asians during my time in The Netherlands. Regardless where they were born, their experience of growing up and simply being can be quite resonating. Whether they realize it or not, the struggle to fit into the Dutch society, the internalization of harmful concepts in the process, the act of compromising their identities, and the overcompensation in exchange for the bare minimum, are pretty apparent to me.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’? x
I became aware of such a myth later in life and, to an extent, found myself fitting in that mold as well. My physical traits in combination with my academic records have led people to perceive me as a mindless machine that is expected to fulfill any tasks without the need to be cared for or be taken seriously as a person. Whether one likes it or not, such a myth can get in the way of working, empathizing, and building solidarity with other minority groups and thereby create more harm than good.
What made you who you are now?
My complex identities, historical baggage around my ethnicities, upbringing, life choices, and encounters with people in my life altogether made me who I am now.
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese? How did you react to this, what did you feel?
Yes, but mostly in the form of racial slurs usually from (mostly Western) drunk people who are enjoying themselves and their company on their night out. (I guess alcohols do a perfect job at revealing both the best and the worst in you. Besides, people have this tendency to forget, for a while, how to be decent in public when they go out and about with their group of friends.) Yet, whenever I talk to my Western colleagues about this experience, they insist that I do not look Chinese and that they can tell Asians apart. My reaction (or coping mechanism) would be to take their remarks with a grain of salt. People might be able to maintain their decency and political correctness when sober and in the presence of Asian individuals. Who knows they do not end up being one of those drunkards when you are not looking?
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
A stereotype holds that Asians are hard-working and opportunistic. I can see where such a stereotype comes from. My part of the Asian world, at least, is not particularly known for good governance. The persistent mismanagement, corruption, etc. have led people into the “one for oneself” mentality. People can hardly rely on their government, even if they desperately want to, and are left with themselves, their family members, their neighbors and their networks to lean on. Thus, they have to grab on whatever opportunities there are and work hard to earn a decent life for themselves and their children..
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance? Do you identify with that too? How do you see yourself compared to how others see you? What do you feel and how do you feel when people make such comments?
Commenting on each other’s appearance is notoriously common in my communities. “Have you gotten fatter?” can be a form of greeting, and one is expected to not be offended by it. Even as someone who is of a decent body type, hearing such comments being thrown at randomly can be discouraging and take away my autonomy to do anything to my body, even for the sake of self-love/care.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced? Have you experienced it before? Where, when, how? Which experience do you remember most? So has it gotten worse with the Coronavirus? What do you feel and how do you feel when people make such comments?
Such remarks as “ching-chong” from the drunk pub-goers have already been noticeable in The Netherlands prior to the Coronavirus outbreak. Definitely, racist remarks have gotten worse with the pandemic. For instance, I once waited for a bus with my facemask on. Then came a bunch of white Dutch boys (in their early 10s or so) cycling past me and fake-coughed at me while at it. I was patient enough to keep myself together but felt horrified that people could be racist and cruel even from such a young age.
What is a funny trait or tell something that not everyone knows about you
I don’t do Poker Face, like, ever. My face can’t hide anything. Anything I have on my mind just shows.
In Asian culture, it is normal as a woman to get married as soon as possible, have children, and become a housewife. Because when you have a husband, you have children, you have “made” it in life. How do you see it?
Our society is very much built on post-Victorian, pro-monogamyous, and pro-heteronormative storylines. These narratives have been long-embedded in the laws, the institutions, the social norms and values, etc. Naturally, these narratives have become the default and been constantly shoved down our throat. However, social conventions that stemmed from these narratives have not necessarily been welcoming, sensitive and inclusive to the increasingly diverse ways through which people find love and companionship in each other. Besides, clinging to the idea of child-bearing as the ultimate goal in life is becoming unrealistic in this era when the world is disproportionately overpopulating and failing to function decently while at it. (Science has my back on this.) I mean, sure, people can hold on to the values in question, but it is not okay to preach it as the only way through which one must live one’s life, feel entitled to force it down others’ throat, and be insensitive about how such narrow-minded (and downright sexist) values affect the Earth’s current state of being and those of different walks of life. As much as I am tempted to decenter these narratives that have been doing more harm than good, there will hardly be an easy way out, at least that I can think of at this stage, for I will also need to be sensitive to those who identify with these so-called “traditional” values and to not run the risk of fighting the oppressors by returning the oppression.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I believe that no one deserves to find themselves in misery or misfortune on the basis of what circumstances they find themselves in, which is beyond their choice or capacity, most of the time. I want to live in a world where no one has to say “So lucky of me to (not) be (born) in/as………… otherwise …………..” I want to use such a platform as this exhibition to kick-start conversations about the real struggles of the under-represented groups and, more broadly, systemic oppressions facing them.
What do you want to give to the readers?
I would like to bring to the table the balanced, human-centric and accurate representations of my home country, its people and its socio-political struggles that are in many ways unique and complex. I would like the world to get to know Thailand, its history, its culture, etc., beyond touristic and culinary appeals. Advertising my home country aside, I hope that many of us across different intersections of life, Asian or not, can come together in this exhibition to better understand each other. Based on that enhanced understanding, I believe, we can find creative ways to dismantle the overarching structures and systems that have long misrepresented ethnic minorities.
Where can we follow you:
We passionately talk for hours about cultural baggage, upbringing experience, identities and stuff (or simply share silly memes) on my Instagram: @bhiravadhn. It reads like my first name but with a Pāli-Romanized spelling.