On Sunday 7th June, between 130-150 people came through Mazz Coffee Shop over a period of 5 hours for the #saytheirnames vigil, an event organised by the newly formed Chiang Mai Anti-Racism Coalition.
The Chiang Mai Anti-Racism Coalition was formed by a small group of expatriates and one Thai Chiang Mai resident with the aim of, according to the group members, “Creating a space to foster intentional conversation about our roles in the global fight against institutionalised racism and anti-blackness. In particular, we wanted to consider how expats living in Chiang Mai can best support those on the ground in the USA who are engaged in this struggle right now.”
Those who came were invited to light a candle in remembrance of black lives lost unjustly at the hands of American law enforcement and to sit with a nearly 20-minute slide show listing the names of hundreds of people killed by the police since 2015. The vigil also offered opportunities to donate to organisations in the States that are actively fighting racism and to peruse educational materials regarding the history of racism in America and how to best support the anti-racism cause.
“I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for over a year,” said Sara Ibrahim who is on the organising team. “With the transience of the foreign population, as well as COVID keeping everyone at home, I was really not aware who was still even in the city, which made experiencing what’s happening back home even more isolating. Not having spaces with Black Americans coming together was weighing heavy on me. I felt so alone and helpless in a different country. Organising and having this vigil, where old friends popped up, allies showed support, and actions were taken to help folks back in the States, was very centering and rejuvenating. Connecting with people is how I process and stay afloat, and putting this focus and energy to supporting the cause rekindled my drive to show visible actions that can and should be taken by folks abroad. It was a day of very mixed emotions, but having it with community made all the difference.”
One Thai teacher who attended the vigil said, “I came to the #SayTheirNames Vigil with a group of my students who were interested in coming together to exchange perspectives. We learned a lot regarding the history of black people’s fight for rights in America. I was so impressed to see such a diverse group in Chiang Mai. It helped me see the importance of respecting and understanding differences. It’s important because equality isn’t something that only relates to America. It’s something that every society needs to be talking about. As for Thai society, most people still don’t quite understand or know how to think about this concept. The Thai education system still isn’t engaging enough in the fight for equal rights. I want to see people in my society, especially the younger generations, better understand human rights and the importance of accepting differences,” (translated from Thai).
According to Rachael Pettiford, a member of the organising team, “Having just moved to Chiang Mai it was refreshing to find a group of individuals dedicated to bring about change and support. Working alongside the others to make this happen really moved me and made me love this city so much more.”
“I’m so thankful that we can do something here in Chiang Mai,” added Amahl S. Azwar who also attended the event. “I’m Indonesian and BLM is very close to my heart as we have similar issue in my own country especially on our treatment to the Papuans. I hope this time we will be heard. Enough is enough.”
Another attendee, Tee Williams agreed, adding, “The vigil was a great step in the right direction for the Chiang Mai community in acknowledging the global impact of white supremacy and systematic oppressions.”
“As an expat from America and educator in several countries across Southeast Asia, I’ve learned that racial violence, oppression, and inequality isn’t just an American problem. Martin Luther King said ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice somewhere’. Supportive educative circles like Chiang Mai Anti-Racism Coalition can support and equip our community with the tools to talk about inequality to an audience of any age, race, nationality, sexuality or persuasion. By encouraging our local community to start this tough but necessary conversation, we have the unique opportunity to start these conversations here and abroad and actually bring about change through education,” said Jannah Waajid who is on the organising team.
“As a native Chiang Mai person, I never knew that Chiang Mai had such a diverse community of people from different parts of the world. Thai people learn from poetry, media, and capitalism that being white is clean, beautiful, and may lead to higher social status. A person who has dark skin is usually stigmatised as ugly, dirty, or uncivilised ‘baan nok’. Because of this, even I once thought that black people were scary, funny, and sometimes a threat. To have such a great event like this in Chiang Mai created a bridge from Chiang Mai to the USA and the rest of the world, which helps us learn more about diversity and to reconsider racism in Thai society. I got to know new people and make new friends of many different races. Everyone was so nice and made me rethink about stereotypes that are common in Thailand. Thank you so much for creating such an inclusive space in our beautiful city,” said Thai organising team-member Chitsanupong Nithiwana.
This first of what is hopefully many events, raised over 7,000 baht for Community Justice Exchange and the Movement Voter Project. Difficult and meaningful conversations were had and new connections were formed among expats living in Chiang Mai who share a common investment in human rights.
Events in the future:
The Chiang Mai Anti-Racism Coalition is expanding, and conversations are already underway about potential upcoming events focused on community-building, fundraising, and education. Whether you’re interested in being a part of the organisational force behind future events or just participating, find us on Facebook or email ChiangMaiAntiRacismCoalition@gmail.com.