Educated Professionals: Thai Women in Transnational Perspective, 196570

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
JoAnn LoSavio, Northern Illinois University
This research highlights the elite and gendered character of Thai migration to the United States by presenting a historical case study of young female Thai students who worked in the U.S., between 1965 and 1968, as language instructors for the Peace Corps training programs at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Employment records and institutional correspondence in the archives at Northern Illinois University reveal how Peace Corps policies, immigration reform in the 1960s, higher education, and the development of semi-professional and social networks shaped the elite character of Thai migration, and made it possible for highly educated or affluent Thai women to migrate to the United States. The young Thais who came through NIU were affluent and well-educated; they were not seeking permanent migration to the United States, but a temporary experience of working and living in America.

By focusing on the elite status of Thai women (and men), my research offers an alternative narrative to the one of suffering and political refuge typically assigned to Southeast Asian-U.S. immigrants. Southeast Asian women in particular have been framed as victims or passive actors in migration narratives, and typically as wives or mothers; my research reframes them as active, independent, highly educated professionals possessing agency.

My research adds to a growing body of historical scholarship which focuses on the circularity and intersectionality of migration in the twentieth century. It is also situated within historiographies of American transnational history and U.S. foreign relations history. This project shows how U.S. foreign policy impacted individuals’ lives, and how foreign nationals (here, Thais) used U.S. foreign and immigration policies to fufill their individual needs and desires.

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