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Meet Pim Singhatiraj ‘21.5

I started taking Chinese 101 this year, and I am of full Chinese descent: my ancestors are from China and immigrated to Thailand 100-150 years ago. Throughout my childhood, I never fully processed that I was Thai-Chinese, I thought I was just Thai. It feels nice to reconnect with my ancestry like that, and I’ve been thinking about my Ama a lot, my grandma on my dad’s side. She passed away when I was really young, and it’s been nice to reconnect with her through this language I’m learning. All throughout my life, my dad has wanted me to connect with this part of my heritage. And now I’m finally doing it on my own accord. I’m very excited to add another language to my languages, it’ll be my fourth language, and this opens up doors to maybe living in Taiwan or China in the future. I want to start answering “What are you” if anyone even asks that, with “I’m Thai Chinese American, just go figure it out and do with that what you will.”  Yea, no one really asks that, but in a way, that question is easier than where are you from. 

ISO: Tell us about the places you feel local. 

Pim: I think this is the case for a lot of international students, but I have lived in seven or eight places. A lot of them were with my family as well, so I just had a very all-around-the-place childhood. I was born in Phuket, moved to St. Louis for first grade, back to Phuket for second grade, 3rd-4th-5th grade Texas, 6th-7th grade Utah, 8th grade Florida, 9th grade back to Phuket, and then 10-11-12 Bangkok, and then now I’m here. I’ve also spent some time in Cambridge, a summer there and a winter here. …

People like to ask “where are you from?” on college campuses in the U.S, and if I’ve lived close enough to where someone is from, I’d have something to talk to them about. For example, for people from New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, I can vibe with them about the Southwest. Or if someone is from just outside of Boston, I can say “I’ve spent some time in Cambridge.” There’s always a subset of people from Florida, and I’ve spent 8th grade there. During my gap semester, I spent a month in Salamanca, Spain just learning the language. There’s South America, Thailand, the Southwest of the U.S… I think it’s nice that I have roots all over the place, but also, where is home really? When people ask where I’m from, I say I’m from Thailand but I also have U.S. citizenship, but it doesn’t fully answer the question. You know? It’s very complicated, and I feel like no one answer fully encapsulates my experience. Whereas for a lot of Americans in the U.S., or people who grew up in one place, or people who didn’t have this third culture upbringing. Their answer is so simple. The question “Where are you from” does not instigate an identity crisis, but it does for me. 

Let’s talk about Phuket. It’s my hometown and I was always searching for a place that I could actually call home and I never really knew what that was. I really feel like it’s Phuket because it’s where my extended family is, it’s where all my dogs are, and it’s where all my dogs who have died are buried you know. That is where my childhood home is. If I’m looking for my very old belongings it’s probably in that one storage room. Phuket is an Island, and I really lean into the whole island girl thing. This summer especially, I learned to surf which has been a dream of mine for a while, and just spending time by the beach, tanning, really just enjoying those drives down listening to music, bringing a friend along, bringing my dog to the beach and going enough to this one beach to know people and not be able to get there without seeing someone. That’s what it feels like and means to be local to me in Phuket. 

ISO: What is the role of storytelling in your life?

Pim: I am a literature major, so of course, I love words and stuff. When I was younger I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t actually write enough for that to happen so I’m very content with writing just being a hobby and something I do for myself now. It started with a Poetry class with Professor Karin Gottshall, then an independent study with her, and then another poetry class and then now another independent study which is why I say it’s an unofficial minor. I’ve just written a lot with her and a lot of those poems I go and read at verbal onslaught as well and over the years verbal has been a place where I feel very safe. It was created out of necessity for a place for more folks from marginalized communities, and it’s just such an uplifting and supportive community, you always get snaps whatever you read as long as it’s not mean. In terms of inspirASIANal that was what first drew me into RAISINS, I went to one of those events my sophomore year and then really felt inspired by the storytellers, and some of the storytellers up there, I didn’t know at the time but they are some of my closest friends now which is crazy. It’s just a really beautiful tradition that raisins continue every year and I kind of wish I could see if from a participants viewpoint now just because organizing something feels very different from attending and feeling that excitement and it’s more stress but I hope it’s something that everyone can experience like I did my first time. 

ISO: As a feb, how does it feel to be in your last semester?

Pim: Coming in as a “Feb” is hard, especially if you’re international and l if you’re not white. Anyway, I really feel like I have really good friends in the Feb class but that I’ve really leaned into the wider community at midd through clubs, like ISO, raisins, SEAs, Verba, and that’s been really wonderful. Being a super senior is really nice because I care less about grades, I care less about what people think of me, and I’m just trying to vibe and be a good person out here. I feel like it’s going really well and it feels good. It has not been an easy four years but it has made me a stronger person with many ups and downs. 

ISO: Tell us about your radio show 

Pim: My radio show is on Monday at 10. My radio shows have been very ‘music I listen to in the car’ themed. My first one was called “Pink Nissan March” because that’s the car I drove in high school. And then last semester it was called “Space Gray Subaru” because that was the car I bought here. This semester it’s called “White Kia Carnival” because that’s my grandma’s minivan that I drove over the summer. I play whatever music I want to play in the car. It’s so good to have that space to have time set aside to just listen to music and vibe out for an hour. It’s really your own thing up in the radio booth, there’s no one around, you don’t even know if anyone’s listening, and that’s the charm of WRMC. 

