Crossing the Valley
Interview with a Thai Restaurateur
Interview with Olashawn
Olashawn is the owner/chef of the “The Wild Thaiger” a recently opened Thai restaurant on Phoenix’s busy Central Avenue. I met Olashawn through one of the waitresses that works at her restaurant. We met in her restaurant after the lunch hour rush had ended.
Olashawn came here with her mother from Thailand when she was just a 5 year old girl. She was too young to really understand what was going on. On the plane trip from Bangkok Olashawn was sick and her mother remembers that she wouldn’t eat any of the food and subsisted on the ketchup packets that came with the meals
Olashawn’s mother had decided to leave her husband in Thailand when a friend in the United States offered her a job working at a restaurant in Colorado. Olashawn mother had owned a restaurant in Thailand and her father worked for the railroad in Thailand and traveled frequently once when he came home he asked where his wife was and he was told “She went to America” he figured this must be some kind of joke, he did not see his wife during the visit but he didn’t realize something was up until the next time he came home and she was not there, he asked and received the same answer “She went to America.”
Olashawn’s mother decided to come to America to search for better opportunities for her family. She worked for her friend’s restaurant and then she went to work sewing a t a coat factory.
She had decided had enough and wanted to spend more time with her children so she found an American family that would let her work as a maid and the y said that they would sponsor her for citizenship. The family let her and her kids live in the basement of their house and she worked as their maid but as the time passed no offer of sponsorship was ever forth coming from the family. The family didn’t want to sponsor them because they were afraid that if Olashawn's mother got her American citizenship the y would loose their maid. The family had to move again.
Olashawn’s mother didn’t speak English and because she was new people constantly tried to take advantage of her.
At one point Olashawn and her mother were living with a Thai family in Colorado and working for that family. Olashawn was already old enough to attend school and she was invited over her friend Cindy’s friends house for a sleep over . An while it was fine with Olashawn's mother the lady for whom she worked had a problem with the sleep over and didn’t want to let lashing stay the night.
Olashawn says the treated them like property and that they took their passport away from them in a n attempt to keep them from leaving .
When the lady got on the phone with Cindy’s mom she was very rude and told her that she didn’t want Olashawn to go to the slumber party. The other women told her that it wasn’t her decision and then they began to argue and Cindy’s mom gleaned enough information from the women to realize that Olashawn’s family was being taken advantage of. What Olashawn’s mom’s employer didn’t realize was that Cindy’s dad was an attorney and when Cindy’s mom put him on the phone he dutifully explained to the woman that she was committing a crime by withholding the family’s passports and treating them as slave labor. Cindy’s father connected Olashawn’s family with a Social worker who put them on the path to citizenship and helped the family get settled.
When Olashawn first went to preschool she was in class and the teacher asked her a question and she didn’t understand what the women was saying and she responded to her in Thai. The teacher just starred at the girl and sighed . They both realized that it was going to be difficult.
When she was going to school Olashawn never got peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the other kids here daily fare was a bit more exotic. Olashawn’s mother used to prepare her a Thai dish called Kai Palo. This meal consists of eggs covered in a dark sauce. And while Olashawn delighted in her meal the other children where convinced that Olashawn was eating rotten eggs. The children were also convinced that the noodles in Olashawn's meals were worms
Olashawn graduated form Arizona State University and worked for U haul and then Seagram’s. Even though she said that she would never work in the restaurant industry she decide that after working for other people she wanted to do something for herself. She says that restaurants are in her blood.
Olashawn thinks that Americans are unintentionally rude to Thais because they don’t understand Thai customs. For one thing Thais are more respectful of their elders. In Thai culture people don’t touch other people on the head so when an American pats someone on the head it is considered extremely rude. The head is the top of the body and the center of learning so it is to be respected . Also when American point at things with their feet it is also considered very rude. The feet are the bottom of the body and thus the lowest part of the body so it is insulting to Thais if you point at something with your feet.
Olashawn says that in Thai culture there are two type of emigrants there are the rich families who tend to send their children to the United States for an education and the poor people who leave in search of a better life. Olashawn returns back to Thailand every few years and visits with the family that she has there. Olashawn dresses casually because she is on vacation when she travels to Thailand. Her family has expressed that they would prefer that she dress better so that she appears more wealthy, Olashawn has a cousin who came form a lower economic status and is less successful than herself but the family in Thailand is very happy when the cousin returns home because she dresses as though she is very successful and the family has a chance to brag about their rich American cousin and to show her off to their neighbors and friends.
Olashawn is continuing the process of a dual cultural identity that her mother began by trying to instill a mixture of the two cultures in her children. She teaches her children Thai and wants them to continue to practice traditional Thai dances. She also hope that her children will be more respectful like Thai children and that they won’t ever take anything for granted.
Olashawn believes that the best thing Americans can do to become more culturally sensitive and aware is to travel to other countries and to observe other countries.
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