Capturing Otherness: Self-Identity and Feelings of Non-Belonging Among Educated Burmese in Thailand

Carole Faucher

Abstract


This paper explores the subjective experiences of migrants engaged in producing alternative modes of self-identification and in creating a new basis for their collective identity. Through the analysis of personal narratives, this article examines the dialectic movement between complex political and social constructions of Otherness and processes of self-identification among English-educated lowland Burmese living in Thailand. It investigates the meanings and perceptions attached to the different terms used as identity frameworks in popular discourse among Thai and among Burmese themselves and looks into how these terms and
attached meanings are appropriated and acted upon in different contexts. The migrants involved in this research come from vastly different backgrounds and ideologies, but they share in common being from the Burman ethnic majority, or having lived and studied among Burman, and identifying themselves in terms of civic identity, which is reflected by the term 'Burmese'. Once in Thailand, their situation is complicated because in their everyday life they have to face the Thai construction of being Burmese, known as 'Pama', a term associated with the historical enemy in Thai nationalist discourse. The contact that educated Burmese have with Thai classmates or co-workers is relatively limited due to the general mistrust Thai people tend to have towards them. The educated Burmese migrants also have to confront their national Other, the members of minorities from the secessionist states who compose the majority of migrants in Thailand. In this context, their own Burmeseness, which they rarely had to question before they left Yangon or Mandalay, appears suddenly as it is: an identity deeply fragmented that needs to be captured and reappropriated.

Keywords


Burma/Myanmar; Thailand; migration; identity; feeling of belonging

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22439/cjas.v28i2.3429



Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies
ISSN (print): 1395-4199, ISSN (online): 2246-2163

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