ISO: How did you choose your history minor? What drew you to that subject? 

Pim: History was one of my favorite subjects in high school and it was very natural that I would take it here. I found myself really drawn to Asian history and my heritage which I was never really interested in high school because I was in Asia, going to international school in Thailand. The IB curriculum mindset was “I want to learn about the history of the Americas,” you know? I did my history junior thesis (which I count as a thesis) about this unspoken massacre in Thailand that the government has tried to bury, and how the people have tried to revitalize its memory. I’ve just taken a lot of East Asian classes and seminars about imperialism and anti-imperialism in Asia. 

ISO: What classes would you recommend? 

Pim: If you’re interested in Asian history? Maggie Clinton is super cool. Febe Armanios is cool, Middle East, she’ll be on your ass about school but she’s so sweet. Darien Davis is cool but he’s on sabbatical. 

ISO: What’s your favorite place on campus?

Pim: I have so many favorite spaces, Axxin is definitely one of them. It’s a good place to study, it’s where all my favorite professors are, it’s where I go to feel inspired to write about the humanities. What pops into my head immediately is the Gifford attic because I lived in Giff sophomore year, and being a Feb and going abroad, I never got to stay anywhere for a whole year. I lived on the fifth floor and I went up there a lot. It’s a good place to cry, play guitar, write poetry, and hang out with friends.

ISO: Where did you go abroad? How was traveling? 

Pim: I went to Uruguay but got sent home four days into classes. But it’s okay because I got to travel for all of February because the semester started in march and I got to travel to Argentina and Chile and Patagonia. The traveling was really wonderful. I’m glad I followed my intuition to just go. I backpacked Patagonia, of course, being the Feb that I am. I spent a week in Buenos Aires. and I don’t often spend a long time anywhere when I’m traveling, so a week was nice. I went to La Paloma which is a very quiet beach town in Uruguay. It’s the tiniest, sleepiest town, and I just stayed at an Airbnb for two nights and walked on the beach with nothing to do, and I don’t think I’ll often have experiences like that. 

ISO: How does it feel returning to these places, having grown up or not having any more ties to those places? 

Pim: In the U.S, the only family I have are my parents and my brother. I get that question a lot, “oh, do you have family in the U.S?” No, not really. One time this Asian American professor was grilling me about where I was from, where I call home, and what my post-grad plans are. It felt really rude to me. In succession, he wasn’t listening to what I was saying, he was just trying to understand but not really caring. A microaggression from someone who looks like me hurt a little.

It’s hard, because if you give a half hearted answer, then you feel like you haven’t portrayed yourself accurately, but you can’t portray yourself accurately because it’s so hard, the answer is too long, and all they’re doing is making small talk, and they don’t go through an identity crisis. 

ISO: Tell us about the role of activism.

My Chinese name that my Ama gave me is 公平, which means equality. 邢公平, 邢 is my family name, and that turned into Singhatiraj in Thai. In highschool, I remember 10th grade, I didn’t know a lot about anything political. Then I did a lot of self education, and I started to understand words that were coming up. I was involved in Amnesty in high school, and in my gap semester, I did a two month activism internship with them. I then came to Middlebury and was introduced to a new sociopolitical world and got involved with RAISINS here, an Asian American activism student initiative. I guess what got me interested in Thai history and this forgotten part of Thai history was taking Asian history classes with Professor Maggie Clinton, and being forced to think about my roots, and being forced to rethink a lot of the things I was fed growing up about a lot of traditional Thai things. Learning about this massacre recently, a year or two ago, that’s how suppressed it’s been. It’s always called the October 6th event in Thailand, rather than naming it for what it was, a massacre of university students by the government. And just even the ambiguity of the name, I talked about it in my thesis. I talked about how the government really doesn’t include it in the textbooks, maybe 5 sentences max, how there’s never been punity for the perpetrators, the military and the police that went in and shot the students. There never was a trial and never will be, and then the more uplifting part of my thesis is how the community in Thailand has tried to remember and commemorate the people who were massacred, the survivors, and how art has come out of it. It’s come out in a rap music video, the imagery of it, which is a lot, but important. It’s commemorated every year. It’s on October 6th, which is very recently, stuff like that. And it was such an empowering thing to write, just because my professor was like “Pim, you are the expert on this on campus, you are.” She couldn’t help me, I was just doing my own thing. And to be able to present that at the Student Spring symposium was really empowering. My professor, Louisa Burnham encouraged me to do so. Just having that knowledge and walking around in Thailand, and seeing people and being like “Do you know about this?” It’s not fair to us that no one talks about it, and even if they did, there’s so much stigma that some people would act like it didn’t happen. 

It inspired me to take up an actual job at the Amnesty office this summer– I was a campaign assistant. And it wasn’t as fun as my activism internship just because the political situation in Thailand is a lot right now. And rather than working in activism and human rights education in international schools working with students, I was writing stuff to the government and working on a police brutality in Thailand campaign. It just felt very real and impossible to do, rather than something more abstract like human rights education, let’s go to schools. But yes, that’s my thing with activism. I definitely was burnt out for a bit after two months 9-5 with Amnesty, but I think I’m starting to feel energized again, and maybe the distance from Thailand is helping as well. 

You have to just do what you can, every little thing will do something. You can’t just think that “Oh I can’t do anything.” Just being on campus and talking to people about things like this is something, and that is something we can do right now.

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MIAN Editorial Board

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