I said in my previous post that I had been spending some time traveling, I had a short but fantastic trip to Laos which is an excellent country to visit on a tight budget and is incredibly beautiful.
Part of my trip involved a two day long boat trip down the Mekong river. Sitting behind me was a group of back packers from Australia, Italy and Holland. At one point there discussion turned to the ‘problem’ of immigration. I was trying really hard not to listen because I find it almost impossible to disengage from political conversations even if I am not participating and other people’s ignorance can make me really pissed off.
It was the usual fare of ZOMG the immigrants are flooding in there have to be controls! They must assimilate into society and be good immigrants and then it is OK. I understand that there are many practical considerations with immigration but for the love of pete can we step back and look at the big picture?
The key reason that people immigrate from the global south to the global north (I use these terms loosely) is the search for a better life. Not because they think western society is way more awesome than their own and they want a piece of it, but because the vast majority of the worlds money sits in the west. In my experience the vast majority of immigrants do not choose to go through the myriad and very real difficulties of immigration including becoming a marginalised group just for the hell of it.
If you are really worried about the ‘immigration issue’ then how about lets talk about fixing global inequality – much of which has been caused by the pillage of colonialism and subsequent imposed economic systems (this when you think about it is the white supremacists ultimate fear of what immigration will turn into). Lets do that instead of whinging and moaning about how immigrants (like yours truly) don’t like to integrate, that we clump together in our ghettoes hoarding money and political power to try and change the social fabric and cultural values of ‘your’ society.
What makes these arguments about immigration even more ludicrous is that it is exactly what happens when white people immigrate to the global south. We don’t call them immigrants though, we call them expats and its ok for them to clump together in private housing estates, never learn to speak the local language, and send their kids to special schools that spout only their own values. I see this a lot now that I live in Asia and it makes me laugh hysterically considering the content of the immigration debates where I come from.
It of course comes down to where power lies and what people in power consider valuable. This is obviously their own language, culture and values – wherever they may live in the world. At least we can try to be honest about it.
As some of you may or may not know I have recently relocated myself to the North of Thailand. It is an area very popular amongst tourists who want to experience a bit more of Thai culture than you can get from the party islands in the south or who want to distance themselves from the in your face sex tourism in Bangkok and Pattaya.
I really love it here and as such I want to do right by this place. Being a tourist or a traveler is always a difficult balancing act for those of us who consider ourselves activists for social justice. Here are a few simple thoughts that I have had regarding traveling in this particular area. I cannot claim to extrapolate them to anywhere else but perhaps the general principles are worthy of consideration when planning your next overseas adventure.
Hill tribe visits
These are common fare among the many tourists that traipse through this city. They are often part of a standard day trip that includes elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Don’t do it in this manner. Hill tribe people of all kinds are extremely marginalised within Thailand. They generally do not see any money out of these visits except for what they can sell to the tourists tramping through their villages. They are treated as curiosities and as such become something akin to a human zoo. If you really want to experience hill tribe culture do your research. There are a number of lodges that are run by the tribes themselves. These usually have an emphasis on sustainability and the empowerment of local communities. Plus you actually get to interact with people rather than just gawking at them.
Do not visit the so called long neck karen villages. These people are heavily exploited and are confined to their villages by local authorities as useful tourist attractions.
There is a long history to Elephant domestication in Thailand – much like buffaloes and horses they have been used as beasts of burden. They were extensively employed in the logging industry, however since the Thai government banned logging most families with elephants have turned them into tourist attractions. Again do your research and find something that gels with your particular beliefs.
That is all I have for now but perhaps I will make this a series 🙂