Tasha Boyer: Experience as a Thai-American Second Generation in Washington

I have immense gratitude for the Royal Thai Embassy and the U.S.-Asia Institute for collaborating to create the TANIP program that made last summer possible.  It was an unforgettable experience that Rachel, Ginger, and I will cherish for the rest of our lives.

My name is Tasha Boyer and I’m from Chugiak, Alaska.  I’m a candidate for a B.S. in Psychology at Yale University.  I applied for the TANIP program to reinvigorate my interest in the policymaking process and engage with other second generation Thai-Americans.  Most importantly, I hoped for an opportunity to befriend other second-generation Thai Americans, an opportunity I didn’t really have growing up in my small Alaskan town where other Thais were few and far-between.

However, as this summer approached, I worried that my experience here would again be that of an outsider. I didn’t grow up speaking Thai, but Spanish.  I only started learning Thai last summer, living with my mother’s family outside of Bangkok.  I can understand the language to a degree, but I find conversation to be intimidating. Given these reasons, I worried that I was in no position to provide a Thai perspective. 

However, I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Never have I ever met people who I felt I could relate to as much as my partners-in-crime, Ginger and Rachel. I feel lucky to have shared my summer with these two intelligent, capable, and resilient women who coincidentally happen to also be biracial, female, luk kreung, Thai-Americans.  Throughout our time together, the three of us have had many chances to talk about our backgrounds and the intersectionality of our shared identities.  TANIP has been an indelible experience made even brighter thanks to my two fellow participants.

During our first week, we had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face with some of the most influential people in Washington.  These individuals represented organizations and corporations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Refugee Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. State Department, and more.  These introductions were a fantastic way for the TANIP interns to see what life could look like in both the private and public sectors.

In many of these meetings, we discussed U.S.-Thailand relations and how even our conversations alone served to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.  I also learned that there is no single trajectory one needs to take after graduating from college.  Each person we met had a different pathway that led them to where they are today, which was reassuring as a rising senior with no clue about her future plans.

Though I have worked in D.C. before for Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, this was my first experience working on the House side of Congress.  From the start of my internship in Rep. Bob Brady’s congressional office, staffers entrusted me with responsibilities such as attending briefings and writing memos, researching policy, giving Capitol tours, engaging with constituents, and crafting tweets and Facebook posts.  One day, Congressman Brady even called me to his office to ask for my input on a bill dealing with salmon habitats, as he knew it would affect me in Alaska.  I felt privileged to have had to the ability to do such important work and felt as though my contributions were valued by staffers and the congressman in my office.

Beyond the Rayburn House Office Building, I had the pleasure of attending the CAPAL, APIA Vote, and Women’s Congressional Staff Association conferences on the hill.  I was honored to meet several iconic leaders such as Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Senator Tammy Duckworth, who referred to the three of us as “her people, her posse, and her squad.”

During the last week of TANIP, the girls and I worked at the Royal Thai Embassy’s consular office.  We shared consular duties, such as taking passport pictures, approving visas, and engaging with Thai community members. We also helped organize donations for Horton’s Kids for the King’s Birthday charity events.  During my time working at with the Embassy, I was able to make my own Thai passport, which had never been possible without a consular office in Alaska.  It was a great honor to work in a place most would never get to experience firsthand, but given my connection to Thailand, my time was even more memorable.

As I reflect back on my experience, I think about how special it is that I was able to be in this position.  The only way for Thais to advocate for themselves is to ensure they have a seat at the table.  This work further helps me understand how much room we have left to grow in advocating for our Thai brothers and sisters and how much more I hope to do to further the bilateral U.S.-Thailand relationship.  I feel deeply honored and grateful to have had this opportunity this summer to be in our nation’s capital, watching the political scene unfold right in front of my eyes.  Thank you to everyone who helped to make this possible and above all else, thank you to Rachel and Ginger for their endless love and friendship.