This issue focuses on the experiences of dislocated communities whose members have lived through some form of dispersal either by choice or by force.
You, of the future, may wonder why in the year 2016 in the forging of a global cohesion among countries such dispersal and dislocation took place. Easy to be glib and say: Because we as a people of the planet have short memories and powerful egos and those in the guise of leadership repeat the lessons we never learn.
Filipinos especially, are not ignorant of dislocation in their history.
A number of our forebears in the 1920s and 30s left the homeland more for reasons of “adventure” than for reasons of economic hardship. Before WW2, Filipino musicians found a haven for their talents in cities like Hong Kong, Macao and Shanghai. During the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, from 1972 to 1986, as a cautionary measure, parents who “could afford” sent a son or daughter abroad usually to America or Europe, away from the reach of Martial Law. Today, in their belief that economic security for their families can be secured abroad, Filipino women respond in droves to jobs overseas as domestic helpers, teachers and entertainers. From their remittances to their families, they float the economic safety net of the country.
It was common practice for citizens in Southeast Asian countries still beholden to their colonial past (once under British, Dutch or Portuguese rule) to travel to the Motherland for further education or training, either remaining there or returning to their home countries enlightened and intellectually fortified, so to speak.
A prime example would be Pira Sudham, a writer who owns a soul with an Asian landscape. He was fifteen when he learned a foreign language — English. Before that he only spoke Lao and was laughed at in school because his spoken Thai betrayed his provincial roots.
However, his thirst for learning could not be ignored. He spent his early youth caring for the family water buffaloes taking them out “to graze in fallow fields, and brought them home in late afternoon.” (Sudham, Statement). Exposed to the rudiments of education in his elementary years, he thrived in the pursuit of knowledge, attracting the attention of his early teachers. He found himself in a community of monks as a dekwa (temple boy) in their service to earn his keep. In his audacity, he registered his application at the Chulalonghorn University and passed the qualifying entrance exam. He spent his years studying abroad after receiving a scholarship from Wellington University in New Zealand. Confident of his calling, he returned to his provincial home in Thailand.
Today, Pira Sudham, a man still living in the backwoods of Thailand is author of books written in English: Monsoon Country, nominated in 1991 for the Nobel Prize, People of Esarn, Tales of Thailand, The Force of Karma and Shadowed Country.
The staff of Our Own Voice thanks Mr. Sudham for permission to reprint his short story, “The Guttersnipe” in this issue.